Boxes of dusty books from a Kabul bookstall led author and historian William Dalrymple to realise NATO forces in Afghanistan are on a path first taken by the British Army in 1839.
Dalrymple’s latest book “Return of a King” uses sources never before translated into English to draw startling parallels between the First Anglo-Afghan War and today’s conflict.
Speaking before an event at Dublin’s Royal Irish Academy, Dalrymple talks of watching American soldiers under attack in Kandahar while holding a diary written 170 years before by a British officer describing attacks at the same bridge.
“There was a sensation in 2006 that history was in a general sense repeating itself but what usually happens is the closer you get to the detail, the parallels dissolve in the face of detailed evidence. What was so weird this time is the details lead to greater parallels,” he says.
In a familiar echo, an Afghan ruler at the time slyly asked a British spy: “You have brought an army into the country but how do you propose to take it out again?”