Kabul during the First Anglo-Afghan War of 1839-42
From Chapter 6 of Flashman by George MacDonald Fraser (1969):
. . We pushed on faster after that, west and then north-west, over the plains and great rivers of the Punjab, through the Sikh country, and up to Peshawar, which is where India ends. There was nothing to remind you of Calcutta now; here the heat was dry and glaring, and so were the people—lean, ugly, Jewish-looking creatures, armed and ready for mischief by the look of them. But none was uglier or looked readier for mischief than the governor of the place, a great, grey-bearded ox of a man in a dirty old uniform coat, baggy trousers, and gold-tasselled forage cap. He was an Italian, of all things, with the spiky waxed moustache that you see on organ-grinders nowadays, and he spoke English with a dreadful dago American accent. His name was Avitabile,¹¹ and the Sikhs and Afghans were more scared of him than of the devil himself; he had drifted to India as a soldier of fortune, commanded Shah Sujah's army, and now had the job of keeping the passes open to our people in Kabul.
. . He did it admirably, in the only way those brutes understood—by fear and force. There were five dead Afghans swinging in the sunlight from his gateway arch when we rode through, which was both reassuring and unnerving at once. No one minded them more thasn if they had been swatted flies, least of all Avitabile, who had strung them up.
"Goddam, boy," says he, "how you think I keep the peace if I don' keep killing these bastards? These are Gilzais, you know that? Good Gilzais, now I've 'tended to them. The bad Gilzais are up in the hills, between here and Kabul, watchin' the passes and lickin' their lips and thinkin'—but thinkin's all they do just now, 'cos of Avitabile. Sure, we pay 'em to be quiet; you think that would stop them? No, sir, fear of Avitabile"—and he jerked a huge thumb at his chest—"fear's what stops 'em. But if I stopped hangin' 'em now and then, they'd stop bein' afraid. See?"
¹¹ Avitabile. Flashman's description of this extratraordinary soldier of fortune is accurate; the Italian was noted as a stern, just administrator and intrepid soldier.
Should this page belong in the History or Politics folders?
Details of Paolo Avitabile's life, including his governorship of Peshawar can be found here: