Kabul Diary by Mike Petterson
23 May 2010
Land‐locked countries in the middle of continents have to contend with (as a fact of life) many neighbours. Just take a look at a map of Afghanistan surrounded by Pakistan, Iran, China, Uzbekistan, Kyrgistan, Tajikistan – a glorious pantheon of ‘stans’. Isn’t it so lucky to have so many friends nearby I hear you say? Well maybe, but possibly not also. Afghanistan’s rich history has benefited from the coalescence of people from Central Asia, Europe, south Asia and China. But its very strategic position has made it the subject of Empire competition – as for example the ‘Great Game’ of the 18th century, where the great Russian and British Empires vied for influence over the ‘buffer state’ of Afghanistan. And history repeats itself today, caught between Iran and Pakistan with the emerging super‐powers of China and India a stone’s throw away, Russia and its former ‘Soviet Stans’ to the north and the wider international community, all acting a play around and within the country. Not a simple situation by any means – and certainly not an island within an ocean of splendid isolation.
The same position has given Afghanistan stunning scenery. The very western edge of the great tectonic plate of India shoots through Afghanistan and is but one of a whole host of continental collisions throughout geological time that have created a land of high mountains, glaciers, intermontane plains, deep gorges, baking deserts and even a volcano. Today I travelled to the edge of Kabul and was able to touch the surrounding high‐Hindu Kush and look back upon the city of Kabul growing like a crop of flowers between, within and upon a complex network of hills, mountains and valleys. We looked upon the very fault system that marks the edge of India and saw how it creates new topography in real‐time. Truly and marvel of nature.
We parked the car and started walking through irrigated green fields of wheat, beans, orchards and vineyards. Men ‘salaamed’, women shyly hid their faces or looked away (the younger ones peeking when they thought we weren’t looking), all smiling and wishing us well.
We came upon a beehive in the middle of a field. Pashtoon honey cultivators move with the seasons and their colonies of bees between Kabul and Jalalabad (how do they not get stung I wondered!). The honey was too much for some of the party to resist and they bought some very liquid, fresh, runny‐honey at $10 a kilogram.
We were offered a meal of curried beans but unfortunately had to decline. Further on we met the ‘Kuchis’, also Pashtoons: nomadic livestock herders who live in tents and move from pasture to pasture with the passing of summer into winter.
Then an obstacle: a Tajik man who liked the sound of his own voice (very much). The man had fought with several armies but was retired without money a few years ago. He was poor and bored and a little angry. He was not so happy that some ‘ghuris’ or ‘white people’ were walking on his land. Furthermore the ‘ghuris’ were not ‘mussel‐men’ ‘muslims’ – they were ‘kafirs’ who ate unclean food and lived an un‐Islamic life – for their own good they should convert to the one true faith, and he wasn’t sure if we should go onwards through his land. The speech was met with a mixture of piety and seriousness, but mostly diplomatic laughter and a feeling of, ‘We are very sorry, this guy is a bit crazy, you are most welcome here the way you are, don’t worry’. So onwards we went, undertaking our work with the sound of roaring thunder in the distance as the sky met the mountains of the beautiful Hindu Kush peaks.
Afghanistan – the land of eternal surprise – you will never be bored here!