Last night, after a tasty buffet meal in the Red Fort on Drummond Street, which I remember going to a long time ago when it was the Drummond Street Refectory, we went to a talk by William Dalrymple given in the Royal College of Surgeons. Dalrymple has just published Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, which I wrote about briefly, last week.
The Edinburgh literati turned out in force for the talk, and every seat in the quite large and impressive room was occupied.
Lindsey and I enjoyed the talk, which was well-presented. Dalrymple spoke about the ‘Great Game‘ between Britain and Russia in the 19th century and events around the First Anglo-Afghan War, 1839-1842. He explained the many similarities between that conflict and more recent events in Afghanistan.
The question session after the talk was also interesting. Dalrymple was asked what he thought would happen in the future, in Afghanistan. The development of a free democratic society was unlikely. The best scenario seemed to be some sort of federal arrangement, to give the south, and the north, more say in their own matters. He was also asked whether his interpretation of events differed from those of Rory Stewart, who wrote The Places In Between, and another book I’ve still to read, Occupational Hazards. He said that their views were quite similar, and amusingly, that perhaps Rory saw himself a bit like a modern-day Alexander Burnes (a cousin of Robert Burns (despite the different spelling of their surnames) and an adviser to the British government during the War, before he came to a sticky end in Kabul).