Matthew Leeming

Kabul is now a city of the dead

I lived in Kabul for nearly ten years. I had a house there for many years and I loved being there. I loved the sense of life on the edge — even at the risk of sudden death — and the extraordinary array of interesting people who visited. I later became a partner in a

Ahmad Shah Massoud was Afghanistan’s best hope

Ahmed Shah Massoud was described as ‘the Afghan who won the Cold War’. While famous in France (he was educated at the Kabul lycée, and the French saw him as the ultimate maquisard who drove a super-power out of his country), he is not a familiar figure in Britain. This book, a rich and detailed

In the lap of the Gods

The Oxus, that vast central Asian river that rises somewhere in the Afghan Pamirs, has fascinated explorers for centuries. Its name gives us the land of Oxiana. Yet few Europeans had set eyes on it before the second world war. Robert Byron’s 1937 book, The Road to Oxiana, is an account, among other things, of

The Quaker Prince of Ghor

The saga of the First Afghan War, one of the greatest disasters ever met by the British army, has been told many times before, and I had vowed to throw any book that told it again away in the bin. But Ben Macintyre has found a wholly original angle on it by turning the spotlight

Culture of shame

I really thought I had made it when I went to give a talk at my old Oxford college. But when I got there I discovered that there had been an attempt to have me banned. I was accosted by a dusky beauty in the quad who, practically incoherent with indignation, told me that this

The horror! The horror!

I have to declare an interest. In the late 1980s, I travelled with the author of this book. After university we went to run the bulls in Pamplona together, while our neighing contemporaries were being strapped into their first pinstriped suits. Then we went to Africa, where his family had lived since the 1930s. That


Very few white people have seen the source of the Oxus in the Great Pamir. This vast Central Asian river that never meets an ocean was a source of fascination to 19th-century geographers, and the question of its origin, for which there are six candidates, was only finally settled in 1892 by Lord Curzon himself.

The making of the Taleban

I saw the first tourists arriving in Afghanistan this summer. I saw their incredulity at the graveyard of crumpled aeroplanes at Kabul airport and at the Hazara suburb of the city that looks like Berlin in 1945. The question everyone asked was: how did this happen? How did a country famous for its hospitality and

Diary – 12 October 2002

Kabul On the trail of genetic traces of Alexander’s soldiers in Afghanistan, I arrived in Badakhshan, the country’s most remote and beautiful province that abuts China. I went to see my old friends at the government guest house, which is set on an island in the middle of the Kokcha river. We sat on a