Buddha Was Not Demolished In Afghanistan; It Collapsed Out Of Shame
By: Mohsen Makhmalbaf
If you read this article carefuly,
it will take about an hour of your time.
In this very hour, at least 14 more persons
will have died of war and hunger in Afghanistan.
60 others will havebecome vagrants therefrom to
This article is to describe the causes of the catastrophe,
mortality and hunger. If these bitter issues do not apply
to the happiness of your private life, please don’t read it.
The Perception of the World Community Towards Afghanistan
In the year 2000, I attended the Pusan Film Festival in South Korea and when asked about the subject of my next film, I respond Afghanistan. Immediately after, I would be asked, “What is Afghanistan?”
Why is it so? Why should a country be so obsolete that the people of another Asian country such as South Korea have not even heard of it? The reason is clear. Afghanistan does not play a positive role in today’s world. It is neither remembered for a certain product nor by her scientific advancement or as a nation that has achieved artistic honors.
In the United States, Europe and the Middle East, however, the situation is different and Afghanistan is recognized as a particular country. This particularness, however, does not carry a positive connotation. Those who recognize the name Afghanistan immediately associate it with smuggling, the Taliban, Islamic fundamentalism, war with Russia, and a prolonged civil war.
In this subjective portrait there is no trace of peace and stability or development. Thus, no tourist has dreamedof travelling thereto nor has any merchant desired to make a benefit therefrom.
So why should it not be left to oblivion? The defamation reaches to the extent that one might soon write in dictionaries that Afghanistan can be described as a drug producing country with rough, aggressive and fundamentalist people who hide their women under veils with no openings.
Add to all of that the destruction of the biggest statue of Buddha known in the world in Bamian that recently spurred the sympathy of the entire world and led all supporters of art and culture to defend the doomed statue. But why didn’t anybody except the UN High Commissioner Ogata express grief over the pending death of one million Afghans as a result of severe famine? Why doesn’t anybody speak of the reasons for this mortality? Why is everyone crying aloud over the demolition of the Buddha statue while nothing is heard about preventing the death of hungry Afghans? Are statues more cherished than humans in the modern-day world?
I have traveled throughout Afghanistan and witnessed the reality of the life of that nation. As a filmmaker I produced two feature films on Afghanistan with a 13-year interval (The Cyclist, 1988 and Kandahar, 2001). In doing that I have studied about 10,000 pages of various books and documents to collect data for making the two films. Consequently I know of a different image of Afghanistan than what is envisaged by the rest of the world. It is a more complicated, different and tragic picture, yet a sharper more positive and pacific image of the people of Afghanistan emerges. It is an image that needs attention rather than forgetfulness and suppression. Sadly, the famous Sa’di poem "All men are limbs of one body" remains mere words above the portal to the United Nations without the spirit of the poet.
Iranian perception of Afghanistan:
The Iranian people’s perception of Afghanistan is based on the same image as that of the American, European and Middle East peoples. Naturally the Iranians are at closer proximity and hence workers, people of southern Tehran and working class residents of provincial towns do not look kindly on Afghans and view them as competitors for employment. By pressuring the Ministry of Labor, they demand that Afghans be returned to their homeland. The Iranian middle class, however, finds Afghans quite trustworthy as servants and janitors. Building contractors believe that Afghans are better workers than their Iranian counterparts and demand lower wages.
Anti-drug trafficking authorities recognize them as key elements in drug trafficking and suggest that crushing the smugglers and deporting all Afghans would put an end to drug problems once and for all. Physicians view them as the cause for some epidemic diseases such as the Afghan flu that was previously unprecedented in Iran. Since they can’t rely on stanching emigration, they offer immunization from within Afghanistan and in so doing, have born the costs of polio vaccination for the people of Afghanistan as well.
The world’s approach towards Afghanistan
News headlines matching a country’s name must always be checked. The image of a country depicted to the world through the media is a combination of facts about that country and an imaginary and selective notion that the people of the world are supposed to have of that place. If some countries of the world are supposed to be covetous of a piece of land, it is necessary that its grounds be provided through the news. What I’ve perceived is that unfortunately in today’s Afghanistan except for poppy seeds, there is almost nothing to spark desire. Thus Afghanistan has little or no share in world news and the solution of its problems in the near future is far-fetched.
If like Kuwait, Afghanistan had oil and surplus oil income, it could have been taken back from Iraq within three days by the Americans and the cost of the American army presence could have been covered by that surplus income. When the Soviet Union existed, Afghans received western media attention for fighting against the Eastern Bloc and experiencing communist oppression. With the Soviet retreat and subsequent disintegration, why doesn’t the United Stated who claims the observancy of human rights not taking any serious actions for 10 million women deprived of education and social activities or for the eradication of poverty and famine that is taking the lives of so many people?
The answer is because Afghanistan offers nothing to long for. Afghanistan is not a beautiful girl who raises the heartbeat of her many suitors. Unfortunately, today she resembles an old woman. Whoever desires to get close to her will only be saddled with the expenses of a moribund and we know that in our times Sa’di’s “All men are limbs of one body” conveys no real meaning.
The tragedy of Afghanistan in a statistical perspective:
In Afghanistan, in the past two decades there has been no collection of scientifically proven statistics. Hence, all data and numbers are relative and approximate. According to these figures, Afghanistan had a population of 20 million up to 1992. During the past 20 years and since the Soviet occupation, about 2.5 million Afghans have been killed or died. The reasons for this mortality have been military assaults, famine or lack of medical attention. In other words, every year 125,000 or about 340 people a day or 14 people every hour or 1 in about every 5 minutes have either been killed or died because of this tragedy. This is a world wherein the crew of that unfortunate Russian submarine were facing death some months ago and satellite news were broadcasting the incident every minute. It is a world that reported non-stop the demolition of the Buddha statue. Yet nobody speaks of the tragic death of an Afghan every five minutes for the past 20 years.
The number of Afghan refugees is even more tragic. According to more precise statistics the number of Afghan refugees outside Afghanistan living in Iran and Pakistan is 6.3 million. If this figure is divided by the year, day, hour and minute, in the past 20 years, one person has become a refugee every minute. The number does not include those who run from north to south and vice versa to survive the civil war.
I personally do not recollect any nation whose population was reduced by 10 % via mortality and 30 % through migration and yet faced so much indifference from the world. The total number of people who were killed and left Afghanistan equals the entire Palestinian population but even we Iranians share of sympathy for Afghanistan does not reach 10 % of that for Palestine or Bosnia, despite the fact that we have a common language and border.
When crossing the border at Dogharoon customs to enter Afghanistan, I saw a sign that warned visitors of strange looking items. These were mines. It read: “Every 24 hours seven people step on mines in Afghanistan. Be careful not to be one of them today or tomorrow". I came across more serious data in one of the Red Cross camps. The Canadian group that had come to defuse mines found the tragedy simply too vast, lost hope and returned. Based on these same figures, over the next 50 years the people of Afghanistan must step on mines in groups to make their land safe and inhabitable. The reason is because every group or sect has strewn mines against the other without a map or plan for later collection. The mines are not set in military fashion as in conventional war and collected in peacetime. This means that a nation has placed mines against herself. And when it rains hard, surface waters reposition these devices turning once safe remote paths into dangerous ones.
These statistics reveal the extent of the unsafe living environment in Afghanistan that leads to continuous migration. Afghans perceive their situation as dangerous. There’s constant fear of hunger and death. Why musn’t Afghans emigrate? A nation with an emigration rate of 30 % certainly feels hopeless about its future. Of the 70 % remaining, 10% have been killed or died and the rest or 60 % were not able to cross the borders or if they did, they were sent back by the neighboring countries.
This perilous situation has also been an impediment to any foreign presence in Afghanistan. A businessman would never risk investing there unless he is a drug dealer and political experts prefer to fly directly to western countries. This makes the analysis difficult to tackle the crisis that Afghanistan is faced with. At present, due to UN sanctions and safety concerns, with the exception of only three countries (officially) and two others (unofficially), there are no experts in Afghanistan. There are only political suppositions made from a distance. This adds to the ambiguity of crisis in a country burdened with such an enormous scope of tragedy and ignorance on the part of the world.
I witnessed about 20,000 men, women and children around the city of Herat starving to death. They couldn’t walk and were scattered on the ground awaiting the inevitable. This was the result of the recent famine. That very day the then United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogato of Japan also visited these same people and promised that the world would help them. Three months later, I heard on Iranian radio that Madame Ogata declared the number of Afghans dying of hunger to be a million nationwide.
I reached the conclusion that the statue of Buddha was not demolished by anybody; it collapsed out of shame. Out of shame for the world's ignorance towards Afghanistan. It collapsed knowing its greatness was to no avail.
In Dushanbeh in Tajikestan I saw a scene where 100,000 Afghans were running from south to north, on foot. It looked like doomsday. These scenes are never shown in the media anywhere in the world. The war-stricken and hungry children had run for miles and miles barefoot. Later on the same fleeing crowd was attacked by internal enemies and was also refused asylum in Tajikestan. In the thousands, they died and died in a no-man’s land between Afghanistan and Tajikestan and neither you found out nor anybody else. As Mrs. Golrokhsar, the renowned Tajik poet put it: “It is not strange if someone in the world dies for so much sorrow that Afghanistan has. What's strange is that why doesn’t anyone die of this grief”.
Afghanistan, a country without an image:
Afghanistan is without a picture for various reasons. Afghan women are faceless which means 10 million out of the 20 million population don’t get a chance to be seen. A nation, half of whom is not even seen by its own women, is a nation without an image. During the last few years there has been no television broadcasting--but a couple of two-page black and white newspapers by the names of Shariat, Heevad and Anise with purely written materials and no pictures. This is the sum total of media in Afghanistan. Painting and photography have also been religiously prohibited. Furthermore, this is why no journalists are allowed to enter and if by any chance they are let in, they do not have the right to take pictures from the society..
