Afghanistan: Strategic Crossroads Through the Millenia

Understanding Afghanistan: The Pushtun (Pathan) and pukhtunwali
  • Virtual Nation's brief cultural summary of the Pathan.
  • Lengthier history, with Pathan chronology.
  • Bacha Khan: Pride of Afghans, a legendary Pathan leader from the early 1900s.
  • Pathan history, from a group seeking to unite all Pathans into one nation, "Pukhtunistan".
  • An insight into pre-Soviet invasion Pathan tribal life, just before the storm, with images: Singer, Andre. 1982. Guardians of the North-West Frontier. Time-Life Books, Amsterdam.
  • The Pushtun were the only adversaries to stand up to Ghengis Khan!

General Afghan Info:

Maps of Afghanistan and area:

  • Dangerfinder's wonderfully irreverent, but probably politically astute, history of Afghanistan from the 1970s to the present. Be sure to check out the writeup under "the Players" about Usama bin Laden.
  • Nova's feature on Afghan history, with timeline.
  • High school project recent history of Afghanistan, remarkably well-done.
  • British-era (1800s) military history of the area
  • Afghan history
  • The CIA-Taliban connection:
    • CIA helped to create Taliban, working with Pakistan (India Abroad News Service, March 6, 2001): "The CIA made a historic mistake in encouraging Islamic groups from all over the world to come to Afghanistan."
    • "Out of Afghanistan", by Diego Cordovez and Selig Harrison, describes the political history of the Soviet Afghan conflict and and the CIA role in building up Islamic fundamentalist guerrilla leaders at the expense of Afghan moderates.
The Khyber Pass through the ages: immensely strategic focal point for millenia and perhaps the root of Afghanistan power Factions:
  • Afghan Voice, appears to be related to Northern Alliance (and hence anti-Pakistan)


The Current Situation

Processing the Event and Responses:

Some Comforting Facets

  • President Bush has a real live Afghan in his inside circle, on the National Security Council: Zalmay Khalilzad. I had been very concerned by the open (panicked?) public call for Pashto speaking volunteers by the U.S. government immediately after Sept. 11 and the revelation that NO Pashto speakers were employed by our intelligence agencies! Amazing oversight. Judging from Mr. Khalilzad's Clinton-era article in the winter 2000 Washington Quarterly (be sure to read the full pdf version), which foresaw much of the current dilemma, he appears to be having a lot of influence in current Afghan policy (thankfully). Hopefully his wisdom and understanding will continue to prevail. This 1989 MacNeil-Lehrer interview is also very revealing about Mr. Khalilzad's insight at the time of the Russian pullout.

And Some Disturbing Facets:

  • Congress has given the President unprecedented power, with no checks or balances.
  • The same intelligence community that failed us is now given unlimited power with minimal oversight.
  • Revenge, oops I mean bringing to justice, is one thing, but US control of foreign governments has a disturbing legacy. Why is the US (rather than the UN, if anyone) even discussing the future government of Afghanistan?

Other Resources:

  • Martin, Mike. 1984. Afghanistan: Inside a rebel stronghold. Blanford Press. British journalist travels undercover with the mujahiddin. Excellent insight into the mujahiddin psyche, and Russian atrocities endured by the amazingly resilient Afghans.
  • Michaud, Roland and Sabrina. 1980. Afghanistan: Paradise Lost. Viking Press. Wonderful pre-Russian large format photo essay of Afghan peoples and geography.
  • KarachiCam, only webcam in Pakistan!
  • Old National Geographics!
    • Flight to Adventure: Sky Road East. Tay and Lowell Thomas. January 1960. The Thomases fly a small plane through the middle east and south asia, including Afghanistan. Charming explorer travelogue of the era, but very insightful.
    • Afghanistan: Crossroad of Conquerers. Thomas J. Abercrombie. September 1968. During the period of hope, just after the new 1965 constitution. Features interview with King Zahir Shah, Buz Kashi (national sport), and the great stone Buddhas (recently destroyed by the Taliban). Closing quote of innocent optimism: "Now, finally at peace with her neighbors, Afghanistan marshals strength for the most important battle in her long and turbulent history. With modern weapons this time -- with roads and bridges, with dams and ditches and canals, with factories and schools--this rugged land will be conquered once more. This time by the Afghan people themselves."

Presidential Statement: "This war is a new kind of war. It is different from all other wars of the past, not only in its methods and weapons but also in its geography. It is warfare in terms of every continent, every island, every sea, every air lane in the world."

--George Bush? No! Deja vu, its Franklin Delano Roosevelt, February 23, 1942 "Fireside Chat"

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