Daily Archives: May 2, 2013


Preparations for War

Reading two reports by Lieutenant Leech written between January and March 1838. The first, on Candahar, contains the interesting sentence:

“ Mehrab Khan will most likely receive the allegiance of more of the Baloch tribes than he already possesses, when Sinde shall have become subject to British control. ”

The second one, entitled “Report on the Sindhian, Khelat and Daoodputr Armies, with a Collection of Routes”, is a precise description of the future march of the Army of the Indus, the route it might take, the availability of supplies and transport and the opposition that might be faced.

The interesting thing is that historians have not viewed an invasion of Afghanistan as being on the table at the time Leech was writing these; the invasion of Sinde still less. Furthermore, Leech presupposes a route through the Bolan pass, a decision supposedly only taken nine months later due to Runjit Singh’s non-cooperation over Khyber. Finally, Leech was of course part of Alexander Burnes’ mission, which has generally been construed as trying to avert the invasion rather than prepare for it.

This is not the only evidence, but is amongst the evidence, that leads me to conclude that the decision to invade Afghanistan was taken in 1837, a year before the generally accepted date. This fits in with recent experience – Bush and Blair decided to invade Iraq at Crawford, a year before the ostensible decision of Cabinet and Parliament and necessitating all the jiggery-pokery of fixed legal opinions by Lord Goldsmith.

I suppose it was ever thus; the apparent and the actual in politics are clean different things.

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No Politics is Local

Two friends of mine, one a Conservative and one a Liberal Democrat, both of whom live in London, were last weekend each volunteering for their parties, telephoning unfortunate voters in Cornwall, asking them to vote in today’s county council elections for their respective parties. The cordial hatred between the coalition partners seems focused particularly today on who controls Cornwall.

Whether this frenetic telephone activity does any good, or rather whether it achieves the desired end for the party, seems to me open to doubt. I am bemused by the apparent widespread concern on the Indian subcontinent for the state of my glazing. I think if I started getting phone calls from political parties, I would rip my phone out. Perhaps they do it more as a team building exercise to keep up morale among their own fast dwindling memberships, than for its effect on voters.

I suspect the days when local issues really effected local elections are in general behind us, sadly. What we have here is the same tired old national choice between three parties, whose policy differences are minute. All of them supported giving all your money to the rich bankers, and enabling them to play casino with it all over again. All of them support war and massive military spending. UKIP supporters probably want even more of the latter: less foreigners here, and more killing them elsewhere.

I suspect this will be a good day for Mr Farage. That will help still more people in Scotland to understand that Scotland is an entirely different type of body politic, has absolutely separate community values, from England. As I have opined before, in the medium term Scotland should leave the United Kingdom, in order to stay in the European Union.

I shall be speaking at the Edinburgh South launch of the Yes Scotland campaign on May 24th.

My very, very best wishes to Ingo the Independent in Norfolk!

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The Toils of the Historian

It is 3.30am and I have just finished reading and analysing A Report on the Sindhian, Khelat and Daoodputr Armies with A Collection of Routes, By Lieutenant R Leech, Bombay Engineers (1838). Eleventh such report I have read in the last 24 hours. In general, one conclusion I am coming to is that the advance intelligence of the British Army in the first Anglo-Afghan war was painstaking and accurate, and that the cheerful conclusion of many historians that they were misled by over-optimistic reporting is not true. Selective reading of the intelligence was the problem.

But more importantly, when you get into your research so much that your sense of your own time gets five hours out of synch, it is time to give up and go to bed. So I will. I have a new and definitely final publisher’s deadline of 17 October. My mind is much concentrated now.

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