In the 21st century not only film productions do not exist in Afghanistan there are no movie theatres either. Previously, there were 14 cinemas that showed Indian movies and film studios had small productions of imitation Indian movies but that too has been cancelled. In the world of cinema that produces two to three thousand films per year, nothing is coming from Afghanistan. Hollywood however produced a movie titled, Rambo, based on Afghanistan.
The whole movie was filmed in Hollywood and not one Afghan was included. The only authentic scene was Rambo’s presence in Peshawar, Pakistan and that was thanks to the art of back projection! It was the only portrayal of Afghanistan and was merely employed for action sequences and creating excitement. Is this Hollywood’s image of a country 10% of whose people were decimated, 30% became refugees and which currently has about one million dying of hunger?
The Russians produced two films concerning the memoirs of Russian soldiers during the occupation of Afghanistan. The Mujahedin made a few films after the Russian retreat, which were essentially propagandist war movies and not a real image of the situation of the past or present-day Afghanistan. They are basically a heroic picture of a few Afghans fighting in the deserts.
Two feature films have been produced in Iran on the situation of Afghan immigrants, Friday and Rain. I made two films The Cyclist and Kandahar. This is the entire catalogue of images of Afghans in the Iranian and world media. Even in worldwideTV productions there are only a limited number of documentaries. Perhaps, it is a worlwide decision to keep Afghanistan as a country without an image.
The historical picture of this imageless country:
Afghanistan emerged when it separated from Iran. It used to be an Iranian province some 250 years ago and part of Greater Khorasan province in the era of Nadir-Shah. While returning from India, one midnight, Nadir-Shah was murdered in Ghoochan. Ahmad Abdali, an Afghan commander in Nadir-Shah’s army fled along with a regiment of 4,000 soldiers under his command. He declared independence for a part of Iranian territory, hence Afghanistan was created.
In those days Afghanistan was comprised overwhelmingly of cattlebeaders and ruled by tribes. Since Ahmad Abdali belonged to the Pashtoon tribe, naturally, he could not have been accepted as the absolute authority by other tribes such as the Tajik, Hazareh and Uzbek. Thus, for governing the country it was agreed that each tribe be ruled by its own leaders and the rulers collectively form a tribal federation known as the “Loya Jirga”. Ever since, a more just and appropriate form of governing has not emerged in Afghanistan. The Loya Jirga system is an indication that not only has Afghanistan never evolved economically from a cattlebreading form of existence, but also it has never moved beyond tribal rule and has failed to achieve an Afghan sense of nationalism. An Afghan does not regard himself as an Afghan until he leaves his homeland and is regarded with pity or patronage. In Afghanistan each Afghan is a Pashtoon, Hazareh, Uzbek or Tajik.
In comparison to Iran, the Afghanistan that shares a common history prior to 250 years ago affords a clear difference. In Iran, we are Iranians in the first place and nationalism is the primary aspect of our perception of our common identity. In Afghanistan to the contrary, all are primarily members of a tribe and tribalism is the first aspect of identity. This is the most obvious difference between the national spirit of an Iranian with that of an Afghan. Even in the presidential elections in Iran, the candidate’s ethnicity has no national significance and draws no special vote.
In Afghanistan since the era of Ahmad Abdali until today when the Taliban rule over 95 % of the country, the main leaders have always been from the Pashtoon tribe. (Except for the nine months of Habibullah Galehkani’s rule known as Bacheh Sagha and the two years of the Tajik Burhannuddin Rabbani respectively, Tajiks have never held power.) However, the people of Afghanistan since the time of Ahmad Abdali until today have always been content with tribal federalism. What does this indicate in comparison to the situation in Iran?
Unlike Iran during the Reza Shah’s rule, when tribalism was weakened and replaced by nationalism, it did not happen in Afghanistan. Even the Mujahedin of Afghanistan never fought foreign enemies in a unified manner rather each tribe fought with foreign enemies in their own regions. During the making of Kanadahar while I was in the refugee camps at the border of Iran and Afghanistan, I realized that even those Afghan refugees who have lived in difficult camp conditions for over ten years, did not accept being Afghan as a national identity. They still had conflicts over being Tajik, Hazareh or Pashtoon.
Inter-tribal marriages still do not take place among Afghans neither is there any business conducted between them. And with the most minor conflict, the danger of mass bloodshed prevails. I once witnessed that for cutting ahead in line for bread a violent conflict ensued between two groups.
In the Niatak refugee camp (border of Iran-Afghanistan) that accommodates 5,000 residents, it is not easy for Pashtoon and Hazareh children to play with each other. This sometimes leads to mutual aggression among children. Tajiks and Hazarehs find Pashtoons their greatest enemy on earth and vice versa. None of them are even willing to attend each other’s mosques for praying. We had difficulty seating their children next to each other for watching a movie. They offered a compromise wherein the Hazareh and Pashtoon children were to take turns watching the movie. However, finally the movie was cancelled
Despite the many diseases prevalent in this camp and lack of doctors, when a doctor was brought in from the city, the camp didn’t give priority to treating the most urgent cases first. Only a tribal order of treatment was countenanced. They appointed a day for Hazareh patients and another for Pashtoons. In addition, class distinctions among the Pashtoons prevented them from coming to the clinic on the same day.
In shooting scenes that needed extras, we had to decide to choose from among either Hazarehs or Pashtoons, though all of these five thousand refugees were in the same boat. Yet, tribal disposition came first in any decisions. Of course, the majority were unfamiliar with cinema and like my grandmother thanked God for not having stepped foot inside a movie theatre.
The reason for Afghanistan’s perpetual tribalism rests with its naturally cattle-breeding economy. Each Afghan tribe is trapped in a valley with geographical walls and is the natural prisoner of a culture stemming from a mountainous environment and cattle-breeding economy. Ethnicity and the culture of tribalism is the product of cattle-breeding conditions rooted in the deep valleys of Afghanistan. Belief in tribalism is as deep as those valleys. The topography of Afghanistan is 75 % mountainous of which only7 % is suitable for farming. It lacks any semblance of industry.
Due to its sole persistent econo-natural potential i.e. the pastures (of course in non-drought years) Afghanistan is dependent upon cattle-breeding and this cattle-breeding is in turn the foundation of tribalism and it is subsequently the basis for long term domestic disputes which is not only an impediment in Afghanistan’s achieving the modernist stage as of the 21st Century but also hinders it to obtain a national identity. There is no intrinsic popular belief in what is called Afghanistan and Afghans. The different tribs of Afghanistan are not yet ready to be absorbed into a bigger collective identity called the people of Afghanistan. Contrary to the misnomer of religious war, the origin of disputes lies with tribal conflicts. The Tajiks who fight the Taliban today are both Muslim and Sunni--as are the Taliban.
The wisdom of Ahmad Abdali is yet to be appreciated for having created the concept of tribal federalism. He was smarter than those who contemplate the ruling of one tribe over all others or one individual over a nation--when tribalism and the economic infrastructure was still intact.
The major Afghan tribes are as follow:
Pashtoons with a population of about 6 million make up Afghanistan’s largest tribe. Next are Tajiks with about 4 million people and third and fourth are Hazarehs and Uzbeks with populations of about 4 million and 1 to 2 million respectively. The rest are small tribes such as the Aymaghs, Fars, Balouch, Turkman and Qezelbash. The Pashtoons are mostly in the south, the Tajiks in the north and the Hazarehs in the central regions. This geographical concentration in different regions will lead either to complete and final disintegration or the continued connection from the head of the tribe through the Loya Jirga system. The only alternative to these two senarios necessitates changes in the economic infrastructure and the replacement of tribal with national identity.
If we can elect a president in Iran today, free from issues of ethnicity, it is due to presence of oil the Iranian economy which has changed our economic structure at least in the last century. The question is not the quality or quantity of oil in the Iranian economy. The point is that when oil enters the economy of a country such as Iran that was basically agricultural, it changes the economic infrastructure and the role of Iran becomes significant in political interactions. It becomes an exporter of a valued raw material and in return receives the surplus productions of industrial countries.
This transformation of economy before anything changes the socio-economic infrastructure that in turn breaks the traditional culture and creates a more modern culture exporting oil and consuming the products of industrialized countries. If we omit money as the symbolic medium, then we have given oil in exchange for consumer products. But Afghanistan has nothing but drugs to exchange in the world market, therefore, it has turned back on itself and become isolated. Perhaps, if Afghanistan had not separated from Iran 250 years ago, it would have had a different destiny based on its share of oil revenues.
The amount of opium, that I will elaborate later, is far too insignificant to be compared to Iranian oil. In 2000 Iran’s surplus income from the oil price windfall went over 10 billion dollars. Total sales of opium in Afghanistan remained at half a billion dollars. We have played our role in the world economy and by consuming the products of others, have understood that we have choices and have thus become somewhat more modern. But for the Afghan farmer his world is his valleys and his profession is cattlebreeding when drought spares him while a tribal system resolves his social problems. Given that, he cannot have a share in the world economy. How are grounds for his economic and cultural transition to be provided to let him have a share?
In addition, 80 billion dollars in the global drug turnover depends on Afghanistan remaining in its present situation without change because if change prevails, that 80 billion is the first thing to be threatened. Hence, Afghanistan is not supposed to enjoy a considerable profit since that profit itself may cause changes to Afghanistan. Although Iran and Afghanistan shared the same history some 250 years ago, in the 20th century,because of the oil income, the history of Iran took a turn which is impossible for Afghanistan to undergo for a very long time.
Opium is the only product that Afghanistan offers the world. Yet either because of the nature of this product and the insignificant amount of this dirty but national wealth, it cannot be compared to oil. If we add the 500 million-dollar income from the sale of opium to the 300 million from the sale of northern Afghanistan’s gas, and divide the total of 800 million dollars by the 20 million population the result is 40 dollars per capita annual income. If we further divide that figure by 365 days each Afghan would earn about 10 cents a day or the equivalent of the price of a loaf of bread on normal days. But, the country’s annual earnings belong to the government and the domestic mobs and it doesn’t get divided fairly. This revenue, therefore, is both insufficient to meet the needs of people and too low to bring about significant changes to the country’s economic, social, political and cultural infrastructure.
