The first Embassy to Afghanistan by a western power left the Company's Delhi Residency on 13 October 1808, with the Ambassador accompanied by 200 calvary, 4,000 infantry, a dozen elephants and no fewer than 600 camels. It was dazzling, but it was also clear from this attempt to reach out to the Afghans that the British were not interested in cultivating Shah Shuja's friendship for its own sake, but were concerned only to outflank their imperial rivals: the Afghans were perceived as mere pawns on the chessboard of western diplomacy, to be engaged or sacrificed at will. It was a precedent that was to be followed many other times, by several different powers, over the years and decades to come. and each time the Afghans would show themselves capable of defending their inhospitable terrain far more effectively than any of their would-be manipulators could possibly have suspected.
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Author: William Dalrymple