The Remnants of an Army, a famous oil on canvas by Elizabeth Butler, is a lasting image of the First Anglo-Afghan War (1839-1842). It depicts William Brydon, a medical officer in the British Indian Army, arriving in Jalalabad from Kabul on horseback in 1842. Both Brydon, who was wounded, and his horse look exhausted. Brydon was the only survivor of the 16,000 soldiers and camp followers who were retreating from Kabul after the British invasion went awry. One hundred and thirty-seven years later, the Soviet Union sent troops to Afghanistan to bolster its client communist regime. A decade passed before the Soviet troops too withdrew in ignominy. And again in 2001, the U.S., the sole superpower of the post-Soviet world, sent troops to Afghanistan launching its ‘War on Terror’. Now, after 17 years of the war, with the U.S. and the Taliban agreeing ‘in-principle’ to a framework for peace that would provide the Americans a face-saving exit from Afghanistan, it’s hard to miss the echoes from history. Repeating mistakes of the past Afghanistan has historically been a difficult place for external invaders, thanks to its complex tribal equations and its rugged mountainous terrain. It’s a classic example of a country whose geopolitical destiny is defined by geography. The British Empire sent troops to Afghanistan in 1839 as part of the ‘Great Game’. They feared that the Russians would take over Afghanistan and be at the border of India, “the jewel in the British Crown”. To pre-empt that, they conquered Kabul, toppled the Emir of Afghanistan, Dost Mohammad Khan, and installed their protege Shah Shujah Durrani in power. When the invasion became unsustainable in the wake of the violent resistance by tribal fighters, mainly the faction led by Dost Mohammad’s son, Akbar Khan, the British decided to withdraw. But while withdrawing, all their troops but Brydon were massacred, and Dost Mohammad went on to recapture Kabul. The Soviets made the same mistake. They sent troops to Afghanistan after an intra-party coup in the country. The Soviets were wary of Hafizullah Amin, who captured power and assassinated Nur Mohammad Taraki, the leader of the 1978 communist coup. In December 1979, Leonid Brezhnev deployed troops to Afghanistan. The Soviets staged another coup, murdered Amin, and installed Babrak Karmal, a Moscow loyalist, as President. Given their defeat in the Vietnam War and their loss of Iran following the 1979 Revolution, the Americans saw the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan as an opportunity. They began supporting the mujahideen, the tribal warriors who were fighting both the communist regime and its Soviet backers, with help from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, which were worried about the expansion of communism to the Muslim world. A decade later, the Soviets realised that the occupation had become unsustainable and pulled back.