Tornado-proof Umbrellas in Afghanistan

Not long ago, I received an email from a geographer friend with a link to a news report that the Taliban have overrun yet another district in Afghanistan.  A short comment followed the link: “After a trillion $$ and countless years of US presence, the place is still $%^& up and probably always will be.  The “brass” simply fails to understand the difference between folk and popular culture (and, of course, the “Warlords” simply being tribal chieftains who are doing

Revisiting Afghanistan-Related Ignorance

Mustafa and I first met when we engaged in a conversation atop an elevated area overlooking Kabul City and surrounding area. The views extended even farther from the metropolitan area and we could see toward other provinces.  In distance, mountains separating Kapisa and Panjsher looked astonishing that day.  Mustafa commented that one should go to Panjsher if for no other reason than to just relax in nature and eat fish caught in local streams.  I agreed. Lives of Others From

Over-classified Geographic Intelligence Reports

When news about the assassination of Afghan Brigadier General, Abdul Raziq Achakzai, arrived in my news feed, my first thought, unsurprisingly, was “There will be some interesting geographic implications as an outcome of this.”  Raziq was a prominent strongman in southern Afghanistan and Kandahar Province.  I remember well his rise in reputation during my work in Afghanistan. In New York Times’ article covering the assassination one paragraph, in particular, stood out: “The United States military now stands to lose a

September 9, 2001

Two days prior to the September 11th, 2001, attacks in the United States, an assassination happened in northern Afghanistan.  This event meant little to the Americans then and it means little to the Americans today.  Afghans of all ethnicities, on the other hand, care about September 9th much more than September 11th, although not all of them for the same reason. As unresolved ethnic issues continue to be ignored like they do not exist (please consult my Afghanistan archive for

The House of Afghan-Identity Cards

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

Generals and Majors in Kabul City

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

Kabul, Afghanistan’s Gordian Knot

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

Tears-Soaked Afghan Roads: Reconstruction Potholes and Utter Incompetence

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.

National Security Advisors and Geographical Analysis Downrange

“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

Fighting Season in Afghanistan and Other Nonsense

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

Hazaras’ Choice

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

Fight for Light in Kabul City and National Implications

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

Success of ISAF’s Urban Stability Operations Program in Afghanistan

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

Hemp for Afghan Victory

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

Counterproductive Counterinsurgency Instructions and Lessons from Afghanistan

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

Afghanistan’s Watersheds and Their Relevance to Instability in the North

[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 Continuous Struggle With Itself: The Census and Ethnicity Issue

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.

Maps and Misalignment of Political and People-Perceived Boundaries (Part 3)

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