The sale proceeds from this book go to help the Afghan Appeal Fund working to promote education in Afghanistan. There are a number of famous writers who have contributed to this volume including Bijan Omrani, Jules Stewart Yossef Bodansky and Victoria Schofield to name a few. Helen Saberi author of Noshe Djan, writes a chapter on Afghan cooking.
Bijjan Omrani writes about the early history of Afghanistan from the dawn of time to 1901. Bijan makes the important point that the Great game may have occurred in the nineteenth century between Britain and Russia but had been taking place for a far greater period of time. Indeed the struggles for Afghanistan between the Mughal and Safavid empires clearly illustrate this as each fought for Kandahar and Heart to remain in their orbit of influence.
After the Anglo Afghan Wars emerged the Pashtun strong man the Iron Amir of Afghanistan Amir Abdur Rahman who transplanted what he saw as the the trouble some Ghilzais to Nothern Afghanistan and launched ferocious attacks against the Shi’ite Hazara the legacy of which continues to haunt Afghanistan today. Bijan writes that, “Imprisonment which had hardly been known in Afghanistan before his reign, became commonplace, and the prison population soared from 1,500 in 1882 to 20,000 in 1896”
Jules Stewart writes about the Anglo Afghan Wars during which a retreating British army was wiped out in January 1842 by an Afghan tribal army. General Pollock was then sent to avenge this defeat and duly engaged in the destruction of the Kabul bazaar, burning of Kabul, sacking of Istalif and Charikar. A great military pageant took place at Ferozpur in East Punjab to celebrate the restoration of British ‘honour’ in Afghanistan. Stewart adds, “ There was only one incident to mar all this grandeur and magnificence. The elephants, perhaps in their wisdom sensing the absurdity of the occasion, refused to trumpet on command”.
Today as the Pashtun areas of Pakistan see the emergence of armed Pakistani Taliban fighters waging war against what they perceive as a Pro US Pakistan, we are reminded by Victoria Schofield quoting a British civil servant named Ambrose Dundas which show little has changed in this area, “they are a tribe in order to keep strangers out…they resent intrusion of any sort, they do not want a government of Sikhs or Christians or even other tribesmen..this is the result of generations of self defence and of justified fear, suspicion and resentment.” Schofiled notes that the Pakistani Taliban have scored a number of success including the assassination of a Pakistani Lieutenant General. Schofield wisely calls for a regional settlement to promote better relations between India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. This will result from a resolution of the Kashmir dispute, agreement on the frontier between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the integration of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas into the wider Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.
Dr Humayun Khan provides a useful chapter on the Pashtuns “The pashtun commitment to protect the honour of his women in legendary” and will also fight to protect their land and wealth. “What is more the impact of foreign intervention in Afghanistan has had dramtic effects in Pakistan, In the general elections …religious parties won in the border provinces of KPK and Baluchistan” adds Khan.
Dr Robert Johnson writes a very useful chapter on the consequences of the failed Afghan state during 1978 -2001 and quotes a Soviet officer reporting to the Soviet leader in 1984 “military operations had taken on the character of punitive campaigns, the civilian population was treated with systematic brutality, weapons were used casually and without justification, homes were destroyed, mosques defiled, and looting was widespread”. The situation for the Afghan people is little better with the presence of the current occupiers. Johnson tells us of the violent legacy of the Soviet war, “There was an abundance of weapons throughout the country, multiple groups of battle seasoned fighters unwilling to accept any compromise where their interests were not protected and a generation that had not known agriculture or trade.” This legacy would sow the seeds for the disastrous 1992-96 civil war and the notorious Afshar massacre of Hazaras in Kabul, which Johnson oddly does not acknowledge was undertaken by the forces of Ahmed Shah Massoud.
Yossef Bodansky persuasively explains the Pakistani military pre-occupation with Afghanistan and the doctrine of “strategic depth” relied on by the Pakistani military. In 1986 India launched operation brass tacks which saw 400,000 indian troops quickly massing on the Pakistan border with Sindh which caught the Pakistani army by surprise. The Pakistani “army’s study of the exercise and their own reaction convinced the army chiefs that had it been a real war – the Pakistani army would have had to withdraw into the heart of Afghanistan and regroup near Lashkar Gah before they could launch a counter-offensive against the Indian forces on the Indus river.” Similarly Pakistan’s Chinese alliance means that China has sought to invest and dominate Afghanistan economically.
Whitney Azoy writes movingly of his friendship with an Afghan Buzkashi rider named Habib and adds “From 27 April (1978)…until now- and never more so than at the present moment all Afghan life would become a buzkashi”. Indeed various countries have tried to seize Afghanistan and make her in their own image and few have succeeded.
This book provides a useful historic overview of Afghanistan and the surrounding region and is essential reading for any person interested in this region.
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