Alexan­der Burnes

Timeless Travels Magazine - - CONTENTS -

Sent to In­dia aged 16 to make his for­tune, Burnes re­vealed an ex­tra­or­di­nary tal­ent for lan­guages which led to a ca­reer as an ad­ven­turer, diplo­mat and spy. Sent to ex­plore the po­lit­i­cal and eth­nic re­al­i­ties amongst the Khanates of Afghanistan and Cen­tral Asia, his sub­se­quent ac­count of these trav­els was a best-seller in its day. Wil­liam Dal­rym­ple tells the story of his par­tic­i­pa­tion in ‘the Great Game’ and his dread­ful demise

In the Spring of 1831, Sindhi vil­lagers tak­ing a morn­ing walk along the banks of the In­dus might have stum­bled across a rather un­usual sight: five huge dap­ple-grey Suf­folk dray horses be­ing punted peace­fully up­river, in the com­pany of a gilt vel­vet-lined state car­riage. Float­ing past the crum­bling re­mains of the for­mer river­side camps of Alexan­der the Great, Hindu tem­ples, Sufi shrines and Mughal fortresses, the five Suf­folk drays munched their way up the In­dus un­til they reached La­hore, the cap­i­tal of the Sikh leader Ran­jit Singh to whom the horses and car­riage were be­ing sent as diplo­matic gifts. On the way, ‘the lit­tle English ele­phants’ caused a sen­sa­tion among the horseob­sessed Pun­jabis who had never seen their like be­fore: ‘ For the first time,’ wrote their min­der Alexan­der Burnes, a young Scot­tish of­fi­cer in the ser­vice of the East In­dia Com­pany, ‘ a dray horse was ex­pected to gal­lop, can­ter and per­form all the evo­lu­tions of the most ag­ile an­i­mal.’

In the days that fol­lowed, the Suf­folk drays and their min­der were given a state re­cep­tion. A guard of cav­alry and a reg­i­ment of in­fantry were sent to meet them. ‘ The coach, which was a hand­some ve­hi­cle, headed the pro­ces­sion,’ wrote Burnes, ‘ and in the rear of the dray horses we our­selves fol­lowed on ele­phants, with the of­fi­cers of the maharajah. We passed close un­der the city walls and en­tered La­hore by the palace gate. The streets were lined with cav­alry, ar­tillery and in­fantry, all of which saluted as we passed. The con­course of peo­ple was im­mense; they had prin­ci­pally seated them­selves on the bal­conies of houses, and pre­served a most re­spect­ful si­lence.’

The Bri­tish party was led across the court­yard of the old Mughal fort, and into the en­trance of the great ar­caded mar­ble re­cep­tion room, the Di­wan-i-Khas. ‘ Whilst stoop­ing to re­move my shoes,’ Burnes con­tin­ued, ‘I sud­denly found my­self in the tight em­brace of a diminu­tive, old-look­ing man.’ This was none other than Ran­jit Singh, the Lion of the Punjab him­self. Tak­ing Burnes by the hand, he brought him into the court where ‘ all of us were seated on sil­ver chairs, in front of his High­ness.’

The jour­ney of Alexan­der Burnes up the In­dus to La­hore, and then on to the then al­most com­pletely un­known Mus­lim emi­rates of Kabul and Bukhara was one of the cel­e­brated feats of Vic­to­rian travel and ex­plo­ration, and later be­came the sub­ject of one of the most fa­mous travel books of the era – Burnes’s Trav­els into Bokhara. It was also one of the defin­ing open­ing moves of the Great Game. For Burnes was not re­ally trav­el­ling as a diplo­mat, or for plea­sure, or even out of schol­arly cu­rios­ity. He had been sent by the Gover­nor Gen­eral of In­dia, who him­self was act­ing on or­ders from Down­ing Street, as an East In­dia Com­pany spy. Burnes was in fact one the most ef­fec­tive in­tel­li­gence agents of his gen­er­a­tion.