Why has 30 % of Afghanistan’s population emigrated?
Cattle breeders habitually move from place to place to solve their living problems. Farmers and urban residents are less likely to move often. The main reason for the Afghan cattle breeders’ mobility is related to the breeding seasons. They constantly move to green and warm areas to avoid dry lands and cold weather. Movement is a natural reflex for cattle breeders. The second reason is the lack of a fixed occupation. Afghans migrate to avoid death from unemployment. The Afghans’ daily earnings depend on working in other countries.
Upon waking up each day, an Afghan has four concerns to eorry about. First is his livestock and this depends on not having drought. Fighting for a group or sect is his second concern and generally because of employment he enters the army. Earning a living to support his family is another reason why he moves and if all else fails, he enters the drug business. The extent of this last option is limited and the labor options of a nation with population of 20 million cannot really be measured with a 500 million-dollar account raised from cultivating poppy seeds. Thus, characterizing the people of Afghanistan as opium smugglers is unreal and applies only to a very limited number.
The Afghan culture has been immunized against modernism:
Amanullah Khan who ruled over Afghanistan from 1919-1928, was a contemporary of Reza Shah and Kemal Ataturk. On a personal level he was given to modernism. In 1924, Amanullah traveled to Europe, returned with a Rolls Royce and made known his reform program. The plan included a change in attire. He told his wife to unveil herself and asked men to forego their Afghan costumes for western suits. Contrary to Afghan male custom, he prohibited polygamy.
Traditionalists immediately began opposing Amanullah’s modernising. None of the cattle breeding tribes submitted to these changes and rioting ensued against him. Here clearly modernism without a socio-economic basis, is but a non-homogeneous imposition of culture on a tribal society which is economically dependent on cattle breeding; lacking any industry, agriculture or even preliminary means of exploiting its resources, not to mention prohibition of inter-tribal marriages.
This superficial, formalistic and petty modernism served only as an antibody to stimulate traditional Afghan culture making Afghanistan so immune to it that even in the following decades, modernism could not penetrate the culture in a more rational form. Even today, the premises for modernism that include exploiting resources and presenting cheap raw materials in exchange for goods, have not been created. The most advanced people in Afghanistan still believe that Afghan society is not yet ready for female suffrage. When the most progressive sect involved in the civil war, finds it too early for women to vote, it is obvious that the most conservative will prohibit schooling and social activities to them. It follows naturally that 10 million women are held captive under their burqas (veil). This is Afghan society 70 years after Amanullah’s modernism that aimed to impose monogamy on a male dominated Afghanistan, whose only perception of family is the harem.
In 2001, polygamy is still an accepted fact by women even in refugee camps on the border of Iran/Afghanistan. I attended two wedding ceremonies among the Pashtoon and Hazareh tribes and heard them wishing for more prosperous weddings for the groom. At first I thought it was a joke. In another case the bride’s family said: “If the groom can afford it, up to four wives is indeed very good and it is a religious tradition as well as helping a bunch of hungry people.”
When I went to the camp in Saveh for recording the wedding music for Kandahar, I saw a 2-year old girl that was being wedded to a 7-year old boy. I never understood the meaning of this wedding. Neither could that boy or that little girl, who was suckling on a pacifier, have made the choice. Given this portrait of the traditional society, Amanullah’s modernism seemed an overwhelming imitation of another country. Of course, some people believe that if a woman changes her burgha into a less concealing veil, she may be hit by God’s wrath and turned into a black stone. Perhaps, someone has to forcibly rid her of the burgha, so she’ll realize that the assumption is untrue and she can choose for herself.
There is another biased viewpoint to Amanullah’s modernism. In traditional societies, the culture of hypocricy is a form of class camouflage. In Iranian society the traditional wealthy, out of fear of the poor, will decorate the interior of his home like that of a castle but keep the exterior looking like a shack. In other words, that aristocratic nucleus needs to have a poor rustic shell.
Opposition to modernism is not necessarily expressed by traditional organizations. Sometimes it is a reaction by the poor against the rich. For the poor society in Amanullah’s time, while having horses as opposed to mules was a symbol of honor and nobility, a Rolls Royce was an insult to the poor and the deprived people. The war between tradition and modernism is primarily the same as the battle of the Rolls Royce and the mule. It is a war between poverty and wealth.
Today, in Afghanistan the only modern objects are weapons. The nationwide civil war that has created jobs in addition to being a political/military action has also become a market for modern weapons. Afghanistan can no longer fight with knives and daggers despite how far it lags behind the contemporary age . The consumption of weapons is a serious matter. Stinger missiles next to long beards and burghas are still symbols of profound modernism that are proportionate to consumption and modern culture. For the Afghan Mujahed, weapons have an economic basis that creates jobs. If all weapons are removed from Afghanistan, the war ends and all accept that there will be no more assaults on anyone, given the sub zero economic conditions all of today’s Mujahedin will join the refugees in other countries.
The issue of tradition and modernism, war and peace, tribalism and nationalism in Afghanistan must be analyzed with an eye to the economic situation and employment crisis. It has to be understood that there is no immediate solution for the economic crisis in Afghanistan. A long-term solution is contingent on an economic miracle and not on a nationwide military attack from north to south or vice versa. Have these miracles not happened in time and again?
Was the Soviet retreat not a miracle? Was the sovereignty of the Mujahedin not a miracle on their part? Was the sudden conquest of the Taliban not a miracle of its kind? Then why does the story yet remain? The modernism under discussion here faces two fundamental problems. One is rooted in economics and the second is immunization of Afghan traditional culture against premature modernism.
Geographical situation of Afghanistan and its consequences:
Afghanistan has an area of 700,000 square kilometers. Mountains account for 75% of the land area. The people live in deep valleys surrounded by towering mountains. These elevations not only attest to a rough nature, difficult passages and impediments to business, but are also viewed as cultural and spiritual fortresses among Afghan tribes. It is obvious why Afghanistan lacks interstate routes.
The shortage of roads not only creates obstacles for the fighters who seek to occupy Afghanistan but also it stops businessmen whose prosperity may become a means of economic growth. To the same degree that these mountains obstruct foreign intrusion, they block mixing of cultures and commercial activities. A country that is 75% mountainous has problems creating consumer markets in its potential industrial cities and in dispatching agricultural products to the cities. Despite the use of modern weapons, wars take longer and end up with no conclusion.
In the past Afghanistan was a passageway for caravans on the Silk Road traversing China through Balkh and India through Kandahar. The discovery of waterways and then airways in the last century, changed Afghanistan from being an ancient commercial route into a dead-end. The old Silk Road was a passage of camels and horses and didn’t have the characteristics of a modern road. Through the same winding roads Nadir-Shah, Alexander, Timur and Mahmood Ghaznavid went to India. Given the mountainous character of these roads, there used to be primitive wooden bridges that have been badly damaged in the past 20 years of war.
Perhaps today, after two decades of foreign and civil war the people want the strongest party to win and give a single direction to Afghanistan’s historical destiny--no matter what. These same mountains, however, are a hindrance. Perhaps, the true fighters of Afghanistan are the high mountains that don’t surrender and not its hungry people. The Tajik resistance led by Ahmad Shah Massoud owes its survival to the Panjshir valley. Conceivably, if Afghanistan was not mountainous, the Soviets could have easily conquered it; or it could have been prey for the Americans to hunt down like the plains of Kuwait, and bring it closer to the Central Asian markets. Being mountainous increases both the costs of war and reconstruction after peace. If Afghanistan was not so rugged it would have had a different economic, military, political and cultural destiny. Is this a geographical misfortune?
Imagine a fighter who has to constantly climb up and down mountains. Suppose he conquered all of Afghanistan. He then has to constantly conquer the peaks to provide for his army. These mountains have been sufficient to save Afghanistan from foreign enemies and local friends. When you look at the Soviet-Afghan war, you see a nation’s resistance but when on the inside, you realize that each tribe has defended the valley it was trapped in. When the enemy left, again, everyone saw their valley as the center of the world. And again, the same mountains have made agriculture very difficult.
Only 15% of the land is suited for agriculture and practically just half of this is actually cultivated. The reason for cattle breeding is that the pastures are on the mountainsides or its environs. It can be said that Afghanistan is a victim of her own topography. There are no routes in the mountains and road construction is expensive. The roads if any, are either military or narrow paths for smugglers. The only truck road passes around the borders. How can a border road function like a primary artery in the body of Afghanistan to solve problems of social, cultural and economic communications? The few interstate roads that existed were destroyed in the war. To whose advantage is it to pay for the costs of drilling these tough and elevated mountains? For which potential profit should this exorbitant cost be borne? It is said that Afghanistan is full of unexplored mines. From what route are these possibly exploitable resources supposed to reach their destinations?
Who will be the first to invest in mines that will generate profits in an uncertain future?
To what profit shall this cost be remunerated ? It is said that Afghanistan is a territory of
Unextracted minerals. These to-be-extracted minerals are supposed to be taken whereto
and through what roads ? And who will be the first tenderfoot to invest in minerals
which are supposed to be profitable in an uncertain future ? Has the lack of roads been sufficient incentive for the Soviets and Afghans not to think of extracting the minerals ? Instead, Afghanistan is a land of eternal hidden paths that are quite efficient for smuggling drugs. There are as many winding roads as you want for smuggling but for crushing the smugglers, you need straight ones that don’t exist. You can’t know the infinite number of paths and you can’t attack a path every day. At most, you can await a caravan at a junction.
A smuggler was arrested around the city of Semnan in Iran who had walked barefoot from Kandahar carrying a sack of drugs. He had no skin on his soles when arrested, but kept on walking. In the mountains of Afghanistan water is more of a calamity than a blessing. In winter it is the cause of freezing. It floods in spring and in the summer its shortage yields drought. This is the property of mountains without dams. Uncontrolled waters and hard soil reduce agricultural potential. This is the geographical picture of Afghanistan: arduous to cross, incapable of cultivation and mines impossible to exploit due to transport costs. The fact that some find Afghanistan as a museum of tribes, races and languages is because of its geography and sheer difficulty. Every tradition in this country has remained intact because of isolation and lack of communication and mutual interaction.
