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The Vultures Descend
Oliver Moor

Afghanistan should be somewhere you want to visit. Its history should be something worth exploring. You should want to trek its spectacular mountain passes, sit beside its remote rivers and wander in its high pastures. You should want to drink apple tea in an isolated village and perhaps haggle with a local villager over the price of a carpet. You should want to walk the streets of Kabul, listening to the wails of the muezzin from the minarets of glistening mosques. You should… 

Forget it. You can’t. There’s no point in dreaming about it. Afghanistan should be somewhere you want to go, but it isn’t and won’t be again for a very long time. Only the mountains remain. Kabul is utterly ruined. The minarets have been blasted to rubble. The villages are quiet because the villagers have starved to death. And now, Afghanistan’s history is being obliterated by the latest regime that has bludgeoned its way to power. That regime – the Taliban – is one of the world’s most sadistic. It is hypocritical, violent and immoral. It represses, tortures, and murders. It is a regime based solely on hatred. 

Travelling to Afghanistan, while not necessarily a one way trip, is not to be undertaken lightly. Most countries discourage it; dire warnings of “terrorist threats to citizens”, “banditry is rife”and “unexploded landmines” can be found in most government’s literature. Only one country (Chechnya) maintains diplomatic relationships. The place is in utter chaos, with no recognisable form of government or national authority. There is no infrastructure and no real way of travelling around even remotely safely. There is little point in trying to go, unless you are either a large importer of heroin, or a violent misogynist looking for a spiritual home (the government will welcome you with open arms, but make sure the beard’s fully grown before you arrive.) There is also a question of morality. Any Western traveller desperate or foolish enough to want to go should be strongly discouraged. The thugs of the Taliban deserve not a penny of Western money.
The country is desperately impoverished, with the average weekly wage being about $5. As usual, the ordinary people suffer when the maniacs arrive: starvation is widespread throughout the country, while the Taliban gets rich on the profits of drug trafficking (Afghanistan is one of the largest producers of raw opium in the world.) The latest exploit of this repulsive group is to rewrite history. 

Most of that history is pretty grim. The Taliban is laying waste to what was already a country in serious trouble. Afghanistan has, for long periods, been in a state of turmoil. It was recognised as a sovereign state by the US in 1934, after a turbulent period of assassinations, wars and revolts. Initially the country seemed to be doing fairly well: it seemed to have turned a corner. Women’s rights had been established, with women entering the workplace and government in 1959, and free elections had taken place in 1965. Then, while the Prime Minister was on holiday in Europe, a military coup put the Afghan Communist Party into power in 1973. The next four Presidents (until 1979) were all assassinated and the Soviets moved in: a ten year battle against them ensued. After a brief glimmer of hope, with its victory against the USSR in 1989, the trouble really started. The country turned against itself: the capital Kabul was reduced almost to sand. Finally, the vultures moved in to pick over the corpse. The Taliban movement, sweeping in from the East, took power (such as it was) and has now begun to destroy the one thing that might, one day, draw people from outside back to Afghanistan.  

It is thought that Pakistan is the power behind the Taliban – many Afghans feel that Pakistan is trying to take control of Afghanistan by putting in a puppet government. The authorities in Pakistan dispute this, however, and a link has never completely been established. Ostensibly religious fanatics, the Taliban is a mysterious organisation led by one Mohammed Omar, who has never yet been interviewed. The Taliban believes in the almost total suppression of women. Women are forbidden to speak if outside the house, and have been stoned to death for showing so much as an ankle. They are now prevented from working in any capacity (the Taliban has chosen to ignore this particular line from the Koran: “men shall have a benefit from what they earn, and women shall have a benefit from what they earn”). There is no music in Afghanistan. Men do not even have rights over their own bodies, being forced to grow beards. And now, amid much international outcry, the Taliban have started to destroy Afghanistan’s heritage, shelling Buddhist relics. This is done – predictably enough – in the name of Islam. The Prophet Mohammed must now presumably be spinning in his grave. 

Is there any hope for Afghanistan? Not much. To turn the country around would take billions of dollars, and while the Taliban remain in place there is not a chance of this happening. They have wrecked the country, are destroying its history, and are trying to crush its people. Yet this is something even the Taliban have not been able to achieve. Perhaps they are enjoying looting and destroying a once proud country: they are certainly growing fat on the drug money. However, they should make hay while the sun shines. The Koran promises the following in Surah Al Buruuj, Verse 10: “Lo! they who persecute believing men and believing women and repent not, theirs verily will be the doom of hell, and theirs the doom of burning.” For the sake of Afghanistan, let’s hope there’s an afterlife.

© Oliver Moor 2001

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