Alexan­der Burnes was an en­er­getic, am­bi­tious and re­source­ful young High­land Scot, the son of the Provost of Mon­trose. He was flu­ent in Per­sian, Ara­bic and Hin­dus­tani, and had an en­vi­ably clear and lively prose style. Like many oth­ers who would play the Great Game af­ter him, it was Burnes’s in­tel­li­gence and above all his skill in lan­guages that got him his pro­mo­tion, and de­spite com­ing from a rel­a­tively mod­est back­ground in a re­mote part of Eastern Scot­land, he rose faster in the ranks than any of his richer and bet­ter-con­nected con­tem­po­raries. A small, broad-faced man, he had a high fore­head, deeply inset eyes and a quizzi­cal set to his mouth which hinted at both his en­quir­ing na­ture and his

For Burnes was not re­ally trav­el­ling as a diplo­mat, or for plea­sure, or even out of schol­arly cu­rios­ity. He had been sent by the Gover­nor Gen­eral of In­dia... as an East In­dia Com­pany spy

sense of hu­mour, some­thing he shared with his cousin, the poet Rob­bie Burns.

The ‘Great Game’ be­gins

His jour­ney was part of a Bri­tish plan to map the In­dus and the passes of the Hindu Kush, and so gather in­tel­li­gence on an in­creas­ingly cru­cial area of the world. Since see­ing off Napoleon in 1812, the Rus­sians had moved their fron­tier south and east­wards al­most as fast as the East In­dia Com­pany had moved theirs north and west­wards, and it was be­com­ing in­creas­ingly ev­i­dent that the two em­pires would at some point come into col­li­sion.

Bri­tish im­pe­rial strate­gists were be­gin­ning to fear that the armies of the Rus­sian Em­pire were primed to march south through Cen­tral Asia to cap­ture Afghanistan, be­fore mov­ing in for the check­mate: to wrest In­dia from Bri­tain. Lord El­len­bor­ough, the hawk­ish Pres­i­dent of the Com­pany’s Board of Con­trol, who was also the min­is­ter with re­spon­si­bil­ity for In­dia in the Duke of Welling­ton’s cab­i­net, was one of the first to turn this anx­i­ety into pol­icy: ‘ Our pol­icy in Asia must fol­low one course only,’ he wrote. ‘ To limit the power of Rus­sia.’

By au­tho­ris­ing a ma­jor new pro­gramme of in­tel­li­gence gath­er­ing in Cen­tral Asia, El­len­bor­ough ef­fec­tively gave birth to the Great Game, cre­at­ing an An­glo-Rus­sian ri­valry in the Hi­malayas where none had ex­isted be­fore. From this point on, a suc­ces­sion of young In­dian army of­fi­cers and po­lit­i­cal agents would be despatched to the Hindu Kush and the Pamirs, some­times in dis­guise, some­times on ‘shoot­ing leave,’ to learn the lan­guages and tribal cus­toms, to map the rivers and passes, and to as­sess the dif­fi­culty of cross­ing the moun­tains and deserts.

Burnes was the trail­blazer. As the dray horses looked out over the green grass of the In­dus flood­plains, Burnes and his com­pan­ions be­gan this process by dis­creetly tak­ing sound­ings and bear­ings, mea­sur­ing the flow of the river, and pre­par­ing de­tailed maps and flow charts, prov­ing that the river In­dus was nav­i­ga­ble as far as La­hore. From Afghanistan and Bukhara they again pro­duced maps and de­tailed notes on the roads thread­ing through the Hindu Kush.

None of this, how­ever, pre­vented Burnes en­joy­ing him­self and writ­ing one of the great ac­counts of the re­gion in be­tween his of­fi­cial du­ties. For two months, Ran­jit laid on a round of en­ter­tain­ments for Burnes. Danc­ing girls danced, troops were ma­noeu­vred, deer were hunted, mon­u­ments vis­ited and ban­quets were eaten. Burnes even tried some of Ran­jit’s home-made hell-brew, a fiery dis­til­la­tion of raw spirit, crushed pearls, musk, opium, gravy and spices, two glasses of which was nor­mally enough to knock-out the most hard­ened Bri­tish drinker, but which Ran­jit rec­om­mended to Burnes as a cure for his dysen­tery. Burnes and Ran­jit, the Scot and the Sikh, found them­selves bond­ing over a shared taste for fire­wa­ter.

At their fi­nal din­ner, Ran­jit agreed to show Burnes his most pre­cious pos­ses­sion, the Koh-i-Nur: ‘ Noth­ing,’ wrote Burnes, ‘ can be imag­ined more su­perb than this stone; it is of the finest wa­ter, about half the size of an egg. Its weight amounts to 3 ½ ru­pees, and if such a jewel is to be val­ued, I am in­formed it is worth 3 ½ mil­lions of money.’ Ran­jit then pre­sented Burnes with two richly ca­parisoned horses, dressed in costly Kash­miri shawls, with their necks adorned with neck­laces of agate, and with herons plumes ris­ing from be­tween their ears. While Burnes thanked Ran­jit for the present, one of the dray horses was pa­raded for a fi­nal in­spec­tion, now decked in cloth of gold and sad­dled with an ele­phant’s how­dah.

