Daily Archives: September 21, 2011


Parvan Prison Guantanamo

Any Americans who thought their country was hard up for cash because of Obama’s deep welfare cuts can be happy to know that the USA still has huge amounts of money to spare. $100 million of US taxpayers’ cash is being spent on building a new Guantanamo for 2,000 political prisoners near Baghram airport, Afghanistan.

Baghram was of course already a notorious torture black site for the CIA, and there was a regular transport of prisomers between Baghram and Tashkent when I was British Ambassador in Uzbekistan. None, I believe, of the prisoners transferred by the CIA into Tashkent from Baghram has survived to tell their story.

The site of the new Obamamo complex is actually on the battlefield of Parvan, where the Emir Dost Mohammed defeated the British on November 2 1840. Alexander Burnes was present at the battle, at which his close friend and travelling companion Dr Percival Lord and another friend Lt James Broadfoot were killed. After the British had occupied Kabul a year earlier and installed a pupper ruler, the Emir of Kabul Dost Mohammed had originally fled to Bukhara, where he had been held prisoner by the mad ruler Nasrulla. Eventually escaping, he had raised a largely Uzbek force in Kunduz, but this had been dispersed by a British attack. Wandering with only a few hundred followers, at Parvan he encountered the large British force under General Bob Sale which had been sent out to find him.

The approach of Sale’s army had seen the local tribes abandon their villages and take to the hills, where they made hostile demonstrations and took long shots with their jezzails. But these locals were not really a part of the battle. Two squadrons of the 2nd Bengal Cavalry became detached on the right of the British advance, after a planned sweep went still wider to avoid fire from a fort in which a local chief had taken refuge. Seeing his chance, Dost Mohammed with 200 irregular cavalry swept down on the 2nd Cavalry. Numbers each side were about equal, but when the British officers of the 2nd Bengal Cavalry charged, they found almost all their men had panicked and routed, even running down and killing and wounding some of their own side coming up to support, including horse artillery. Seven British officers and about a dozen of their men completed the charge, and all were killed or severely wounded.

Afghan historians claim the battle of Parvan was a much more general affair with thousands engaged each side, but British military records do not bear this interpretation out – there just are not the causalties or use of supplies this would entail. Burnes was with Sale and saw his friends’ disaster from a distance. Precisely one year later he was himself to be killed, alongside James Broadfoot’s brother William and his own brother Charlie.

After his cavalry charge, Dost Mohammed rode on through the night and, considering honour satisfied, the next evening surrendered himself in Kabul to the British authorities.

For America to be building a new Guantanamo is terrible enough. To be building it on Parvan – which has strong associations for Afghans in their national history – is crass.

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