William Dalrymple: a life in writing

From The Guardian:

William-Dalrymple-010On page 493 of William Dalrymple's new narrative of Britain's calamitous 1839 invasion of Afghanistan, he draws this present-day parallel: the west's “fourth war in the country looks certain to end with as few political gains as the first three, and like them to terminate in an embarrassing withdrawal after a humiliating defeat, with Afghanistan yet again left in tribal chaos and quite possibly ruled by the same government which the war was originally fought to overthrow”. That isn't how the government sees the situation, I tell him when we meet in London just before Christmas: the prime minister is with the troops in Helmand and defence secretary Philip Hammond has just told the Commons that the planned reduction of British troops in April “is possible because of the success of the Afghan national security forces in assuming a lead role”.

How could you write such an off-message book, I ask Dalrymple. Even though he's travelled overnight from his farm outside Delhi to his publisher's offices in Bloomsbury, and left his wallet in India, he giggles amiably. “We have a very good record of defence secretaries saying clever things about Afghanistan. 'They won't even have to shoot a single bullet' – remember that? John Reid. I was on a panel with him last year and reminded him.” He laughs again, and admits that the timing of the publication of Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan is not entirely fortuitous. “There was an element of calculation that this could happen – that they could withdraw some troops.”

More here.