Burnes clearly had im­mense charm and the nor­mally watch­ful and sus­pi­cious Ran­jit wrote to the Gover­nor Gen­eral the day of Burnes’ de­par­ture to say how much he had en­joyed meet­ing this ‘nightin­gale of the gar­den of elo­quence, this bird of the winged words of sweet dis­course.’ When Burnes con­tin­ued his jour­ney into Afghanistan, the Afghans were no less de­lighted by him: the first chief­tain he came across as he set foot on the Afghan bank of the In­dus told him that he and his friends could ‘feel as se­cure as eggs un­der a hen.’ Burnes duly re­paid the af­fec­tion: ‘I thought Peshawar a de­light­ful place,’ he wrote to his mother in Mon­trose a month later, ‘ un­til I came to Kabul: truly this is par­adise.... I tell them about steam ships, armies, ships, medicine, and all the won­ders of Europe; and, in re­turn, they en­lighten me re­gard­ing the cus­toms of their coun­try, its history, state fac­tions, trade &c...’

Burnes liked the place, liked its peo­ple, en­joyed its po­etry and land­scapes, and he ad­mired its rulers. He went on to de­scribe

his warm re­cep­tion by the Emir of Kabul, Dost Mo­ham­mad Khan, and de­scribed the sparkling in­tel­li­gence of his con­ver­sa­tion, as well as the beau­ties of the gar­dens and fruit trees of his palace, the Bala Hisar with its groves of ‘ peaches, plums, apri­cots, mul­ber­ries, pomegranates and vines... There were also nightin­gales, black­birds, thrushes and doves... and chat­ter­ing mag­pies on al­most ev­ery tree.’ If Burnes had charmed Dost Mo­ham­mad and his Afghans, they, in turn, had charmed him.

Burnes’ book leads to trou­ble

On his re­turn from Bukhara, Burnes pub­lished his Trav­els into Bokhara, and found him­self an overnight celebrity. He was in­vited to Lon­don to meet both Lord El­len­bor­ough, Pres­i­dent of the East In­dia Com­pany’s Board of Con­trol, and the King, li­onised by so­ci­ety hostesses, and gave stand­ing-room-only lec­tures to the Royal Ge­o­graph­i­cal So­ci­ety, which pre­sented him with its Gold Medal. On the pub­li­ca­tion of the French trans­la­tion of his book soon af­ter­wards, Voy­ages Dans Le Bokhara was again a best­seller and Burnes went to Paris to re­ceive fur­ther awards and more medals. But the suc­cess of the book also set in train a se­ries of events that would lead to Burnes’s vi­o­lent death and the un­rav­el­ling of his rep­u­ta­tion.

For it was the French trans­la­tion of Burnes’s work that brought Burnes’s jour­ney to the no­tice of the Rus­sian author­i­ties. Burnes’s ex­pe­di­tion had been in­tended to spy out and counter Rus­sian ac­tiv­ity in Afghanistan and Bukhara at a time when both ar­eas were off the Rus­sian map. Iron­i­cally, it was Burnes’s writ­ings that first pro­voked Rus­sian in­ter­est in those re­gions, not least to head off sus­pected Bri­tish in­trigues. As so of­ten in in­ter­na­tional af­fairs, hawk­ish para­noia about non-ex­is­tent threats can cre­ate the very mon­ster you fear most.

As the Rus­sian Gover­nor of Oren­burg ex­plained it in his mem­oirs, St Peters­burg was be­com­ing as frus­trated as Lon­don had been with its poor in­tel­li­gence from Cen­tral Asia: ‘ All the in­for­ma­tion that Rus­sia pro­cured was mea­gre and ob­scure,’ he wrote, ‘ and was supplied by Asi­at­ics, who ei­ther through ig­no­rance or timid­ity were not able to fur­nish use­ful ac­counts. We had re­li­able in­for­ma­tion that the agents of the East In­dia Com­pany were con­tin­u­ally ap­pear­ing at Bokhara... It was ac­cord­ingly de­cided in 1835, in or­der to watch the English agents and coun­ter­act their ef­forts, to send... sub-Lieu­tenant Vitke­vitch in the ca­pac­ity as an agent...’

