Afghanistan – Doomed to repeat the mistakes of past wars
Renowned historian William Dalrymple will be in conversation with Roddy Gow and the Asia Scotland Institute to discuss how foreign armies in Afghanistan have been doomed to repeat the mistakes of past wars.
William Dalrymple observed in a recent article Repeating the mistakes of past wars in Afghanistan, Harold Macmillan reportedly advised Alec Douglas-Home “My dear boy, as long as you don’t invade Afghanistan you’ll be absolutely fine.” The sage and simple advice from Macmillan has not been observed before and after his words.
As Dalrymple wrote, “Britain’s fourth Afghan war was to an extraordinary extent a replay of the first. The parallels between the two invasions were not just anecdotal, they were substantive. The same tribal rivalries and the same battles were fought out in the same places 160 years later under the guise of new flags, new ideologies and new political puppeteers. The same cities were garrisoned by troops speaking the same languages, and they were attacked again from the same high passes. In both cases, the invaders thought they could walk in, perform regime change, and be out in a couple of years. In both cases they were unable to prevent themselves getting sucked into a much wider conflict.”
William Dalrymple is renowned as one of Scotland’s leading writers of the history of Asia. He was born in Scotland and brought up on the shores of the Firth of Forth, then educated at Ampleforth and Trinity College, Cambridge where he was first History Exhibitioner then Senior History Scholar.
He wrote his first book, In Xanadu: A Quest (1989), at 22 years of age, and in 1989, moved to Delhi to research City of Djinns: a year in Delhi (1993), which went on to win the 1994 Thomas Cook Travel Book Award and the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award. His next book, From the Holy Mountain: a Journey in the Shadow of Byzantium (1997), charts the demise of Christianity in the Middle East, and this was followed by The Age of Kali: Indian Travels and Encounters (1998), a collection of writings about India, which won the French Prix d’Astrolabe. White Mughals (2002), the book which marked Dalrymple’s shift from travel writing to history, won the 2003 Woolfson Prize for History, and the Scottish Arts Council Book of the Year Award. In 2006, William Dalrymple published The Last Mughal: the Fall of a Dynasty, Delhi, 1857 to huge acclaim, topping the best seller lists in both the UK and India.
His latest books are Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India (2008), Return of a King (2013) on the first Anglo-Afghan war, and The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company (2019).
In 2002, he won the Royal Geographical Society Mungo Park Medal for his outstanding contribution to travel literature. In 2006 he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Letters from the University of St. Andrews for his services to literature and international relations. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and of the Royal Asiatic Society, and lives between London and Delhi.