It is so natural for this rough and dry country with only 7 % of its land being used for agriculture of which half is threatened by drought, to turn into cultivation of poppy seeds to support its people. If the conditions are normal and the price of bread does not increase, from all this poppy wealth, a single loaf of bread is what every Afghan receives. In its present state the economy of Afghanistan can keep its people half full without any economic development. Wealth though, rests with the drug mobs or gets spent on unstable Afghan regimes and the people don’t get a share of it.
The basic question then comes to mind as to how the Afghan people are supported? It is either through construction work in Iran, participation in political wars or becoming theology students in the Taliban seminaries . According to statistics over 2,500 seminaries of the Taliban with a capacity between 300 to 1,000 students, attract hungry orphans. In these schools anybody can have a piece of bread and a bowl of soup, read the Qur’an and memorize prayers and later join the Taliban forces. This is the only remaining option for employment.
It is the result of this geography that emigration, smuggling and war remain as occupations and I’m wondering how the Northern Alliance is going to meet the needs of the people after possible victory over the Taliban? Will it be through continued war or development of poppy seeds or prayer for rain?
On the Iranian border the UN pays 20 dollars to any Afghan volunteering to return to Afghanistan. They are taken by bus to the first cities inside Afghanistan or dropped around the border. Interestingly, due to unemployment in Afghanistan, the Afghans quickly come back and if not recognized, go in line again to get another 20 dollars. The jobless Afghans turn every solution into an occupation. And as much as war may be a profession, few Afghan leaders have died pursuing it.
Continued war provides opportunity for the U.S., Russias and the six neighboring countries to give aid to forces loyal to them. This largeness is normally aimed at continuing a war or balancing power but in the case of Afghanistan it merely creates jobs. Let’s not forget that there has been a two-year drought and livestock have died as a result. The mortality as announced by the UN is predicted at one million within the next few months. The war has nothing to do with this. It is poverty and famine. Whenever cattle breeding has been threatened by shortage of water, emigration has increased and wars have worsened.
The average life expectancy of an Afghan has been calculated at 41.5 years and the mortality rate for children under two was between 182 to 200 deaths per 1,000. The average longevity was 34 years in 1960 and in 2000 it was pegged at 41. The reality however is that in recent years it has gone down to even lower than what it was in 1960.
I never forget those nights of filming Kanadahar. While our team searched the deserts with flashlights, we would see dying refuges like herds of sheep left in the desert. When we took those that we thought were dying of cholera to hospitals in Zabol, we realized that they were dying of hunger. Having seen so many people starving to death, those days and nights, I haven’t been able to forgive myself eating any meals.
In 1986 to 1989 Afghans had about 22 million sheep. That is one sheep per person. This has traditionally been the main wealth of a cattle breeding nation such as Afghanistan. This wealth was lost in the recent famine. Imagine the situation of a cattle breeding nation without livestock. The main calmity of Afghanistan today is poverty and the only way to solve the problems is through economic rehabilitation.
If I had gone to support the Mujahedin instead of the true freedom fighters who are ordinary people struggling to stay alive, I would have come back. If I were president of a neighboring country, I would enhance economic relations with Afghanistan in lieu of political-military interventions. God forbid if I were in the place of God, I would bless Afghanistan with something else that would benefit this forgotten nation. And I write this not believing it will have any impact in this era so different from that of Sa’di’s time when he said “all men are limbs of one body”.
Dr. Kamal Hossein, the UN Humanitarian Adviser for Afghanistan affairs from Bangladesh, visited our office in the summer of 2000 and told us that he had been reporting quite futilely to the UN for 10 years. He had come to assist me in making a movie that perhaps would awaken the world. I said: “I’m looking for what will be effective”.
It must be added that Afghanistan has not so much suffered from foreign interference as it has from indifference. Again if Afghanistan were Kuwait with a surplus of oil income, the story would have been different. But Afghanistan has no oil and the neighboring countries deport its underpaid laborers. It’s only natural when employment choices fail--as explained earlier in the text--the only remaining choices are smuggling, joining the Taliban or falling down in a corner in Herat, Bamian, Kabul or Kanadahar and dying out of the world’s ignorance.
Once, I happened to be in a camp around Zabol that was filled with illegal immigrants. I wasn’t sure if it was a camp or a prison. The Afghans who had fled home because of famine or Taliban assaults were refused to obtain asylum and waiting to be returned to Afghanistan. It all seemed legal and rational to that point. People, who for any reason enter a country illegally and are afterward refused, get deported. But these particular people were dying of hunger. We had ended up there to choose extras for my film. I asked the authorities and found out that the camp could not afford to feed so many people and they hadn’t eaten for a week. They had only water to drink. We offered to provide meals. They wished we’d go there every day.
We brought food for 400 Afghans ranging from one-month old babies to 80-year old men. Most of them were little kids who had fainted of hunger in their mothers’ arms.
For an hour, we were crying and distributing bread and fruits. The authorities expressed grief and regret and said that it took a long time for budget approvals and kept saying that
the influx of hungry refugees was far larger than what they could manage. This is the story of a country that has been ravaged by its own nature, history, economy, politics and the unkindness of its neighbors.
An Afghan poet who was being deported from Iran back to Afghanistan expressed his feelings in a poem and left:
“I came on foot, I’ll leave on foot.
The stranger who had no piggy bank, will leave.
And the child who had no dolls, will leave.
The spell on my exile will be broken tonight.
And the table that had been empty will be folded.
In suffering, I wandered around the horizons.
It is me whom everyone has seen wandering.
What I do not have I’ll lay down and leave.
I came on foot, I’ll leave on foot.”
The ratio of drug consumption in the world to its production in Afghanistan:
In modern day economy, every supply is based on a demand. The production of drugs everywhere meets the need for its consumption. This universal market includes both poor and developed countries such as India, the Netherlands, the U.S., etc. According to UN reports in 2000, in the late 1919’s about 180 million people worldwide were abusing drugs. Based on the same report 90% of illegal opium is produced in two countries of which one is Afghanistan as well as 80 % of heroin. Again, 50 % of all narcotics is produced in Afghanistan. You may think if that 50 % equals half a billion dollars then the total value of the World’s narcotics amounts to one billion dollars but that’s not the case. Why?
Although Afghanistan earns half a billion from drug production the actual turnover is 80 billion dollars. In transit to the rest of the world, the mark-up stretches 160 times. Who gets the 80 billion dollars?
For example, heroine enters Tajikistan at one price and exits at twice as much.
The same goes for Uzbekistan. By the time drugs reach consumers in the Netherlands, they cost 160 to 200 times the original price. The money ends up with the various mafias who also manipulate the politics of the countries en route.
The secret budget of many Central Asian countries is supplied through drug trafficing, otherwise, how can smugglers who walk all the way from Kandahar for example, be the first beneficiaries of this wealth? How can we consider all the barefoots the true smugglers of drugs?
If it weren’t for the extremely high drug profits, Iran for example, could have ordered a half a billion-dollars worth of wheat to Afghanistan as an incentive to stop planting poppy seeds. Yet the 79.5 billion-dollar profit is far too valuable for the mobs and its allied forces to dispose of poppy seeds. Ironically, the Afghan drug producer is not himself a consumer. Drug abuse is prohibited but its production is legitimate. Its religious justification is sending deadly poisons to the enemies of Islam in Europe and America. This reasoning is nicely paradoxical given its economic significance on the Governmental budget of Afghanistan.
The total drug turnover in the world is 400 billion dollars and Afghans are the victims of this market. Why is Afghanistan’s share onlyone to eight hundred ? Whatever the answer, the market with its $400 billion capacity needs a place not so answerable to the civic world but is a cornucopia of drug production.. If there were roads in Afghanistan instead of mule paths, or the war ceased and the economy flourished and other incentives replaced the half billion dollars, then what would happen to the 400 billion dollar market?
In September of 2000 when I was returning from Kandahar, I saw the Governor of Khorassan on the way to Tehran. He said that when opium cost 50 dollars in Herat, it was 250 dollars in Mashad. And when the fight against smugglers intensified, instead of getting more expensive, opium got cheaper. For example, if in Mashad it reached 500 dollars, it cost 75 dollars in Herat. The reason was due to the extreme poverty and famine. The Afghan sheep that used to cost 20 dollars per head is now sold at one dollar at the border but since they are sick, there is no market and the borders are controlled for sheep smuggling into Iran.
Although poppy seed does not have the fundamental importance of oil as a source of Afghanistan’s wealth it is somehow the equivalent of oil. More important, the secret budget of the Central Asian countries is supplied through narcotics. That explains the strong incentive for the world to remain indifferent towards Afghanistan’s chronic economic condition. Why should Afghanistan become stable? How could it possibly compensate the 80 billion dollars directly generated from its soil?
Narcotics is an interesting business for many. Just a few months ago when I was in Afghanistan, it was said that every day an airplane full of narcotics flies directly from Afghanistan to the Persian Gulf states. In 1986, when I was doing research for the making of The Cyclist, I took a road trip from Mirjaveh in Pakistan to Quetta and Peshawar in Pakistan. It took me a few days. When I entered Mirjavah, I got on a colorful bus of the same kind that you might have seen in The Cyclist. The bus was filled with all kinds of strange people. People with long thin beards, turbans on the head and long dresses.
At first, I wasn’t aware that there was narcotics stuffed into the bus’s roof. The bus drove across dirt expanses without roads. Everywhere was filled with dust and the wheels would sink into the soft soil. We arrived at a surreal gate like the ones in Dali’s paintings. It was a gate that neither separated nor connected anything from or to anything. It was just an imaginary gate erected in the middle of the desert. The bus stopped at the gate. There then appeared a group of bikers who asked our driver to step down. They talked a little and then brought a sack of money and counted it with the driver. Two of the bikers came and took our bus. Our driver and his assistant took the money and left on the bikes. The new driver announced that he was now the owner of the bus and everything in it. We then found out that together with the bus we had been sold.