Burnes meets his match

Ivan Vik­torovich Vitke­vitch was the Rus­sian’s an­swer to Burnes. A Pol­ish no­ble­man who had been ex­iled to the steppe for anti-Rus­sian ac­tiv­ity as a stu­dent, like Burnes he rose in the ranks due to his lin­guis­tic gifts and twice was sent off to Bukhara.

The first time he trav­elled in dis­guise with two Kirghiz traders and made the jour­ney in only sev­en­teen days through deep snow and over the frozen Oxus. He stayed a month, but found it much less ro­man­tic than the Ori­en­tal Won­der House de­scribed by Burnes: ‘ I must note that the tales told by Burnes, in his pub­lished ac­count of his jour­ney to Bokhara, pre­sented a cu­ri­ous con­trast to all that I chanced to see here,’ he wrote back to Oren­burg. ‘ He sees ev­ery­thing in some glam­orous light, while all I saw was merely dis­gust­ing, ugly, pa­thetic or ridicu­lous. Ei­ther Mr Burnes de­lib­er­ately ex­ag­ger­ated and em­bel­lished the at­trac­tions of Bokhara or he was strongly prej­u­diced in its favour.’

On his sec­ond visit, in Jan­uary 1836, Vitke­vitch went openly as a Rus­sian of­fi­cer, to re­quest the re­lease of sev­eral Rus­sian mer­chants who had been de­tained by the Emir of Bukhara. On ar­rival in the car­a­van city he recorded that he was im­me­di­ately asked: ‘” Do you know Iskan­der?” I thought they meant Alexan­der the Great but they were, in fact, talk­ing of Alexan­der Burnes.’ This early in­di­ca­tion of Bri­tish in­flu­ence did not stop Vitke­vitch im­me­di­ately try­ing to re­verse it, and it took him only a cou­ple of weeks to un­cover the in­tel­li­gence net­work that Burnes had es­tab­lished to send news back to In­dia.

It was on this sec­ond visit to Bukhara that Vitke­vitch had an ex­tra­or­di­nary break. Com­pletely by chance, his visit co­in­cided with that of an Afghan emis­sary, Mirza Hus­sein Ali, who had been sent by Dost Mo­ham­mad on a mis­sion to the Tsar. Vitke­vitch es­corted him to St Peters­burg, then led the re­turn mis­sion to Kabul, the first by Rus­sia to Afghanistan. His visit hap­pened to co­in­cide ex­actly with a sec­ond ex­pe­di­tion by Burnes.

The ri­vals come face to face

The two ri­vals had much in com­mon. They were nearly the same age; both came from the dis­tant prov­inces of their re­spec­tive Em­pires, with few con­nec­tions to the rul­ing elite, and hav­ing ar­rived in Asia within a few months of each other, had both worked their way up through their own merit and dar­ing, and es­pe­cially their skill in lan­guages. Now the ri­vals came face to face in the court of Kabul, and the out­come of the con­test would do much to de­ter­mine the im­me­di­ate fu­ture not only of Afghanistan, but that of Cen­tral Asia.

‘We are in a mess here,’ wrote Burnes to a friend in In­dia shortly af­ter he heard about Vitke­vitch’s ar­rival in Afghanistan. ‘ The Em­peror of Rus­sia has sent an En­voy to Kabul to of­fer Dost Mo­ham­mad Khan money to fight Ran­jit Singh!! I could not be­lieve my eyes or ears, but Cap­tain Vitke­vitch ar­rived here with a blaz­ing let­ter, three feet long, and sent im­me­di­ately to pay his re­spects to my­self. I of course re­ceived him and asked him to din­ner.’

The din­ner be­tween the two – the first such meet­ing in the history of the Great Game – took place on Christ­mas Day 1837. The two agents-turned-am­bas­sadors got on well. Burnes records that the Pole was ‘ a gen­tle­manly, agree­able man, about thirty years of age, and spoke French, Per­sian and Turk­ish flu­ently, and wore a uni­form of an of­fi­cer of Cos­sacks which was a nov­elty in Kabul. He had been to Bokhara, and we had there­fore a com­mon sub­ject to con­verse upon, with­out touch­ing on pol­i­tics. I found him in­tel­li­gent and well in­formed on the sub­ject of North­ern Asia. He very frankly said it was not the cus­tom of Rus­sia to pub­lish to the world the re­sult of its re­searches in for­eign coun­tries, as was the case in France or Eng­land.’ Burnes then added: ‘ I never again saw Mr Vitke­vitch, although we ex­changed sundry mes­sages of “high con­sid­er­a­tion,” for I re­gret to say I found it im­pos­si­ble to fol­low the dic­tates of my per­sonal feel­ings of friend­ship to­wards him, as the public ser­vice re­quired the strictest watch.’ This was no un­der­state­ment: Burnes had al­ready be­gun to in­ter­cept his din­ing com­pan­ion’s letters back to Tehran and St Peters­burg.

