"Well that settles it, Chatfield! We must never go into that God-forsaken country again!"
Afġānistān), also known as the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (Persian:
جمهوری اسلامی افغانستان Jomhūrī-ye Eslāmī-ye Afġānestān; Pashto:
د افغانستان اسلامي جمهوریت Da Afġānistān Islāmī Jomhoriyat). The name is on everyone’s lips. Everyone knows one of the theaters of The War on Terror
, the Taliban and the hijinks of Islamic fundamentalists. However, this is but the tip of the iceberg, the latest chapter of a long history of conflict for a crossroads state that had been the prize possession of many advancing empires.
Being right where Middle East meets Central Asia meets the Indian subcontinent, the land has been influenced by all kinds of societies. It is most famous in antiquity for supplying the semi-precious stone lapis lazuli (that marbly blueish stuff.) Before the arrival of Islam the land was used as a route connecting said areas; as a result of that it ended with a mix of Buddhist, Hindu and Zoroastrian culture (in fact, some believe the Zoroastrianism
originated here). However, its location as a bridge between cultures made Afghanistan a target for anybody who wanted to expand his empire, like Alexander The Great, the Muslims and the Mongols.
Afghanistan as it is now only came to being in the early 18th century (before this it was the core of the Durrani Empire
and was far larger than it is now) as a result of the "Great Game" between Russia and Britain, which swallowed Afghan territory from the north and the south, respectively. In order to prevent the Russians from seizing what was left, the British made peace with the Afghans and made them a protectorate, which lasted from the 1870s until 1919. Afghanistan is at the end of the day, a rump state of an empire. (At its height it controlled all of what is now Pakistan as well is all of Kashmir). Basically it is that part of the empire which managed to avoid getting conquered by the British.
In 1893, Afghanistan's current borders were set up. This would cause some problems later. in 1947, Pakistan was created and the Afghan government announced they no longer recognised the borders and made claims to Pakistani territory ranging from the Indus all the way to Northern Pakistan. In the 1950s they tried border attacks. Now, this was not the brightest idea as the Pakistan Army at the time was a force which had been recently part of Kipling's Finest
, with troops who had fought and won two world wars in three decades. So it went about as well as you expect. In 1962, the Afghans tried a much larger effort and got absolutely plastered. Afghans are still a little sore about that. (Most Pakistani have no idea the battles ever happened.) At the same time, the Government attempted to modernize the country, which upset the more religiously conservative factions (including a lot of fundamentalists) who then tried to topple the new government, prompting the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan
in 1979 and receiving what Zbigniew Brzezinski charmfully called “its Vietnam War
”. America even funded some of the fundamentalist groups, the Mujahideen, incidentally creating Al Qaeda
, and maybe more problems
than they were worth.
The Soviets withdrew in 1989 and left a coherent and stable communist state that sustained itself until 1992, but the civil war continued. This time, it was mainly between the Taliban (originally made of religious schools of Afghan refugees in Pakistan, aided by Al Qaeda and headed by the Mullah Omar
) and the Northern Alliance and its main man, Ahmad Shah Massoud
, known in the region as the “Afghan who won the Cold War”. By the end of The Nineties
, the Taliban had gained control of most of the country, establishing the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and instituting Sharia law, obligatory use of the burqa for women
, destroying monuments
of religions other than Islam, among other stuff. This was in marked contrast with the areas controlled by Massoud in the north, where he had established democratic institutions and tried to give equal-gender rights, not to mention the hundreds of thousand of refugees that fled the Taliban to areas controlled by Massoud. He tried to obtain help from external powers and, in 2001, even tried to warn them of a possible large-scale attack on America by Al Qaeda
, to no avail.
Then 9/11 came — a day after Massoud died in a helicopter crash, possibly by Al Qaeda’s suicide bombers (which has been seen as the attack’s point of no return). America demanded the Taliban to hand over Osama bin Laden and disband Al Qaeda’s forces in the area (by then, Al Qaeda was already a state within a state) and, after the negative answer, proceeded to invade the country to disband the Taliban
The country is still immersed on a civil war, this time between the government installed by America headed by Hamid Karzai (who by now seems to be the Spanner in the Works
for America) and the disbanded Taliban, fighting from across the border in Pakistan. America is planning on retiring soon, but anyone with a brain can see the civil war is not going to end soon.
Ethnically, Afghanistan is an incredible mix not unlike in Iran, of which the Pashtuns form the plurality with 42%, followed by Tajiks at 27%. They are not
Arabs (there are Arabs, but they make up less than 4% of the population). Similarly, there are all kinds of languages spoken, the main ones being Dari (a dialect of Persian) and Pashto.
Despite all the problems, the country is still a marvelous cultural site. You’d be surprised how much Scenery Porn
you can get from a bunch of mountains and sand.
Afghanistan is an example of the following:
- Aluminum Christmas Trees: Afghanistan prior to the Soviet invasion was not a wealthy first-world place, but still far above the war-torn country of Taliban and barbarous AK-47 armed gangs modern people are familiar with. Which gave birth to the "Afghanistan 1967 and 2011" meme◊.
- A Father to His Men: Massoud, to non-Pashtuns. Mullah Omar for the Taliban.
