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.
Geography & Destiny
Tradition & Modernization
0096. AMRC Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.
It’s hard for Americans to appreciate the impact of 30 years of war.
Imagine the number of casualties, the number of refugees, the amount of weapons that have flooded into this country, the breakdown of the central government, the anarchy that’s existed in many parts of the countryside.
Afghanistan is a war more than any other reason because people have interfered with Afghanistan.
Afghans have to take responsibility as well, but when you look at who the key players are, who the key people responsible for the war in Afghanistan, they are people who prior to 1978 were unimportant people. The way that they became important people was because they gained the sponsorship of one or another foreign interest groups. So without that support, then they’d never materialize. They’d never become the people that they became. They’d never become important political actors.
If left to their own devices Afghans would have indigenous Afghan leaders who would emerge out of indigenous Afghan institutions and processes.
But because of the interference of outside actors, people like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, or Mullah Mohammad Omar or Osama bin Laden who is one of those outside actors, those are the people who have created the problems in Afghanistan.
When you don’t have a central government, when the central government is broken down or as it was during the Soviet period confined to cities and bases, then those people become more and more important in the country. And nowadays the means of destruction are not in the hands of armies; they are in the hands of independent actors.
When I first went to Afghanistan in 1982, by and large the only weapons you saw were old army surplus Lee-Enfield rifles. And within a year, this is about 1982, 1983, within a year there was a flood of AK-47 Kalashnikov machine guns that flooded into Pashawar, Pakistan and ultimately over the border into Afghanistan. And of course by any price of those AK-47s on the market went plummeting.
They became widely available, along with rocket propelled grenade launchers and other kinds of instruments that a small group of people could harness. So it didn’t take, maybe back in the days of Abdul Rachman, you had to have horses and you had to have sabers and only major political figures, warlords if you want to use that term or dynastic contenders, only those people could really put troops in the field.
But now starting in the late ‘70s, you could have small groups of people who could devastate a whole area, who could gain control of a whole area.After the Soviets withdrew this became particularly true.
When I visited Afghanistan in 1995 I was with a former Mujahedin commander for the Hesbius Lamie party and he had a Toyota Hilux pickup truck, and he had five guys in the back of the pickup truck with Kalashnikovs, and with those five guys and his pickup truck he could control an area probably of 20 kilometers.
Assuming that there weren’t other commanders with their Toyota pickup trucks and their five guys with Kalashnikovs in the back.
So violence, the means of violence became distributed, they became disseminated, diffuse throughout the social fabric. And where did those guys come from? Where did that Toyota pickup truck come from, where did those AK-47s come from? They came from abroad. They came from somebody else who wanted to influence events in Afghanistan.
Imagine three decades of war by looking at wartime photographs taken by Afghans.