Vitke­vitch won the first round of the con­test, and Burnes, un­able to come up with any of­fer to the Afghans to match that of the Tsar, was forced to re­treat to Simla. In re­sponse to Vitke­vitch’s suc­cess, in the spring of 1839, the Bri­tish in­vaded Afghanistan, in what came to be known as the First Afghan War. Eigh­teen thou­sand Bri­tish and Com­pany troops poured through the passes and re-es­tab­lished on the throne, Dost Mo­ham­mad’s great ri­val, Shah Shuja ul-Mulk.

At this point Burnes al­lowed am­bi­tion to cloud his judge­ment. Although he had been a guest and a friend of Dost Mo­ham­mad, and did not ad­mire Shah Shuja, he al­lowed him­self to be bribed by a knight­hood into sup­port­ing the ex­pe­di­tion, even though he strongly sus­pected it was the ma­jor diplo­matic and mil­i­tary mis­take that it turned out to be. His du­plic­ity in this mat­ter, and his be­ing will­ing to be­tray his host, Dost Mo­ham­mad, led to Burnes be­com­ing a hate fig­ure in Afghanistan, and is com­mem­o­rated as such in the epic po­etry of the pe­riod.

In the Afghan sources, Burnes is al­ways de­picted as a devil­ishly charm­ing but cun­ning de­ceiver, a master of flat­tery and treach­ery – an in­ter­est­ing in­ver­sion of Bri­tish stereo­types of the ‘de­vi­ous Ori­en­tal’. Mirza ‘Ata Muham­mad in the Naway Ma’arek talks of Burnes’s progress up the In­dus ‘to spy out con­di­tions in Sindh and Khurāsān’, which he suc­ceeded in do­ing thanks to his Plato-like in­tel­li­gence. Burnes re­alised that the states of the re­gion were built on very in­se­cure foun­da­tions and would need only a gust of wind to blow them down. When the peo­ple crowded to stare at him, Burnes emerged from his tent and jok­ingly re­marked to the crowd “Come and see my tail and horns!” Ev­ery­one laughed, and some­one called out: “Your tail stretches all the way back to Eng­land, and your horns will soon be ap­pear­ing in Khurāsān!”’

The death of Burnes

It was partly be­cause of the ha­tred the Afghans felt for Burnes that he was the first to be killed when, in Novem­ber 1841, the peo­ple of Kabul fi­nally rose against their Bri­tish oc­cu­piers. ‘ It hap­pened by God’s will,’ wrote Mirza ‘Ata, ‘that a slave-girl of Ab­dul­lah Khan Achakzai ran away from his house to the res­i­dence of Alexan­der Burnes. When on en­quiry it was found out that that was where she had gone, the Khan, be­side him­self with fury, sent his at­ten­dant to fetch the silly girl back; the English­man, swollen with pride, curs­ing and swear­ing, had the Khan’s at­ten­dant se­verely beaten and thrown out of the house.’

‘The Khan then sum­moned the other Sar­dars and said: “Now we are jus­ti­fied in throw­ing off this English yoke: they stretch the hand of tyranny to dis­hon­our pri­vate cit­i­zens great and small: fuck­ing a slave-girl isn’t worth the rit­ual bath that fol­lows it: but we have to put a stop right here and now, oth­er­wise these English will ride the don­key of their de­sires in the field of stu­pid­ity and have us all. I put my trust in God and raise the bat­tle stan­dard of our Prophet, and thus go to fight: if suc­cess re­wards us, then that is as we wished; and if we die in bat­tle, that is still bet­ter than to live with degra­da­tion and dis­hon­our!” The other Sar­dars, his child­hood friends, tight­ened their belts and girt their loins, and pre­pared for Ji­had – holy war.’

Early the fol­low­ing morn­ing, Burnes’s house was sur­rounded and set on fire; when he ran out into the street, he was hacked to death by the mob. Af­ter a twom­onth siege, 18,500 cold, hun­gry and lead­er­less East In­dia Com­pany troops and their fol­low­ers re­treated through the icy passes in the mid­dle of win­ter. One by one, they were shot down by Afghan marks­men fir­ing from caves and be­hind boul­ders with their long-bar­relled jeza­ils – the sniper ri­fles of the 19th cen­tury – as the se­poys trudged snow­blind and frost­bit­ten through the moun­tain snow­drifts.

