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Asia Society
Homeland Afghanistan

Geography and Destiny For centuries, scarce resources and difficult terrain have required people in the Hindu Kush region to develop unique solutions to survive. But while geography has brought challenges, it has also offered opportunities. In Afghanistan, geography is a multi-sided destiny.

Identity and Perception Local, tribal, and religious identities in the Hindu Kush region have always shifted depending on one’s point of view. As Afghanistan decides what it means to be Afghan, it faces a kaleidoscope of moving perspectives.

Tradition and Modernization Afghans have always had to be flexible. At times, this flexibility has brought people together, and at other times it has torn them apart. Reconciling tradition and modernization means making sense of what’s at stake when people change--and when they don’t.

Traces and Narratives History is not always written. Much of what we know about Afghanistan comes from scattered artifacts, symbols, and oral traditions. Understanding these traces means piecing together the narratives that history leaves behind.

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The Pace of Reform

CIRCA 1933 CE
THEMES:

Identity & Perception

Tradition & Modernization

Reveal Source

"100 Afghanis." Digital image. Wikipedia Commons. Accessed September 4, 2010. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:100_Afghanis_%281963_-_top%29.jpg.

Belton. Ze Ma Janana. Cassette.
 
"Biology Class, Kabul University." Digital image. Foreign Policy. Accessed September 20, 2010. http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/05/27/once_upon_a_time_in_afghanistan?page=0,2.
 
Dupree, Nancy. Daoud Leaving after Being Elected President. 1977. Dupree Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.
 
Dupree, Nancy. The Sarobi Dam. 1969. Dupree Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.
 
KES-1152-H-521. Khalilullah Enayat Seraj Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.
 
KES-2182-HG-5. Khalilullah Enayat Seraj Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.
 
KES-939-A-308. Khalilullah Enayat Seraj Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.
 
"King Zahir Shah of Afghanistan in 1963." Digital image. Wikipedia Commons. Accessed September 4, 2010. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:King_Zahir_Shah_of_Afghanistan_in_1963.jpg.
 
"Mohammed Nadir Shah." Digital image. Wikipedia Commons. Accessed September 4, 2010. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mohammed_Nadir_Shah.jpg.
 
Susan B. Anthony. George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, DC. Accessed September 4, 2010. http://loc.gov/pictures/resource/ggbain.12783/.
 
UNAMA, and Fardin Waezi. "Women's Rights." Digital image. UNAMA's Flickr Photostream. Accessed November 4, 2009. www.flickr.com/photos/unama/4146190177/in/photostream/.
 
Webster, Tony. "Our Bike Is a Global Warming Solution." Digital image. Tony Webster's Flickr Photostream. Accessed September 4, 2010. http://www.flickr.com/photos/diversey/459289180/.

Producer: Kate Harding

 

Reveal Transcript

We all want change. Our society and our government disappoint us at times, and we want things to be different.

But we also all want some things to remain the same. While we want to move forward, we also still want to hold onto that which we believe makes us who we are.

Like many places caught in the sweep of the modern era, Afghanistan has struggled to agree on which things should change and which things should stay the same.

In 1933, a king came to power and successfully ruled Afghanistan for 40 uninterrupted years. And he was able to introduce reforms while at the same time keeping traditionalists satisfied. Today he is remembered as The Father of Afghanistan and his reign is recalled with nostalgia.

After the 1929 coup that forced King Amanullah out of power, Afghanistan was in a turbulent place. A new world order was developing across the globe.

It was an era of nations, industrial growth, and global interdependence. And Afghans were struggling to decide how to emerge in the new order.

Should they embrace secularism and western reforms? Or might this threaten their autonomy and their very identity? Should they return to a more conservative, traditionalist lifestyle? Or might this close them off from the rest of the world?

As the country debated, it saw a series of assassinations and power struggles. In 1933, the king of Afghanistan, Mohammed Nadir Shah, was assassinated after only three years of rule.

His son Zahir however, replaced him and reigned for an uninterrupted 40 years.

One of the reasons Zahir was so successful was that he encouraged changes but did not insist on the same hastiness as his predecessors.

He went very gradually and instituted educational reform and other kinds of reform, economic reforms and modernization programs that were gradual in their nature, and that were specifically designed not to incur the wrath of the elements that had overthrown his cousin, King Amanullah.

As the decades passed, the rising generation would begin to demand a faster pace of reform. Forty years after Zahir ascended the throne, he would lose it to the forces of change.

It was an era of nations, industrial growth, and global interdependence. And Afghans were struggling to decide how to emerge in the new order.

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