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The International Writers Magazine: Comment - A Potted History

Turbulent Afghanistan
• Fred C. Wilson III
The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is landlocked, mountainous and located in the heart of Asia. It connects Asia at all four corners of the compass. The 41st largest country in the world it is strategically located at the crossroads of major trade routes including the infamous ‘Golden Triangle’ of the drug trade. Because of its geographical location Afghanistan has attracted a succession of invaders since the 6th century BC.

There’s hardly anybody on planet Earth who hasn’t heard of Afghanistan. Reader here is some other facts you may find interesting. Afghanistan has a police force of over 90,000 officers. Unfortunately many are corrupt and regularly extort money and ‘services’ from ordinary citizens and businesses. Drug addiction among ‘Afghanistan’s finest’ runs high. Nearly 20% of the national police force recently tested positive to controlled substance abuse. The Information Age barely touched that country. Only 1.5% of Afghans have internet access.

On the plus side some of the world’s finest grapes, apricots, melons, pomegranates, dried nuts and fruits are grown in Afghanistan. Similar to motorists in the United States, Afghans drive on the right hand side of the road. It’s cold as Chicago in winter and hot as the Sahara in summer. Afghan rugs are highly prized for their exquisite craftsmanship. Dari (Persian) and Pashto are the primary languages. The city of Kabul is the national capitol. The Afghani coded AFN is the legal tender, the Da Afghanistan is the name of the central bank.

This country is incredibly rich. According to mining experts verified by the United States Pentagon Afghanistan has an estimated untapped mineral worth well over US1$trillion dollars. Gold, silver, copper, zinc, iron ore, emeralds, uranium, natural gas, petroleum, coal, sulfur provide the makings of a global super power. The tremendous wealth of this large country staggers the imagination. It’s never been exploited due to their people’s rather nasty habit of continuously killing each other off in non-stop wars that have plagued that country for thousands of years. Their constant in-fighting has reduced this mineral rich nation to beggar status. Little wonder why the industrial West has tried but failed to control and exploit this vast nation that through the ages has molded itself as the consummate warrior nation.

The art world is forever indebted to Afghanistan for its rich deposits of lapis lazuli. This beautiful blue mineral was once mined exclusively in the Badakhshan province of Afghanistan as early as the 3rd millennium BC. The ancient Egyptians fashioned amulets and other ornaments from this precious pigment. Empires we only read about in the Bible and history books the Sumerians, Akkadians, Assyrians, and the Babylonians decorated official seals and jewelry with lapis lazuli. As a former ceramicist I remember using glaze made from this mineral before final firings. Though I no longer make ceramic objects I still use this pigment when decorating certain drawn objets d’art. Cleopatra used the fabled Afghan blues as eye shadow. Painters Gustave Moreau’s ‘Salome Dancing before Herod (1875),’ Johannes Vermeer’s ‘The Girl with a Pearl Earring (1665),’ paint used on the Taj Mahal, Russia’s Peter Carl Feberge’s Easter Eggs, Chinese Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), the earlier Mughal emperors and many other world class works of art wouldn’t be in existence save for the Afghan miracle mineral.

99% of all Afghans are Muslims. Bardaisan an ancient scholar, scientist, poet, Gnostic Christian, and all around expert on all things Asian lived in 154-222 AD. In about 196 AD he wrote that during the early centuries of Christianity Afghanistan was well underway of become a Christian nation. He wrote there were a number of bishoprics (dioceses) in Afghanistan that were established by the Apostles Thomas and Bartholomew. St. Bartholomew preached in Bactria northern Afghanistan; St. Thomas the Apostle worked the southern part of that country before going to India and beyond. Both apostles commissioned laypeople and clergy to assist in evangelizing Afghanistan. With the coming of Islam all evidence of earlier Christian influences was obliterated lost to modern civilization. Evangelical Christian sources estimate only 8,000 Christians remain in Afghanistan and those are in hiding for fear of Muslim backlash. Afghanistan has a single Jew and I doubt any Buddhists despite that country’s Buddhist religious origins.

