Majority of references to conditions in contemporary Afghanistan are mentioned in a context of its fragile security, institutionalized corruption, and public officials’ widespread incompetence. One topic that encompasses all three categories is population enumeration. Afghanistan has never conducted a full census (1979 census was only partially completed); its current demographic numbers are estimates and projections. This is extremely important in terms of political power struggle and ethnic geography. In multi-ethnic countries each group tends to inflate its own numbers, hoping
A few mornings ago, I slowly sipped my coffee and browsed the news when a headline caught my eye: US focusing Anti-Taliban effort inside Kabul. My first reaction was “Oh, this is going to be good,” which an opening paragraph confirmed: “The Afghan capital is now the main focus of the anti-Taliban fight, with U.S. special forces conducting raids in the sprawling city and additional American military advisers arriving to help beleaguered local police, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan
The most difficult issue to discuss about Afghanistan’s future is that of ethnic groups, particularly their distribution relevance to political power. Blindly ignoring it has been widespread among the foreign providers of funds for the country’s security and reconstruction. Their actions resemble that of land developers near the San Andreas Fault, who hope that an anticipated cataclysmic earthquake will occur after they develop and sell the properties. People of various ethnicities do exist in Afghanistan and occupy territory they specifically
One way or another, all of the rapidly-dilapidating roads in Afghanistan lead to their node, downtown Kabul City. They follow the money trail of operational incompetence and cultural ignorance. This is why the title of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction’s (SIGAR) report, Afghanistan’s Road Infrastructure: Sustainment Challenges and Lack of Repairs Put U.S. Investment at Risk, did not surprise me at all. Figure 1. Building bridges that work; compacted trash put to good use as a neighborhood bridge.
“Americans have to learn geography, because they are living now in a world in which they’re no longer isolated. . .and they simply will not make—will not be able to make—sense out of what they read in their newspapers and about the decisions their government makes unless they understand some historical and above all, geographical, relationships.” Henry Kissinger (former National Security Advisor) The Problem with The Double Ds Denigration and degeneration are frequently combined and parts of the same
For reasons unknown, some myths about Afghanistan refuse to die. They are practically engraved in Western consciousness. Any attempt to provide an alternative viewpoint is greeted with a complete refusal for consideration. Some of the better-known fables include: Afghanistan is a graveyard of empires The Soviet Union lost the war in Afghanistan Tribal code of honor dictates life in Afghanistan Pashtuns are the majority of population and they won the war against the Soviet Union Afghanistan is a place of
Swinging Pendulum of Destiny One aspect of Afghanistan’s modern history has always been constant: regardless of the turn of events, the Hazaras could count on receiving the short end of the stick. This is well documented. Since 2001, however, overall conditions began to improve and the Hazaras managed to benefit from the democratic electoral process. Their ability for political organization as a voting bloc has far exceeded that of other groups, which particularly for the country’s Pashtuns has not been
A good portion of Americans’ geographic expertise about Afghanistan, particularly about Kabul City, resembles the attitude of the American movie goers. Entertainment and box office value trumps artistic content, boredom proportionally increases with absence of special effects, subtitles are the ultimate inconvenience, and the story must fit the viewers’ mental framework—often based on short memory—to be appreciated. Official policymaking stems from such an environment, inconceivable to many of us that the rest of the world does not operate along the
People familiar with Afghanistan’s affairs recognize this as an ironic title. Its success cannot be measured, because no program with such a name ever existed there. The real program that ISAF emphasized was named Village Stability Operations. The name indicates a preference for stabilization of the countryside through operations in small villages. As a geographer, I always felt that rural initiatives may have overshadowed the need to understand urbanization and urban growth’s significance for Afghanistan’s long-term stability prospects. Population Trends
As recent battles raged in Afghanistan’s north the news arrived about the country’s need to import food. Kunduz area, in particular, is Afghanistan’s breadbasket and disruption to the harvest and distribution of grain is a major issue. This news reminded me again about the role industrial hemp can have on the path to security and stability. Population can greatly benefit from utilizing hemp as human and animal food, building material, fuel, textile, production of industrial materials, and a tool in
Spatial Oddity “Well, this is little odd,” I recall thinking about the class content and method of instruction, while attending a COIN (Counterinsurgency) Academy course in Kabul City. At the time I thought, “The visiting instructor is using an unnamed city as a case study of COIN in an urban area—easily identifiable as Mosul, Iraq—and not a word yet on Kabul City, the very city we are sitting in. Shouldn’t they talk about the real world, the most relevant locations
[Note: This article is a continuation of discussion about Afghanistan’s ethnic issues. It would greatly help readers to also read my previous posts, Maps and Misalignment of Political and People-Perceived Boundaries (Part 3) and Afghanistan’s Continuous Struggle With Itself: The Census and Ethnicity Issue, respectively] Headwaters in the Central Highlands Rivers always have relevance, but that significance varies based on their geographic context. In countries like Colombia, for example, many rivers are navigable and serve as transportation avenues through or
Afghanistan’s history since 1880s, as discussed in one of my earlier posts, has not been an idyllic period of harmonious ethnic relationships. With two major population-related issues in need of solving—conducting population registration (issuing electronic ID cards) and enumeration (national census)—the country may reach a breaking point along ethnic lines regardless whether these issues are resolved. Divisions are present everywhere. For example, the majority of people in the country composed of dozens of ethnic groups speak Dari, Afghanistan’s lingua franca.
AFGHANISTAN Within Afghanistan ethnicities are not geographically grouped together as a result of their voluntary decisions, or desire for brotherhood and unity. They are together under one national umbrella because someone else has imposed it on them. The Power of State Forcing internal stability by playing ethnic cards causes conflicts. Afghanistan’s history is filled with such attempts. For example, in the 1880s, King Abdur Rahman Khan (r.1880-1901), a Pashtun, sent thousands of southern Pashtuns to settle in the north to