This transaction was repeated every few hours and we were sold to several smugglers. We found out that a particular party controlled each leg of the route and every time the bus was sold, the price increased. First it was one sack of money then it went up to two and three towards the end. There were also caravans that carried Dushka heavy machineguns on the back of their camels. If you eliminated our bus and the arms on camel back, you were in the primitive depths of history. Again we would arrive in places where they sold arms. Bullets were sold in bags as if they were beans. Kilos of bullets were weighed on scales and exchanged. Well, how would the world’s drug trade take place if such premises didn’t exist?
I had gone to Khorassan and along the border looking for a site for filming. By sunset the villages near the border would be evacuated. The villagers would flee to other cities fearing the smugglers. They also encouraged us to take flight. Rumors of insecurity were so widespread that few cars passed after the sunset. In the darkness of the night, the roads were ready for the passage of smuggling caravans. The caravans according to witnesses are comprised of groups of five to a 100 people. Their ages range from 12 to 30 years. Each carries a sack of drugs on their backs and some carry hand-held rocket launchers and Kalashnikovs to protect the caravan.
If drugs are not flown by airplane, they go in containers and if otherwise, they are carried by caravans of men in baskets
. Imagine the enormity of events these caravans pass through from one country to another until for example, they reach Amsterdam. Again, imagine what fear and horror they create among the people in different regions to maintain that 80 billion-dollar trade.
I asked an official in Taibad about the number of murders committed by the smugglers. The figures say 105 were either killed or kidnapped in two years. Over 80 have been returned. I quickly divided 105 by the 104 weeks of the two years. It equals one person per week. I reckoned that if these numbers render a region so unsafe that people prefer not to stay in their own villages and flee to other cities by night, how do we expect the people of Afghanistan not to migrate to our country ? In the past 20 years, they have had one killing every five minutes. Should they stay in Afghanistan and not migrate to our country? How can we think that if we deport them, the insecurity in Afghanistan will not bring them back?
I inquired the officials stationed on the roads about the causes for kidnappings and killings. Apparently, the caravans on the Iranian side of the border deal with the villagers. When an Iranian smuggler does not pay money on time, he or one of his family members is kidnapped and they are returned once the money is exchanged. Again, I realize that this aggression also has an economic basis. Near the Dogharoon border the customs agents were saying that the region had been insecure for eight years but the papers had been reporting about its being so for only two years. The reason for the relative wave of openness is related to the new situation of newspapers in Iran.
Emigration and its consequences:
Except for seasonal movement with his livestock, the unsettled Afghan cattle-breeder never traveled abroad until about two decades ago. For this reason, every trip, even a limited one, has left serious marks on the destiny of Afghans. For example, Amanullah Khan and a group of students that had traveled to the West to study, became the pioneers of Afghanistan’s unsuccessful experiment with modernism. The few officers who went to Russia, later provided the ground for a communist coup d’etat. The emigration of 30% of Afghanistan’s population in the recent decades however, has not been for academic pursuits. War and poverty forced them to leave and now, their large population has exhausted their hosts. The emigration of 2.5 million Afghans to Iran and 3 million to Pakistan has created grave concerns for both countries.
When I objected to officials in charge of deporting Afghans that they were our guests, the reply I heard was that this 20-year party had lasted too long. If it continued in the provinces of Khorassan and Sistan & Baluchestan, our national identity would be threatened in the said regions and we would face even more intense crises such as the demands for independence of those areas or even increased insecurity at the borders.
Unlike Pakistan that prepared schools to train Islamic Mujaheds (Taliban), the Iranian society did not anticipate any schools to train Afghans. During the shooting for The Cyclist, I used to go to Afghan neighborhoods to find actors. At that time, one of the Afghan officials told me that they expected the Iranian universities to accept Afghan students so that if the Russians left Afghanistan, they would have ministers with at least bachelor degrees. Otherwise, with a bunch of fighters you can wage war but not govern the country.
Later on, a few Afghans were accepted in Iranian universities but none of them are willing to return home today. They state their reasons as insecurity and hunger. One of them mentioned that the highest level of living in Afghanistan is lower than the lowest level in Iran. I heard in Herat that the monthly salary of Herat’s governor (in 2000) was $15 per month. That’s 50 cents a day or 4,000 Iranian rials. Because of widespread Afghan emigration, human smuggling has become a new occupation for Iranian smugglers. Afghan families that reach the borders have to go a long way to arrive in Tehran and since their arrest is likely in Zabol, Zahedan, Kerman or any other city en route, they leave their fate in the hands of pickup-driving smugglers. The smugglers request 1,000,000 rials for every refugee hauled to Tehran.
As in 99% of the cases, the Afghan family lacks this much money, a couple of 13-14 year old girls are taken hostage and the rest of the family is secreted into Tehran through back roads. The girls are kept until their family finds jobs and pays the debt. In most cases the money is never provided. A ten-member family with a 10,000,000 rial debt has to pay the interest as well after three months. Consequently, a great many Afghan girls are either kept as hostages around the borders or become the personal belonging of the smugglers. An official in the region secretly related that the number of girl hostages in just one of those cities had been approximated at 24,000.
A friend of mine who was building a house in Tehran told me about his Afghan workers. He had noticed that two Iranian men showed up once in a while and got most of their money. When asked, the Afghans said that they were brought in on credit on the condition that they pay the smugglers later. They also saved part of their money to take back to their families in Afghanistan in case they were deported. The situation is a bit different for refugees in Pakistan.
Those who come to Iran are Hazarahs. These people are Farsi speaking Shiites. The common language and religion inclines them towards Iran. Their misfortune is their distinctive appearance. Their Mongol features subject them to quick recognition among Iranians. The Pashtoon who goes to Pakistan, however, blends in with Pakistanis because of the common language, religion and ethnicity. Although the Shiite Hazarahs find Pakistan more liberal than Iran, job opportunities in Iran are more welcoming to them than the freedom in Pakistan. It means that bread has priority over freedom. You must first have food in order to search for freedom. Have the Iranians who are seeking liberty today, passed a hunger crisis?
As a result of not finding a suitable occupation, a hungry Sunni/Pashtoon Afghan is immediately attracted to the theological schools ready to offer food and shelter.
In fact, contrary to Iran that never dealt with Afghan refugees in an organized manner, Pakistan , having trained the Afghans, set up a satellite Government by the name of “Taliban” in Afghanistan. Why Pakistan dealt with the issue of “Afghan migration” more seriously has evident reasons. The first of which is the “line of Durand”.
Before Pakistan’s independence from India, Afghanistan shared borders with India and serious disputes ensued between the two over the Pashtoonestan region. The British drew the Durand line and divided the region between the two countries, on the condition that after 100 years, Afghanistan regain control over the Indian part of Pashtoonestan as well. Later on, when Pakistan declared independence from India that Indian half of Pashtoonestan became half of Pakistan. Some six years ago, Pakistan was supposed to cede Pashtoonistan back to Afghanistan according to international law provisions. How would Pakistan that still has claims over Kashmir agree to give half of its land area to Afghanistan?
The best solution was to raise hungry Afghan Mujaheds to control Afghanistan. The Pakistan trained Taliban would naturally no longer harbor ambitions of recovering Pashtoonestan from their master. No wonder the Taliban appeared just as the 100-year deadline drew to a close. From a distance, Taliban seem to be irrational and dangerous fundamentalists. When you look at them closely, you see hungry Pashtoon orphans whose occupation is that of a theology student and whose impetus for attending school is hunger. When you review the appearance of the Taliban you see the national political interests of Pakistan.
If fundamentalism was the reason for the independence of Pakistan from Gandhi’s democratic India, the same applies for Pakistan’s survival and expansion at the expense of Afghanistan. At the same time, Pakistan’s significance for the world prior to disintegration of the Soviet Union was based on its being the first defensive stronghold of the West against the Communist East. With the Soviet disintegration, to the same degree that the Afghan fighter lost his heroic position in the western media, Pakistan also lost its strategic importance and came face-to- face with an employment crisis.
According to the rules of sociology, every organization buys and sells something. Given this definition, armies sell their military services to their own or other nations and governments. What was Pakistan’s national career in the world in relation to the West? Playing the role of an apparently eastern army but being possessed by a western internal conviction and selling military services to the United States. With the Soviet disintegration, the demand for Pakistan’s military services for the West also diminished.
To which market then was Pakistan to present its military services and maintain this vital national career ? That is why Pakistan created the Taliban: to have covert control of Afghanistan and stop the Afghans from demanding the cession of Pashtoonestan. The fact that Pakistan, first and foremost, faces an employment crisis, is rooted in this reasoning. If as a filmmaker I cannot make my films in my homeland, I’ll go elsewhere for my occupation. Armies are the same way. For any big war effort, enormous reserves of a nation’s energy are directed towards forming military organizations that dispense military services. Once the war is over, these units look for other markets to maintain their services. If they can’t find a market, they become discouraged and either stage a coup d’etat or transform into economic foundations. Examples of the latter are found in countries that have used their military organizations to control traffic or help with agriculture or road construction.
In the broader world, every once in a while, wars are fomented to create demands for military materiel and take government purchase orders. Let’s go back to the issue of emigration. Unlike Iran, Pakistan used Afghan refugees as religio-political students and founded the Taliban army.
Before the Soviet invasion, the Afghan was a cattle-breeder. With the Soviet attack, each Afghan turned into a Mujahed to defend his valley. Organizations and parties were formed. With the Soviet retreat, the Afghans didn’t go back to cattle-breeding. The new occupation seemed more appealing and prosperous. Every sect or group began fighting another. Six neighboring countries, the U.S. and Russia each sought their own mercenaries among the military groups. As a result, a new wave of employment came into existence. The civil war intensified so much that in two years, the damages were greater than in the longer period of the Russian presence. People were fed up with civil war and when Pakistan dispatched the army of the Taliban holding white flags with the motto of public disarmament and peace, people welcomed them. In a short time, the Taliban had control over most of Afghanistan. It was then that the Taliban’s Pakistani roots went on display.
