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

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

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

Sense of Place in a Space of Conflict: A Minute in Srebrenica

Tucked between hills, in a landscape resembling a West Virginia “holler,” the Bosnian city of Srebrenica has a painful past. It serves as an example of how a single cultural trait, ethnicity or religion, can separate people who otherwise practice identical lifestyle, share common history and ancestors, and compete over who makes the best home-made plum brandy. A common theme that accelerates local-level atrocities in the Balkans region during turbulent times, and drives people to hurt their neighbors, is a

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

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

Maps and Misalignment of Political and Vernacular Boundaries (Part 2)

“Historical claims—and, in the context of central and eastern Europe, this means claims based upon medieval and feudal pretensions—have no relevance to the twentieth century.  It is one of the great tragedies of Europe that peoples of central and eastern Europe, with long historical memories and little historical sense, cling so obstinately to these illusions of vanished grandeur.” Pounds, Norman J.G. Poland Between East and West. D. Van Nostrand, Inc. Princeton, NJ, 1964. Ukrainians and Russians   At the beginning of

Maps and Misalignment of Political and Vernacular Boundaries (Part 1)

A recent article in Washington Post  described the border issues between India and Bangladesh, existing since the Partition of India in 1947, as finally resolved through bilateral negotiations. For decades many enclaves of both countries remained within other enclaves, which, in turn, remained within other enclaves, and so on. Below are the graphics from the article. The above example shows India’s territory within Bangladesh, which is an enclave within India’s territory that itself is an enclave within Bangladesh, and all

Google Maps and Nagorno-Karabakh Republic: Mistakes Were Made

In 2014, while working on a Caucasus-related project at the US Marine Corps’ CAOCL, I opened the latest version of Google Maps that became public a week or so earlier.  To my surprise this version, unlike the previous version, had an interesting geopolitical feature—Nagorno-Karabakh Republic—with boundaries outlined and place names written in Armenian language. Not a single UN-member nation has yet recognized this entity, even Armenia, thus seeing it appear on Google Maps was a bit puzzling.  I commented about it