'US's recent Afghan attack bears similarity to 1st Afghan war'

Last Updated: Sun, Jan 27, 2013 13:54 hrs

Jaipur: The history of Britain's First Afghan War (1839-42), described as the greatest catastrophe by British empire in history, is "almost repeating itself" in the form of American invasion of the country in 2001, seasoned author William Dalrymple said here today.

"There are several parallels in both cases. Karzai belongs to the same tribe as Shah Shuja, the puppet ruler installed after the invasion by British.

"The foot soldiers of Taliban are of the same ethnic origin as those who brought him down. The same cities form the centre of conflict once again, just like 170 years ago," said the author while talking about his latest book 'The return of a King' at the Jaipur Literature Festival today.

In the 1839 war, Britain entered Afghanistan with an army of 18,000 but within three years, the locals rose against them and inflicted a humiliating defeat ending in just one soldier returning from the battleground.

Since then, as the author explained, this war "has been a moment of national triumph for the Afghan population and present leaders still draw on its stories".

"The First Afghan war was characterised by easy conquest, slow alienation of the local population, the army being surrounded in just a few urban centres and ending in catastrophe," said Dalrymple.

"Since 2006 the situation has been deteriorating in the present day Afghanistan, almost following the trajectory of the 1839 war," he added.

However, the author and co-director of the festival pointed out some differences as well that set the two wars apart.

"Karzai is certainly more popular than Shah Shuja and is a democratically elected leader," Dalrymple said.

Yet, the presence of American troops has not gone down well with a lot of Afghans, as the author found out in his conversations with elders of Gandamak, which was one of the sites of massacres of the British army in 1842.

When Dalrymple asked them about the American invasion of their country, they said, "All Americans here know the game is over. It is just their politicians who don't know it. You will leave just like the British did. This is the end of America here".

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