The Taliban have always been criticized for their fundamentalism but little has been said about the reasons for their appearance. Although the Herati poet who had come to Iran on foot, returned to Afghanistan on foot, the orphan who had walked to Peshawar in Pakistan, returned to conquer Afghanistan driving Toyotas offered by the Arab countries.
How could Pakistan, who had subsistence problems with its own people, afford to feed, train and equip the Taliban? With the help of Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates--who as Iran’s competitors had previously created tensions in Mecca--looked for a religious power compatible with Iran. Saudi Arabia and the Emirates who once felt their modern interests were threatened by the motto of return to Islam, thought that if there is to be any return to Islam, why not return to a more regressive Islam like that of the Taliban. If there’s a contest for returning and the winner is the one who regresses the most, why not go back to the most primitive state namely Talibanism! .
In modern times, emigration is a measurable issue in cultural, political and economic planning. For example, Turkish migrated to Germany and worked in professions refused by the Germans. Unlike Germans who had no incentive for seduction, the Turkish went on siring children and now it is predicted that in the next few decades the Turkish will make up the majority of Germany’s population.
Based on this premise, Germany will soon have a Turkish identity and considering the role of elections, we can imagine that perhaps in 30 years, a Turkishman will become the German Chancellor. This means that the need for Turkish workers will gradually change the national identity of Germany. This is history’s satire.
The same applies to the Asian and African emigration to the United States. At first the European migrants marked the national identity of America. Asians and Africans, however, migrated to America because of revolutions or in pursuit of intellectual and financial achievements. Unlike the European emigrants to America, the Asians and Africans increased their population through births. Gradually the semi-European American identity will change to an Asian-African identity. Inter-racial conflicts are then likely to arise as a result.
If the American society welcomes the `Dialogue of Civilizations’ paradigm, it is because of concerns over future racial conflicts in the American society. Unlike what Iranians think, in the American context, it is not a proposal for exchange between cultures rather dialogue is a domestic American issue among its own cultures.
But why can’t the Iranian intellectual who suggests strategic solutions for other continents from a long distance, find ways to utilize the emigration of Afghans to its own advantage? The reason is that Iranians, unlike the Pakistanis who regard Afghanistan as an opportunity, have always considered it more of a threat than an opportunity. Iranians have always perceived Afghans as smugglers or fundamentalists. How on the earth has the Iranian investor thought that this Afghan hunger market and this large number of jobless workmen can be an opportunity to make a lucrative investment in Afghanistan ? A sort of investment whose consupmption market is Afghanistan itself and its costs will be furnished by the work of the cheap Afghan workmen and probably its surplus production will also be exportable.
Afghanistan has been unfortunate both with the geographical situation of its territory and in political relations with its neighbors. Years ago, there was a big question about Franco, the Spanish dictator. Although Spain’s neighbors had democratic governments, Franco operated a dictatorship. Influenced by her neighbors, Spain later also became more democratic, to the extent that today, it is a vital member of the EEC. The meaning of the fate of Spain is that better living is possible if one is destined to have neighbors.
Afghanistan is stuck with neighbors who see it as a threat or find it an opportunity for the solution of their own political and military problems. If Afghanistan had more democratic neighbors who viewed it as an economic and cultural opportunity it would have been in better shape by now. The Fascist Spain became democratic due to the fortunate adjacency to some democratic European countries while Afghanistan of the would-be progressive Amanullah Khan turned into the redoubt of the Taliban because of the unfortunate circumstances of neighborhood. An Arabic proverb well describes the situation: “First the neighbor, then the house”.
Who are the Taliban?
Sociologists say that nations demand security from their governments in the first instance. Then they demand welfare and in the end they demand development and freedom. After the Soviet retreat, the outbreak of intense civil war created nationwide insecurity and the country was placed in extremely perilous straits. Each group aimed at providing its own security through continuous fighting. None of them however were able to provide security for the nation. The mocking irony of this period was that every one tried to insure security by making the country insecure.
The strategy of disarmament and dispatch of the religious Taliban claiming to be harbingers of peace quickly succeeded in winning popular consent. The unsuccessful efforts of other groups were centered on offering war and insecurity. Although the people of Herat speak Farsi and the Taliban speak Pashtoon, when in Herat, I inquired about the Taliban, the reply I heard from the shopkeepers was that prior to the Taliban, their shops were robbed daily by armed and hungry men. Even those who opposed the Taliban were happy with the security they brought.
Security was established for two reasons. One was the disarmament of the public and the other the severe punishments such as cutting the hands of thieves. These punishments are so harsh, intolerable and quick that if the 20,000 hungry Afghans in Herat saw a piece of bread before them, nobody would dare take it.
I saw truck drivers who had traveled into and out of Afghanistan for two years and had never locked their vehicles. Nothing was ever stolen from them either. Not only were the Afghans in need of financial security but practical safety and freedom from harassment have always been a concern. I heard different stories about how prior to the Taliban people’s lives and chastity were violated by other tribes and sects. Disarmament and execution by stoning, however, have reduced the number of such violations.
So we have 20 million hungry people before us 30% of whom have emigrated, 10% of whom have died and the remaining 60% are starving to death. According to UN reports, one million Afghans will die of hunger within the next few months. Today, when you enter Afghanistan, you see people lying around on street corners. Nobody has energy to move and no arms to fight with. Fear of punishment stops them from committing crimes. The only remedy is to stay and die while humanity is overtaken by indifference. This is not Sa’di’s time of “all men are limbs of one body”.
The only one whose heart had not turned to stone yet, was the Buddha statue of Bamian. With all his grandeur, he felt humiliated by the enormity of this tragedy and broke down. Buddha’s state of needlessness and calmness became ashamed before a nation in need of bread and it fell. Buddha shattered to inform the world of all this poverty, ignorance, oppression and mortality. But negligent humanity only heard about the demolition of the Buddha statue. A Chinese proverb says: “You point at the moon with your finger and the foolish stares at your finger.”
Nobody saw the dying nation whom Buddha was pointing at. Are we supposed to stare at all the different means of communication rather than at what they are intended to convey? Is the ignorance of the Taliban or their fundamentalism deeper than the earth’s ignorance towards the ominous fate of a nation such as Afghanistan?
For filming the starving Afghans, I called Dr. Kamal Hussein, the UN representative from Bangladesh. I told him I wanted to get permission to go to north of Afghanistan (controlled by Ahmad Shah Massoud) and Kandahar (controlled by the Taliban). It was decided that a small group would go and eventually just two of us (my son and I) received approval to travel with only a small video camera. We were to be permitted to go to Islamabad (Pakistan) and take a small 10-passenger UN airplane that flew once a week to the north and once a week to the south.
It took two weeks for the UN office to call and inquire when it was convenient for us to depart. We were ready but they said that it would take another month. “Since it will get colder in a month and more people will be dying, it would make your film more interesting”, they said. They recommended February. I asked, “More interesting?” They replied that perhaps it would provoke the conscience of the world. I didn’t know what to say.
We were silent for a while. Then I asked whether or not we could go to both north and south. The Taliban didn’t agree. They are not too fond of journalists. I made a promise to only film those dying of hunger. Again the Taliban did not approve. I told them that I needed another invitation from the UN to re-enter Pakistan. Later, I received a facsimile stating that I had to go to the Embassy of Pakistan in Tehran. I was happy because I had already obtained a visa to Pakistan from the Embassy to bring costumes for the Kandahar from Peshawar.
I referred to the Embassy of Pakistan. At first, I was not received warmly. A little while passed and I was called. A very respectable lady and a gentleman directed me to a room. Of the 20 minutes that I am in that room, for 15 minutes they talk about my daughter Samira and her international success in cinema. They avoided the main issue and in between words, I was asked why I applied through the UN to get a visa and I was informed that it would have been better if I referred directly to them. In addition they wouldn’t favor a film misrepresenting the Taliban Government. They prefered that I go to Pakistan not Afghanistan. I felt that I was in the Embassy of the Taliban.
I asked if they had seen The Cyclist and told them I made a part of it in Peshawar and that it was not a political film. I told them that my intentions were humanitarian and I wanted to help the Afghans especially with regards to hunger. I told them that my film was about the crisis of employment and hunger. They said that we had 2.5 million Afghans in Iran. Why not film them? It was useless to continue the discussion. They kept my passport and I was kindly asked to leave. A few days later, I received my passport with a statement saying that if I wanted to go to Pakistan as a tourist, the visa could be issued but not for filming or going to Afghanistan. When I left the Embassy, all of what I had read or heard about the Taliban was passing before my eyes.
I remembered a Taliban school in Peshawar where I was escorted out as soon as my Iranian identity had become known. And I remembered a day when in Peshawar for filming The Cyclist, I was arrested and handcuffed. I don’t know why every time I intend to make a film about Afghanistan I end up with Pakistan!
People tell me to be careful. There is always the threat of kidnapping or terrorism at the borders. The Taliban are reputed to assassinate suspected opponents en route between Zahedan and Zabol. I keep saying my subject is humanitarian not political. Eventually, one day when we were finished filming near the border, as I was walking around, I came across a group that had come to either kill or kidnap me. They asked me about Makhmalbaf. I was sporting a long thin beard and wearing Afghan dress. A Massoudi hat with a shawl covering it and half of my face made me look like an Afghan. I sent them the other way and began running while I could not figure out whether they had been dispatched by a political group or smugglers had sent them to extort money.
Let me go back to the issue of security. The Taliban, by virtue of public disarmament and implementation of punishments such as amputation of the hands of thieves, killing fornicators by stones and execution of opponents have brought an apparent security to Afghanistan. When you listen to Shariat radio (Voice of Taliban) that only has a two-hour program daily, even if there is fighting somewhere, they don’t announce it just to maintain a sense of national security. They say for example, that the people of Takhar, welcomed the Taliban and you know it means that the Taliban attacked and conquered Takhar. The rest is just news about Friday prayer or the amputation of the hand of some bandit in Bamian, throwing stones at a fornicator in Kandahar or the punishment of some barbers who had shortened a few teenagers’ hair in the pagan western style. Whatever it is, with the disarmament, the punishments and such propaganda, a sense of national security is prevailing Afghanistan which is different from the sense of insecurity before the Taliban.
Afghanistan, however, lacks the economic strength for the Taliban to create public welfare, yet the Taliban are the only government that can bring security to the country. Those who fight the Taliban bring threats to security and those who support them argue that Afghans must rule over Afghanistan. Whoever is to become the ruler of Afghanistan must first bring security to the nation. Any kind of war gives way to insecurity and since Afghanistan is inclined towards tribalism, whoever assumes power, the security will again be threatened. It is better to first recognize whoever aims to rule Afghanistan, so that he can save Afghanistan from its hunger crisis and then move on. The same group finds criticism of the Taliban irrelevant to the lack of freedom in Afghanistan, because an insecure and famined nation seeks welfare more than freedom and development.
In reply to the question of who the Taliban are, it must be said that politically, the Taliban are a protégé government supported by Pakistan. Personally, they are the formerly hungry youth who are trained in Pakistan’s Mujahed-producing-schools whereto they once entered to fill up their stomachs and later graduated to get a political-military career in Afghanistan. The Taliban as viewed by one political group, are protagonists of fundamentalism in the region and from the viewpoint of another political group, are the same Pashtoons who have been the only rulers of Afghanistan since the time of Ahmad Ibdali.
Today, they have reasserted 250-years of their power after an era of internal chaos. They claim that in the past quarter millennium, except for a 9-month period that the Tajiks ruled and another two-years that the Tajik Rabbani governed, the Pashtoons have always had control of Afghanistan and it needs their experience in governance.
I hardly understand these issues. My job is to make films and if I have delved into these matters, it is because I want to write my script based on a more precise analysis. The further I go though the more I find the case getting more complicated. I keep asking people that when the U.S. found it necessary, it retook Kuwait from Iraq in three days. Why, however, with all its touting of modernism, does it not initiate an action to save the 10 million women who have no schools or social presence and are trapped under the burqa? Why doesn’t it stop this barbarism that has emerged in modern times? Does it not have the power or does it lack the incentive? I have already found the answer.
Afghanistan has no precious resources such as oil and it does not have a surplus oil income like Kuwait. I hear another answer too. If the United States supports the Taliban for a few more years, the ugly image that will be portrayed to the world of an eastern ideology, will make everyone immune against it just as modernism in Afghanistan has been immuned against modernism. If the conservative and modernist interpretations of Islam are equated with Taliban’s regressive interpretation, then the world will become forever immune against the expansion of Islam. Some people find this analysis too shabby since it is a cliché. They tell me to let go and I do.
Who is Mulla Omar?
In my seemingly endless trip to Kandahar, everywhere the speak about Mulla Omar. His title is Amir-al-M’umineen (Commander of the Faithful). Some Iranian politicians believe that he was created to compete with the Iranian government but nobody really knows much about his personal background. Some say he is that 40 years old and blind in one eye but there’s no photograph of him to prove or disprove this. How does nation chose a man overnight to lead them, whereas not even a picture of him has been seen? I get tempted to make a film about Mulla Omar. For political reasons I reconsider it but my curiosity isn’t satisfied.
If Pakistan prepares a precise script for the war-stricken people of Afghanistan under the title: disarmament, and receives a positive welcome by what analysis do they make a leader called Mulla Omar who has no prior image? Someone who is nobody or has not been seen by anybody, becomes the leader of a country in which each tribe or sect has its own leader. Perhaps this is where the secret lies. If a known person were appointed as the leader of Afghanistan, then every one would have an excuse to oppose him.
I hear a joke about a teahouse near the border. “A teahouse hosted Afghan customers on a regular basis. There was a TV set in this teahouse equipped with a windwiper so if necessary, the owner could spray some water on the screen and wipe it clean any stains. The owner was asked about this feature and he said that whenever there was a TV program about the Mujahedin that was receivable in the border areas, their opponents spat on the TV and since the customers chewed nass their salivas were colored. After a while the TV screen became unwatchable so he invented the wiper.”
When the image of Afghan leaders is so deeply criticized and satirized, yet they are in need of someone to rule over Afghanistan, the best way is to design an imageless leader who can’t be criticized for his appearance or background and yet be able to free near-the-border television sets from wipers!
If I weren’t ashamed of Buddha’s shamefulness, I would title this article “Afghanistan, a country without an image”. Every one I ask about Mulla Omar says he is a representative of God on the earth who instead of human laws brought the Qur’an as the country’s constitution. He is extremely pious, as are his followers. His wages are as paltry as the Herat’s governor’s $15 and he lives like the poor people that are dying in the streets.
I realize that the image of this imageless man is complete and appealing because in the East, nobody expects leaders to be updated and specialized or possess a national and universal insight. If only the leaders seem a little like the ordinary, it’s enough to satisfy the people. An Afghan expressed the idea that even if he was starving, he was happy that Mulla Omar was always fasting too and that they were like each other. He thanked God for such a leader.
In Herat I was speaking to a medical student. He was hesitant to be seen talking to me. I asked him if he knowed the total number of college students in Afghanistan. While he kept walking and looking directly ahead, hesaid: “A thousand”. “In what courses?” I asked. He said: “Only medicine and engineering.” “Which one are you studying”, I asked and he said: “Theoretical medicine.” I asked what it meant and he said: Mulla Omar thinks that dissecting human anatomy is a sin. I asked if he had ever seen Mulla Omar’s picture. He said no and left.
Among the Pashtoo speaking refugees, I ran across someone who, despaite not having sen Mulla Omar knew of people who had seen him. I even met Iranian politicians who believed Mulla Omar did really exist and that he was handsome too. A group of Afghans who sleep in Iran at night and cross the border in the day to sell dates in Afghanistan happen to be fascinated by Mulla Omar. They tell me that he is an ordinary clergyman who dreamed of Prophet Mohammad one night and the Prophet commissioned him to save Afghanistan. Since God was with him, he was able to conquer Afghanistan in one month.
The role of international organizations in Afghanistan:
It is believed that some 180 international organizations are active in Afghanistan. They too avoid my non-political questions. Finally, I find out that they are in charge of a few tasks. One job is to distribute bread among the starving. The second is the struggle for exchanging of north-south prisoners and the third is to make artificial limbs for land mine victims.
Forgetting the insignificant role of the international organizations, I became fascinated by the young people who have come here through the Red Cross. I met a 19-year old English girl who said the reason she had come “is to be useful”. It is in Afghanistan that she can make several artificial hands and legs for people each day. She says that she can’t get a job in England that offers so much satisfaction. Since she came, a few hundred people have been able to walk with the artificial limbs she has made.
I have a feeling that the role of international organizations is to remedy the deep and extensive wounds of this nation in a limited way and nothing more. Dr. Kamal Hossein, who is probably embarrassed about the visa to Pakistan, isn’t calling me anymore.
I remember his words the day he came to our office expressing how he felt about his job and that the efforts were in vain and he wanted to become my assistant. And even now that I’ve finished making Kandahar, I have arrived at nowhere with my profession. I don’t believe that the little flame of knowledge kindled by a report or a film can illuminate the deep ocean of human ignorance. And I don’t believe that a country whose people in the next 50 years will loose their hands and legs to anti-personnel mines will be saved by a 19-year old English girl. Why does she go to Afghanistan then ? Why does Dr. Kamal Hossein with all his despair, still reports to the UN? Why on earth did I make that film or write this note? I don’t know, but as Pascal put it: “The heart has reasons of which the mind is unaware.”
The Afghan woman, the most imprisoned woman in the world:
Afghan society is a patriarchal society. It can even be claimed that the rights of 10 million Afghan women who make up half of the populution in Afghanistan, are less than those of the weakest unknown Afghan tribe. No tribe is an exception in this regard. The fact that Afghan women even as viewed by the Tajiks, don’t have the right to vote in elections is the least that can be said about them.
With the coming of the Taliban girls’ schools were closed and for a long time, women were not allowed in the streets. More tragically, even before the Taliban one out of every 20 women was able to read and write. This statistic indicates that the Afghan culture had practically deprived 95% of women from schooling and the Taliban deprived the remaining 5%. Then why shouldn’t we more realistically ask whether the culture of Afghanistan is affected by the Taliban or was it the cause for the Taliban’s appearance?
When I was in Afghanistan, I saw women with burqas on begging in the streets or shopping of course from shops selling second hand articles. What caught my attention were the ladies who brought out their hands from under the burqas and asked little pedlar boys to polish their nails. For a long time, I wondered why they didn’t buy nail polish to use at home? Later I found out it was the cheapest way to do it. Buying nail polish was more expensive than a one-time use. I told myself again that this is a good omen that the woman who is imprisoned under burqa has not lost her desire for life and beauty and despite her poverty, she pays attention to her beauty to that extent. Later on, however, I reached the conclusion that it is not a woman’s right to life that we isolate and imprison her in a society, an environment or a certain costume and be content that she still puts on make up.
This point only indicates that the Afghan Woman, despite this prison, has to maintain herself so that she won’t be forgotten perfectly in the competition with her husband’s other wives. Polygamy is quite common among young men too, and has turned many Afghan homes into harems. Although the marriage settlement is so high that getting married means buying a woman, I saw old men, while filming, give away 10-year old girls and with the marriage settlement price that they received, considered marrying other 10-year old girls for themselves. It seems that a limited capital is exchanged from one hand to another to replace girls from one house to the other. In this connection, the number of women who have an age difference of 30 to 50 years with their husbands is not few.
