October 7, 2010

WHETHER IT SHOULD OR NOT, IT DOESN'T:

Should Afghanistan Exist? (Christopher de Bellaigue, 10/07/10, NY Review of Books)

Here is a map of Afghanistan. Versions of it adorn conference rooms in military bases, ministry buildings and NGO headquarters. The first question it raises is: “Why does Afghanistan exist?” The country contains about a dozen ethnic groups, whose distribution is shown here in simplified form. There is no coast to attract people and trade. One should also bear in mind Afghanistan’s tribal divisions, particularly within the Pashtun ethnic group, which is split into numerous clans and smaller descent groups. These are too complex for a cartographer to suggest.

Then there are the affinities that the various groups feel to one or other of the country’s neighbors. Concentrated in the south and east, the Pashtuns have an attachment to their fellow Pashtuns in Pakistan. The Uzbeks and Turkmens are adjuncts to bigger communities beyond the northern border, while the Baluches, down in the south-east, maintain ties with their (again, more numerous) kinsmen in Pakistan and Iran. The Tajiks, by contrast, are more local in their loyalties. These affinities scorn the country’s frontiers as they were drawn by British and Russian officials around the turn of the 20th century, when Afghanistan was a buffer between the Tsar’s dominions and British India. Pashtun tribesmen don’t recognize the Durand Line dividing Afghanistan and Pakistan. Nor do the Taliban and the US, fighting their mobile war. Baluch drug smugglers cross into Pakistan and Iran at will.

Afghanistan’s Persian-speaking majority is culturally attuned to Persian-speaking Iran and Tajikistan, to which may be added the sectarian affiliation that the country’s Shia minority (mostly Hazaras, concentrated in the central, most mountainous part of our map) feel towards Shia Iran.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 7, 2010 2:36 PM
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