William Dalrymple in The Telegraph:
At the end of Kim, Kipling has his eponymous hero say, “When everyone is dead, the Great Game is finished. Not before.” In the 1980s, it was the Russians’ withdrawal from their failed occupation of Afghanistan that triggered the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union. Less than 20 years later, in 2001, British and American troops arrived in Afghanistan, where they proceeded to begin losing what was, in Britain’s case, its fourth war in that country. As before, in the end, despite all the billions of dollars handed out, the training of an entire army of Afghan troops and the infinitely superior weaponry of the occupiers, the Afghan resistance succeeded again in first surrounding then propelling the hated Kafirs into a humiliating exit.
On my extended visits to Afghanistan to research my new book, in 2009 and 2010, I was keen to see as many of the places and landscapes associated with the First Afghan War as was possible. I particularly wanted to retrace the route of the British forces’ retreat of January 1842 and get to Gandamak, the site of the British last stand. The route of the retreat backs on to the mountain range that leads to Tora Bora and the Pakistan border, the Ghilzai heartlands that have always been – along with Quetta – the Taliban’s main recruiting ground. I had been advised not to attempt to visit the area without local protection, so eventually set off in the company of a regional tribal leader who was also a minister in Karzai’s government: a mountain of a man named Anwar Khan Jagdalak, a former village wrestling champion and later captain of the Afghan Olympic wrestling team, who had made his name as a Jamiat-e-Islami Mujahideen commander in the jihad against the Soviets in the 1980s.