These women mostly live in the same house or even the same room together and not only have they surrendered but they have also gotten used to these customs. I had brought a lot of dresses and burqas from Afghanistan and Pakistan for my film. Many of the women who agreed to be in the film as extras after strenuous and lengthy persuasion, requested that we give them burqas instead of money. One of them wanted a burqa for her daughter’s wedding, and I did not give it to anyone being anxious that the burqa might be popular in Iran too. Once when we had asked an Afghan woman to be in the film, her husband said: “Are we unchaste to expose our wives ?” I told him that we would film his wife with her burqa on but he said that the audience knew that it was a woman under the burqa and that would be unchastity.
Time and again I asked myself, did the Taliban bring the burqas or did the burqas bring the Taliban? Do politics affect cultural change or does culture bring politics?
In Niatak camp in Iran, the Aghans themselves closed down the public bathhouse for men and women reasoning that anyone who passes along the walls knowing that the opposite sex is naked behind those walls, is engaged in a sin.
At present there are no woman physicians in Afghanistan and if a woman wants to refer to a physician she has to bring her son or husband or father and through them talk to the doctor. As far as marriage is concerned, the father or the brother, not the bride, says yes.
The Afghan Violence
According to Freud human aggression stems from human animalism and civilizations only cover this animalism with a thin cluster. This thin cluster splits by the faintest touch of human conflicts and wars and the Man’s wilderness and animalism shows up again. I believe that even in more developed civilizations, violence has modernized its means rather than turning into intrinsic non-violence.
What’s the difference between death through beheading by knives, daggers or swords or dying by bullets, grenades, mines and missiles? In most cases, criticism of aggression is really the criticism of the means of aggression. Today’s world does not call the death of one million Afghans as violence to due the global injustice. The death of 10% of the Afghan population by civil war and war with the Soviet Union is not called as aggression but the beheading of someone with a knife will long be the main headline of satellite TV news.
It is naturally disgusting to see a person being beheaded by knife but why isn’t the death of seven persons per day by land mines disgusting ? Why is the knife agression but the mine is not ? What’s criticized in the modern West as the Afghan aggression, is the format of agression and not its substance. The West can hold a mourning ceremony for a statue but for the death of millions, it confines itself to the statistics. As Stalin put it: “The death of one person is tragedy, but the death of one million is only a statistic.”
Afghanistan is a tribalist country and a tribal order dominates it. These tribes aggressively resisted against foreign invasion, yet in the conflict of interests among the tribes they had the same practice. Although Afghanistan is called the museum of races and ethnicities, tourists have never visited this museum. If anyone travelled through Afghanistan, it was either Nadir Shah intending to conquer India or the Soviets seeking to reach warm waters. Thus, the Afghan besides what he has learned from the aggressive nature, has not learnt from an alien but agression.
The Destiny of war in Afghanistan:
Afghanistan is a territory that became independent from Iran 250 years ago and it was recognized globally about 150 years ago and as per some other sources 82 years ago. About a hundred and few years ago its borders were defined as the Durant lines by the English. It encountered a premature modernism about 77 years ago. Some 20 years ago it was invaded by the Soviets and it has been involved in a civil war for the past 10 years. About 40% of Afghanistan’s population have been tragically killed or become refugees.
Nevertheless, this country and its people have either been neglected or considered as threats or they have been used as a means of threat against others. When I was crossing the border, I saw the Iranian cannons pointed towards Afghanistan and when I entered Afghanistan, I saw cannons pointing to Iran. These cannons indicated that both of the countries regarded each other as threats.
On the other side of the border I heard the region’s military commander had called the Iranian consul and told him that their homes were made of clay so what did the Iranian cannons aim to target? He had said, “The worst is that you bombard our houses and when it rains we will take the wet mud and build our homes anew again. Don’t you find it a pity if our cannons destroy your beautiful homes? You can’t make glass and iron and ceramics with rain. Why don’t you come and build the road to Herat for us?”
When I was riding from Dogharoon to Herat, I was feeling thatI was sailing on a turbulent sea. I remembered a time when I got trapped in a storm in the Persian Gulf while filming. The waves would take our small boat up for several meters and bang us back on the water’s surface. The boatman told us if the craft turned over, it was goodbye. And now I saw those waves again, but they were waves of dirt. At the beginning of the road the car went downhill and came back up the hill and in the middle of the trip the car beated against the dirt waves. Although this area is flat and includes the non-mountainous part of Afghanistan, the road is worse than the winding roads of Iran.
Above the height of each wave, men and boys stand for eternity with shovels in their hands.
As far as the eye can see, these shovel-holding men are visible. As soon as our car gets close to them, they start filling up the ditches with dirt and while throwing worthless Afghani notes to them, we see them in the dust the same way that we saw the dance of leaves in Once Upon A Time Cinema. It is a scene of men with shovels in their hands who disappear in the dust and have created an occupation for themselves out of nothing. It was the most surrealistic scene that I saw in Afghanistan.
I asked the driver how many cars passed this road every day. He said: “About 30.” I asked if these thousands of shovel-holding men gathered for only 30 cars, but the driver was paying attention to his driving and he was not in the mood to answer me. Slowly, I turned on the radio. It’s been years since I quit listening to the radio or watching TV and I hadn’t read any papers for months. It was September 23rd of 2001 the 2:00 p.m. Iranian news was on. It made me cry to hear that two million Iranian kids had gone to study at the first grade today. I don’t know if it is out of joy for the children who are going to school or out of sorrow for those who don’t go to school in Afghanistan.
I looked at the road and I felt as I was watching a movie. The driver told me that in some of these houses girls schools were established secretly and some girls study at home. I kept thinking that here was a subject for a film. I arrived in Herat and saw women polishing their nails from under the burqas. I told myself that here was another film subject. I saw the 19-year old British girl who had come to the dangerous Afghanistan to be useful. I told myself again, that here was another subject. I saw loads of lame men who had lost their legs to mines. One of them, instead of an artificial leg, had tied a shovel to the left side of his body and walked with it. I told myself that here was yet another subject.
I arrived in Herat and saw dying people covering the streets like carpets. I no longer saw it as another subject. I felt like quitting cinema and seeking another occupation. When Massoud, Afghanistan’s top military chief was asked what he wished for his children to become, he replied, “politicians”. It means that war as a solution has reached a dead-end in the mind of the commander. He thinks that the solution to Afghanistan’s salvation is more political than military. In my opinion, the only solution for Afghanistan is a rigorous scientific identification of its problems and the presentation of a real image of a nation that has remained obscure and imageless both for itself and for others.
A solution for the employment crisis:
Once the industrial countries saturated their internal markets with their products, they went after international markets. In paying the price for their consumption, the non-industrial countries each offered a product and others, cheap labor. In this game, Afghanistan, due to its mountainous geography and lack of roads was unable to exploit its raw materials cost-effectively.
Due to mismanagement, dispersion of population—having its roots in the cattle-breeding period-- and disunion which is a common feature of the tribes, Afghanistan did not have the potential to offer its labor force to the world in exchange for other goods or services. Thus, Afghanistan stayed away from the global game of subsistence and lived on by its insignificant wealth from the pastures. The invasion of the Soviet Union resulted in a nationwide reaction and the cattle-breeder turned into the fighter. With the Soviet retreat, these fighters would not consent to going back to cattle-breeding.
On one hand the civil war spread because of a power struggle. Since then insecurity and emigration increased. The 30% of Afghan emigrants experienced a better living in other cities of course probablly and did not want to be dependent on pastures for a living, especially, because of the periodic drought threats they desired a more civil share of life. This means that Afghanistan with all its historical tardiness has announced its need to enter the world trade game.
What is the most immediate wealth, however, that can be offered to enter the world of production-consumption or vice versa? Doubtlessly, the answer is Afghanistan’s cheap labor. Labor is more obtainable than exploiting raw materials in the roadless mountainous Afghanistan. The dominant outlook on Afghanistan should cast aside its military-political prism. It should be replaced with an economic direction perspective. If employment is taken both as the root and final solution for the present crisis, through public policy as it was experienced in Mao’s China and Gandhi’s India or as it was materialized in the arduous Japan, Afghanistan can also enter world trade and the circle of international subsistence. It can achieve its real share and pay for its cost which is to offer labor, consumer products and take advantage of the present-day civilization and modernism.
From this viewpoint, the illness of Afghans is no longer a disaster. It is a market for Afghan physicians. The lack of specialist physicians is not a disaster, It is a market to train parameds within few months. Hunger is not a disaster. It is a market for consumption of bread. Lack of bread is not a disaster. It is a market for wheat. Lack of wheat is not a disaster. It is a market for harnessing wasted waters.
Waters harnessed by labor mean dams. Dams built by labor mean wheat. Wheat is bread. Bread is saturation. Beyond saturation, it is surplus. Then the surplus of saturation is development. Development is civilization. Stalin had said, “The death of one person is a tragedy, but the death of one million is a mere statistic.”
Since the day I saw a little 12-year old Afghan girl, the same age as my own daughter, Hanna--fluttering in my arms of hunger--I’ve tried to bring forth the tragedy of this hunger, but I always ended up giving statistics. Oh God! Why have I become so powerless, like Afghanistan? I feel like resorting to that very poem, to that very vagrancy and like that Herati poet, get lost somewhere, or collapse out of shame like the Buddha of Bamian.
“I came on foot, I’ll leave on foot
The same stranger who had no piggy bank, will leave.
And the child who had no dolls, will leave.
The spell on my exile will be broken tonight.
And the table that had been empty, will be folded.
In suffering, I wandered around the horizons.
It is me, whom everyone has seen wandering.
what I do not have, I’ll lay and leave.
I came on foot, I’ll leave on foot.”
The statistics in this article were obtained primarily from the UN published data in international news agencies. Also the Green Book of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Iran was used as a source except in cases where Afghan experts have presented different figures. Nevertheless, the recent UN statistics say the tragedy of Afghanistan is expanding and becoming more painful every minute.
Text Of The Book: Buddha Was Not Demolished In Afghanistan; It Collapsed Out Of Shame
Buddha Was Not Demolished In Afghanistan; It Collapsed Out Of Shame