A poem written by Sir Alfred Lyall in the mid-19th century and quoted by King Abdur Rahman Khan in his 1900 biography, The Life of Abdur Rahman Khan, Amir of Afghanistan, reads:
The Afghan is but grist in the mill,
And the waters are moving it fast,
Let the stone be upper or nether,
It grinds him to powder at last.
And the lord of the English writes:
Order and justice, and govern with laws;
And the Russian he sneers and says:
Patience and velvet to cover your claws;
But the kingdoms of Islam are crumbling,
And round me a voice ever rings
Of death, and the doom of my country.
Shall I be the last of its kings?
If the word “American” is substituted for the word “English” in the fifth line, this poem would be relevant still, especially following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan on December 24, 1979. The 19th-century “great game,” however, has taken on a new twist since September 11, 2001. The struggle over Afghanistan now has regional and global ramifications—the...