Hamid Hussain sahib has a review of Dalrymple's "Return of a King" that I have posted at brownpundits.


Excerpt: In summary, by 1839, Dost Muhammad Khan had established himself as ruler of Afghanistan after annihilating other contenders. A former ruler, Shah Shuja was living in a comfortable exile in Ludhiana as British pensioner and Maharaja Ranjit Singh was ruling Punjab that included Peshawar; the former winter capital of Afghan rulers. British fearful of Russian drive cobbled a plan involving British, Shah Shuja and Ranjit Singh. British will help Shah Shuja to regain his throne with the help of Ranjit. Shuja will get his throne, British will get a friendly ruler who will keep Russians out and Ranjit will keep Peshawar as Shuja will renounce his claim over the territory conquered by Sikhs. This was the genesis of First Anglo-Afghan War. Wily ruler of Lahore was the shrewdest of the three players not allowing the army to take the shortest route that will go through his own territory. Instead, army had to go through the desolate areas of Sindh, Baluchistan and over treacherous Bolan Pass to southern Afghanistan. The journey alone and not any battle devastated the army. Shah Shuja was easily installed at Kabul by British and Indian bayonets and Dost Muhammad changed place with Shah Shuja and lived in same quarters in Ludhiana as pensioner with his slaves and concubines. After a year and a half of partying and affairs in Kabul, British cut subsidies to border tribes into half to decrease expenses, the tribes closed passes, annihilated small force and large camp followers, British sent an army of vengeance to spank Afghans and returned to India, Shah Shuja was murdered, Dost Muhammad came back, repeated the previous act of chopping some rebellious heads and other body parts to become the top dog again and the cycle was completed.