- Assassin Outclassin': Hafizullah Amin, the second of the four communist leaders, was like this before his enemies were finally successful. Soviet special forces, who weren't too keen on his independence, tried to eliminate him through poison (Amin switched out his food out of sheer paranoia, accidentally poisoning his son, who ate it), then they tried to poison him again via a sleeper agent, again failing, finally deciding it would be easier to shoot him instead.
- Church Militant: The Taliban.
- Culture Police: The Taliban may well be history's most infamous example. They banned all non-religious music, all dancing, all movies, all television, the Afghan New Year, Buzkashi (that Afghan sport Rambo played), kites, and the Internet. They're like a version of the Amish who only make exceptions for modern inventions if they kill people.
- Cultured Warrior: Massoud, in the eyes of non-Pashtuns.
- Dead All Along: Possibly Mullah Omar. Though many recordings have been released since his overthrow that are purported to be him, his voice is only known by hearsay.
- The Faceless: Mullah Mohammed Omar, who's known only for the fact that he has just one eye. All the pictures of him are just presumed to be him.
- Fisher King: King Zahir Shah. Before his overthrow, Afghanistan was one of the most modernized states of the Islamic world, with a niche market in certain fruits and textiles unavailable elsewhere, making people pay top dollar for Afghan products. After his overthrow, it first becomes a Dirty Communist Peoples Republicof Tyranny before devolving into chaos before finally coming under the control of the Taliban and housing terrorists.
- Fluffy the Terrible: The name 'Taliban' actually means "students".
- That makes their attitude about female education especially ironic.
- Forever War: The war started in 1979 in retaliation to poorly thought-out land reforms by communists.
- Lost Tribe: The Nuristanis speak an Indo-Iranian language that is nevertheless not quite in either the Iranian or Indian group, and up until 1895 they were relatively isolated and practiced an animistic religion before being conquered and forcibly converted by Abdur Rahman Khan. The related Kalasha tribe across the border in Pakistan maintain their ancient customs and religion.
- Monumental Damage: The Taliban engaged on a diligent campaign to blowing up anything considered non-Islamic, most notorious of wihch were a couple of giant statues of the Buddha in the Bamiyan Valley. To add insult to injury, they ignored pleas of Buddhist states and Japan even offered to remove them and take them to Japan. The only possible explanation is that the Taliban did it For the Evulz (although some did speculate that they were really doing it to kick up enough of a fuss that it would draw attention to how rough things were in the country).
- The latter speculation likely has a grain of truth. Afghanistan was under various UN sanctions before the Bamiyan Buddha incident. UNESCO, in a badly timed move, proposed the preservation of the Bamiyan statues. This allowed radicals to use the argument that the UN cared more about monuments than the poverty and hunger of the Afghan people.
- Never Learned to Read: Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of the country's population. Afghanistan has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world, equaled only by some of the poorest countries in Africa. As you'd expect with the history of Taliban rule, female literacy is especially bad and somewhat drags down the average. Male literacy is better on its own, but still pretty abysmal.
- No Woman's Land: Especially blatant during the Taliban government, whose attitude towards women was arguably worse than in Saudi Arabia.
- People's Republic of Tyranny: Under the 1980s Soviet-backed government, the country's official name was the "Democratic Republic of Afghanistan". Yeah, no.
- Reality Is Unrealistic: There are blond-haired, blue-eyed pale people in Afghanistan that wouldn't look out of place in, say, Germany. There are also many people with strong Asian features. Take example the Hazara ethnic group, in which when you compare them to let's say, with the Mongols, are barely distinguishable. Ditto with the Uzbeks. Being in the path of every invading army or tribe since the dawn of history will do interesting things to your gene pool.
- Royals Who Actually Do Something: To this day, Mohammad Zahir Shah, the last King of Afghanistan, remains well liked for having tried to modernize his country while he still reigned.
- The Remnant: The modern Afghan state is all that remains of the once-vast Durrani Empire that included nearly all of Pakistan, along with parts of modern India, Central Asia, and Iran. Most of it had been devoured by the Russians and British during the 19th century and as a result, the Pashtun ethnic group was split amongst the Afghan and Pakistani states, in turn leading to every single government in Kabul since the British left (including the Taliban) to never recognize the Durrand Line that defines Afghanistan's southern border with Pakistan (Indeed, there is a perennial desire to unify the Pashtun regions of Pakistan with the rest of Afghanistan). Needless to say, Pakistan hasn't taken it well, and it is a major factor as to why Islamabad allegedly keeps meddling in Kabul's affairs.
Afghanistan in media:
- Sooraya Qadir, a.k.a. Dust from X-Men, is Afghani.
The Afghan flag
The black, red and green stripes symbolize the colonial period, the revolutions, and independent Afghanistan, respectively. At the center is the coat-of-arms, featuring a mosque with a mihrab (niche facing Mecca), flanked by two Afghan flags; above the mosque are the worlds "Allahu Akbar" ("God is Great"), and below is the Islamic year 1298 (1919, the year of its independence from Britain); surrounding the mosque is a wreath of wheat, above which is the shahada (the Islamic creed), and below is a scroll containing the country's name in Pashto).