William Dalrymple: a life in writing

In The Guardian:

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.”

And is the fourth occupation of Afghanistan, featuring Hamid Karzai’s western-backed regime, a debacle? “Well, Kabul is the safest place in Afghanistan by a long way. It’s almost like a French finishing school – lovely-looking French girls working for NGOs and handsome-looking French archaeologists digging away. But when I was last there last year you couldn’t go outside Kabul in safety. I wanted to go to the wonderful Buddhist monastery one mile outside the city – one mile – but couldn’t. Jalalabad – you take your life in your hands. As you drive there, you see burned-out cinders of other cars that have been hijacked. Ghazni is so dangerous that I’ve never been there. And as for Kandahar …”

Dalrymple pulls out his phone and shows me a holiday snap from Kandahar. A single bullet has shattered a pick-up’s rear window. “I was with a security company’s driver out at the airport – fortunately behind bulletproof glass. A sniper shot to the back of the head. This is the driver,” he says, showing me another photo, “looking chuffed to have met me.” Why were they shooting at you? “Because we’re an occupying army and they assume I’m intelligence or army up to no good.” More:

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