Afghanistan is a beautiful country in an ethereal way. The rugged Afghan terrain conjures up images of all those who’ve tried to conquer these unconquerable peoples who comprise the Afghan nation. Alexander the Great, the mighty Mongols, Britain’s Empire, the Soviet Union, all the way down to United States led coalition forces that now occupy that country; all have tried and failed attempting to do the impossible. Historians didn’t label Afghanistan the Destroyer of Empires for naught. The media’s description of the daily debacle in the country by occupying military forces only proves what was previously known for thousands of years. Afghanistan is unconquerable.

Despite the disheveled and emaciated look of many of its people as portrayed in the popular media and tourist pictures, the people aren’t starving. The Afghan culture goes back over 2,000 years. How many countries can say this? Like Biblical Palestine the Afghan peoples have had to endure the insults and attacks of a myriad number of nomadic tribe’s peoples who’ve tramped through that country in search of easy picking. As a result Afghanistan is one of the most diverse regions in the world. Unlike many other countries, included these United States, cultural diversity in Afghanistan is a cause célèbre.
Afghans play and party like everybody else. Heavily influenced by the British during the 19th century they love football (soccer), cricket, volleyball, boxing, and basketball. It’s a real pity they don’t play baseball and ice hockey my favorite sports.

The last time any Afghan team made it to the world sports stage was in 1941. The popular American movie series ‘Rambo’ based the third installment ‘Rambo III’ on Afghan soil. Forces of the American trained Afghan version of the Mujahedeen Muslims who struggle (jihad) in the path of Allah during the 1980’s Afghan-Soviet War, the goat polo (buzkashi) scene played superbly by Sylvester Stallone showed the true toughness of the Afghan character.

Afghan cuisine like foods of all countries is based on what’s available. That nation’s main crops are wheat, maize, rice, barley, whey, yogurt, as well as the food items previously mentioned. Any trip to an Afghan restaurant wouldn’t be complete without sampling their superb breads. Naan is the delicious flat bread that goes great with plain yogurt and dip. Naan literally means ‘bread.’ It can be thin, long, oval in shape, and composed mainly of white/whole wheat blend. If you like flat bread you’ll just love naan; I do. Then there’s the disk shaped Obi Non bread. Originally an Uzbek recipe it’s also made with white flour. Lastly there’s Lavash which is very thin and like with Ethiopian meals this bread makes for an edible plate. It’s great for spooning stews and other meat items. I first heard about this exotic and violent land when I was twelve. I was an avid stamp collector. Later I was given an in-depth education about this Islamic republic from the then best selling novel ‘Caravans’ (1963) written by the late great storyteller James A. Michener. Reader if ever you get the chance pick up this and other books by Michener do so; you’ll receive a real education in history and geography.

On New Year’s and National Independence Days talented Afghan musicians get to strut their collective stuff during these and other festive occasions. Like other countries Afghanistan produces many talented musicians well versed in a variety of musical genres. From western pop to traditional Afghan music their artists cater to a wide assortment of musical tastes and traditions.

Government has always been the number one problem in Afghanistan to the detriment of her people. Power struggles and messy coups are hallmarks of that nation’s long suffering civic instability. Afghanistan has been misruled by an assortment of governmental systems ranging from monarchies, republics, the Taliban theocracy, out right dictatorships, a pro-communist regime, and currently ruled by President Hamid Karzai Afghanistan’s first ever democratically head of state. The Houses of the People and Elders make up their bicameral system of government. Members of the Supreme Court are appointed by the president. This forms the judiciary. Their current system of government is loosely based on the pattern set by the United Sates.

Since the Soviet invasion Afghanistan has been getting a lot of bad press. The War on Terror, Osama Bin Laden, continued tribal wars, Opium production, mass drug addiction among young people, wide spread corruption in all levels of government, religious fundamentalism that brutalizes females all serve to keep the country economically and religiously in the Dark Ages.

Travel to Afghanistan wouldn’t be a good idea at this time. The US State Department recently upgraded their previous travel advisory. They warned all US citizens against traveling to that war torn nation. The probability of being kidnapped, robbed, shot, bombed, raped, bludgeoned to death is high. Despite all the negative publicity heaped upon it by the world press Afghanistan deserves a second look but only from a safe distance.

© Fred C Wilson 111 June 2013

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