KHYBER: The Story of an Imperial Migraine by Charles Miller

KHYBER: The Story of an Imperial Migraine

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With an appropriate mixture of the romantic and the caustic, this highly detailed volume traces the repeated British conquest of ""the Frontier,"" the antique trade route to india and China now known as Afghanistan, Pakistan, and northwest India. Miller, author of a lively history of East Africa, The Lunatic Express (1971), thinks the barren, mountainous region was less strategic than the Victorians imagined, but it occasioned great myths like Gunga Din, and made the careers of countless colonial officers while adding new forms of butchery to age-old ones. Miller has a weakness for modern similes: the opium-fed ""Guides,"" native sikhs instructed by the British never to take a prisoner, are likened to the Green Berets; the East India Company had been doing since 1599 what ITT and United Fruit carried on; the dominant Pathan tribes of Afghans feuded like the Hatfields and McCoys, with great-power intrigues shaping their quarrels as the Soviets, Nazis, and most recently the Chinese did later. In the three 19th-century wars against the Afghans, Miller stresses, it was the more humane officers who failed and the brutal ones--like Sepoy Mutiny suppressor John Nicholson--who received the Crown's accolades, leading ""a rabble of derelicts"" who showed surprising martial abilities. Two administrators get high marks Dost Muhammed, the Afghan modernizer who cheerfully accepted 30 years of Victorian bribes, and Lord Curzon, who finally made the Frontier a province governed directly by the Viceroy's office. Today tribesmen still carry guns but Miller says the place is safer than Central Park. A well-paced, well-researched, entertaining venture.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1977
Publisher: Macmillan