In the 1830s, after decades of trying to protect their Indian interests, the British set about trying to seize Afghanistan to block the Persians and the Russians. The occupation went badly from the start and culminated with a week long retreat from Kabul in the dead of winter from which few survived. Thus ends the book and the First Afghan War.
A shocking story about arrogance and incompetence. The politicians thought they had the knowledge and ability to create a consensus with myriad Afghan tribal leaders and that such agreements as were reached would always be upheld by the Afghans (never mind the same was not the British intent or plan). The military could not even conceive that they were not totally superior the tribes.
The astounding horror of the title-eponymous event does not begin until well past midway in the book. The first part is background – decades of it – explaining just why and how the commercial cum governmental entity that was British colonial rule ended up in Kabul. This story – while tedious and muddled – is critical to being made aware of why the things played out the way they did.
The Brits tried twice again to conquer the country. So did the Soviets. Obviously, the US and some allies are trying now.
The moral of this book is that the Afghans are very tough and strong-willed. It doesn’t appear that anyone – even their leaders then and now – can win their hearts and minds.