I haven’t actually been to the Khyber Pass, and doubt I ever will, but have recently made it as far east as I’m ever likely to in Afghanistan. On the road out of Kabul to Jalalabad, twisting down through a narrow gorge before reaching the warm green plains of Nangharha, it was impossible not to reflect on the chaotic retreat of the British along roughly the same route in 1842. Having royally ballsed things up in Kabul, they had little choice but to make a run for it, getting snipped at and slaughtered along the way. Of the 15,000 odd who scarped, only Flashman and one other chap made it through to Jalalabad alive (of the British. We don’t count the natives and camp followers who made up the majority of the expedition).
These days the gravest danger is from overtaking overloaded trucks from Pakistan on the hairpin bends. Unless that is one wants to get all allegorically-analytical and start making historical parallels with some fine figurative illustrations and quotes from Kipling to brighten up one’s policy prescriptions. (My, aren’t I feeling alliterative today.) I do wish I had a better idea of what’s going on in this country and that I was more studious about it, but to be honest most of the articles and analysis about security and politics that I glance at these days leave me cold. As so often, Steve Bell sums it up as well as I could wish:
There’s rather a fine audio slideshow from the BBC that gives a nice little potted history of the British in Afghanistan, with images from an exhibition at the Royal Geographical Society in London.
I was hoping to be clever enough to embed that here but obviously not.
I’m tired, and part of my work is making me more cynical about aid and development than ever before. But it was uplifting to get out of Kabul for a while and see some new places. Especially when those places seem so remarkably green and fertile. It’s a blessed change from the chronic scrubland and food insecurity of central Afghanistan that I’m used to.
Going back to Kabul I flew rather than go by road. A 20 minute hop over the mountains, factor in the time getting into and waiting at the large US military base / airport at Jalalabad and it would have been quicker to go by car. But it did mean I got to see a couple of pilot-less drones take off and swing round towards the Khyber, on their way to drop some bombs on Pakistan. It was fun waving them off on their way, though I soon got bored of trying to think of an historical analogy for their mission.