Af­ter eight days on the death march, the last fifty sur­vivors made their fi­nal stand at the vil­lage of Gan­damak. As late as the 1970s, frag­ments of Vic­to­rian weaponry and mil­i­tary equip­ment could be found ly­ing in the screes above the vil­lage. Even to­day, the hill is still cov­ered with bleached Bri­tish bones. Out of the 18,500-strong party that left Kabul, only one man, Dr Bry­don, made it through to the Bri­tish gar­ri­son in Jel­lal­abad. A hand­ful of Bri­tish of­fi­cers and their wives were taken hostage; the rest were shot. Mean­while, the In­dian se­poys who made up the bulk of the army were ei­ther sold en masse into slav­ery, or dis­armed, stripped and left to per­ish in the snow.

The First Afghan War was ar­guably the great­est mil­i­tary hu­mil­i­a­tion ever suf­fered by the West in the East: an en­tire army of what was then the most pow­er­ful mil­i­tary na­tion in the world routed and de­stroyed by poorly-equipped tribes­men. In 1843, the army chap­lain in Jel­lal­abad, the Rev G H Gleig, wrote a memoir about the ex­pe­di­tion. It was, he wrote, ‘ a war be­gun for no wise pur­pose, car­ried on with a strange mix­ture of rash­ness and timid­ity, brought to a close af­ter suf­fer­ing and dis­as­ter, with­out much glory at­tached ei­ther to the gov­ern­ment which di­rected, or the great body of troops which waged it. Not one ben­e­fit, po­lit­i­cal or mil­i­tary, has been ac­quired with this war. Our even­tual evac­u­a­tion of the coun­try re­sem­bled the re­treat of an army de­feated.’

Lessons not learnt

We have al­lowed our­selves to for­get the lessons of Burnes and the First Afghan War – to our cost. But the Afghans have not. Last year, I fol­lowed much of the route of Burnes’ jour­ney in Afghanistan and the path of the 1841 death march, which leads deep into Tal­iban ter­ri­tory; the Ghilzai tribe, who mas­sa­cred the Bri­tish on their re­treat in 1841, now pro­vide the foot sol­diers for the mod­ern Tal­iban re­sis­tance. What­ever their tribe, ev­ery­one still re­mem­bered Burnes’s name. At the vil­lage of Jig­dal­lick, not far from the site of the last stand at Gan­damak, my hosts ca­su­ally pointed out the var­i­ous places in the vil­lage where many of the Bri­tish had been mas­sa­cred:

‘ It is ex­actly the same to­day as 1841,’ said my host, An­war Khan Jig­dal­lick, whose an­ces­tor had led the re­sis­tance. ‘Both times the for­eign­ers have come for their own in­ter­ests. They say, “we are your friends, we want to help.” But they are ly­ing.’

‘ Who­ever comes to Afghanistan, even now, they will face the fate of Burnes and Mac­naghten,’ agreed Mo­ham­mad Khan, the owner of the or­chard where we were sit­ting. Ev­ery­one nod­ded sagely: the names of the fallen of 1841, long for­got­ten in their home coun­try, were still com­mon cur­rency here.

‘ Since the Bri­tish went we’ve had the Rus­sians and now the Amer­i­cans,’ said one old man. ‘ We are the roof of the world. From here you can con­trol and watch ev­ery­where. But we do not have the strength to con­trol our own des­tiny. Our fate is de­ter­mined by our neigh­bours.’

‘This is the last days of the Amer­i­cans,’ said the other el­der. ‘ Next it will be China.’

It was partly be­cause of the ha­tred the Afghans felt for Burnes that he was the first to be killed when, in Novem­ber 1841, the peo­ple of Kabul fi­nally rose against their Bri­tish oc­cu­piers

Alexan­der Burnes by Daniel Ma­clise (1834) Im­age cour­tesy John Mur­ray

Kalyan minaret and Kalan mosque com­plex, Bukhara

In­te­rior of the palace of Shauh Shu­jah Ool Moolk, Late King of Cabul. Litho­graph taken from plate 3 of ‘Afghau­nistan’ by Lieu­tenant James Rat­tray (18181854) Bri­tish Li­brary

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.