Limbs of no body
World's indifference to the Afghan tragedy
By Mohsen Makhmalbaf
June 20, 2001
If you read my article in full, It will take about an hour of your
time. In this hour, 14 more people will have died in Afghanistan of war
and hunger and 60 others will have become refugees in other countries. This
article is intended to describe the reasons for this mortality and emigration.
If this bitter subject is irrelevant to your sweet life, please don't read
Afghanistan in the eyes of the world
Last year I attended the Pusan Film Festival in South Korea where I was
asked about the subject of my next film. I would respond, Afghanistan.
Immediately I would be asked, "What is Afghanistan?" Why is it
so? Why should a country be so obsolete that the people of another Asian
country such as South Korea have not even heard of it?
The reason is clear. Afghanistan does not have a role in today's world.
It is neither a country remembered for a certain commodity nor for its scientific
advancement or as a nation that has achieved artistic honors. In the United
States, Europe and the Middle East, however, the situation is different
and Afghanistan is recognized as a peculiar country.
This strangeness, however, does not have a positive connotation. Those
who recognize the name Afghanistan immediately associate it with smuggling,
the Taliban, Islamic fundamentalism, war with Russia, a long-time civil
war, famine and high mortality. In this subjective portrait there is no
trace of peace and stability or development. Thus, no desire is created
for tourists to travel to or businessmen to invest in Afghanistan.
So why should it not be left to oblivion? The defamation is such that
one might soon write in dictionaries that Afghanistan can be described as
a drug producing country with rough, aggressive and fundamentalist people
who hide their women under veils with no openings.
Add to all of that the destruction of the largest known statue of Buddha
that recently spurred the sympathy of the entire world and led all supporters
of art and culture to defend the doomed statue. But why didn't anybody except
UN High Commissioner Ogata express grief over the pending death of one million
Afghans as a result of severe famine? Why doesn't anybody speak of the reasons
for this mortality? Why is everyone crying aloud over the demolition of
the Buddha statue while nothing is heard about preventing the death of hungry
Afghans? Are statues more cherished than humans in the modern-day world?
I have traveled within Afghanistan and witnessed the reality of life
in that nation. As a filmmaker I produced two feature films on Afghanistan
with a 13-year interval ("The Cyclist", 1988 and "Kandahar",
2001). In doing that I have studied about 10,000 pages of various books
and documents to collect data for the films. Consequently I know of a different
image of Afghanistan than that of the rest of the world. It is a more complicated,
different and tragic picture, yet sharper and more positive. It is an image
that needs attention rather than forgetfulness and suppression.
But where is Sa'di to see this tragedy -- the Sa'di whose poem "All people are limbs of one body"
is above the portal to the United Nations?
Afghanistan in the minds of the Iranian people
The Iranian people's impression of Afghanistan is based on the same image
as that of the American, European and Middle Eastern people. The only difference
is that the focus is at a closer range. Iranian workers, people of southern
Tehran and working class residents of Iranian towns do not look kindly on
Afghans and view them as competitors for employment. By pressuring the Ministry
of Labor, they demanded the Afghans be returned to their homeland. See photo
The Iranian middle class however, finds Afghans quite trustworthy at
care-taking and janitorial jobs. Building contractors believe Afghans are
better workers than their Iranian counterparts and command lower wages.
Anti-drug authorities recognize them as key elements in drug trafficking
and suggest that crushing the smugglers and deporting all Afghans would
put and end to drug problems once and for all. Doctors view them as the
cause for some epidemic diseases such as the "Afghan flu" that
was nonexistent in Iran. They offer immunization from within Afghanistan
and in so doing, have born the costs of polio vaccination for the people
of Afghanistan as well.
The world's view of Afghanistan
News headlines matching a country's name must always be checked. The
image of a country depicted to the world through the media is a combination
of facts about that country and an imaginary notion that the people of the
world are supposed to have of that place. If some countries of the world
are supposed to be covetous of a place, it is necessary that grounds be
provided through the news.
What I've perceived is that unfortunately in today's Afghanistan except
for poppy seeds, there is almost nothing to spark desire. Thus Afghanistan
has little or no share in world news, and the resolution of its problems
in the near future is far-fetched. If like Kuwait, Afghanistan had oil and
surplus oil income, it could also have been taken back in three days by
the Americans and the cost of the American army could have been covered
by that surplus income.
When the Soviet Union existed, Afghans received Western media attention
for fighting against the Eastern Bloc and being witnesses to communist oppression.
With the Soviet retreat and later disintegration, why is the United States,
who supports human rights, not taking any serious actions for 10 million
women deprived of education and social activities or for the eradication
of poverty and famine that is taking the lives of so many people?
The answer is because Afghanistan offers nothing to long for. Afghanistan
is not a beautiful girl who raises the heartbeat of her thousand lovers.
Unfortunately, today she resembles an old woman. Whoever desires to get
close to her will only be saddled with the expenses of a moribund and we
know that our time is not the time of Sa'di when "All people are limbs
of one body".
The tragedy of Afghanistan in statistics
There has been no rigorous collection of statistics in Afghanistan in
the past two decades. Hence, all data and numbers are relative and approximate.
According to these figures, Afghanistan had a population of 20 million in
1992. During the past 20 years and since the Russian occupation, about 2.5
million Afghans have died as a direct or indirect result of the war -- army
assaults, famine or lack of medical attention.
In other words, every year 125,000 or about 340 people a day or 14 people
every hour or one in about every five minutes have been either killed or
died because of this tragedy. This is a world wherein the crew of that unfortunate
Russian submarine was facing death some months ago and satellite news was
reporting every minute of the incident. It is a world that reported non-stop
the demolition of the Buddha statue.
Yet nobody speaks of the tragic death of Afghans every five minutes for
the past 20 years. The number of Afghan refugees is even more tragic. According
to more precise statistics the number of Afghan refugees outside of Afghanistan
living in Iran and Pakistan is 6.3 million. If this figure is divided by
the year, day, hour and minute, in the past 20 years, one person has become
a refugee every minute. The number does not include those who run from north
to south and vice versa to survive the civil war.
I personally do not recollect any nation whose population was reduced
by 10 percent via mortality and 30 percent through migration and yet faced
so much indifference from the world. The total number of people killed and
refugees in Afghanistan equals the entire Palestinian population but even
us Iranians' share of sympathy for Afghanistan does not reach 10 percent
of that for Palestine or Bosnia, despite the fact that we have a common
language and border.
When crossing the border at the Dogharoon customs to enter Afghanistan,
I saw a sign that warned visitors of strange looking items. These were mines.
It read: "Every 24 hours seven people step on mines in Afghanistan.
Be careful not to be one of them today and tomorrow."
I came across more hard figures in one of the Red Cross camps. The Canadian
group that had come to defuse mines found the tragedy simply too vast, lost
hope and returned. Based on these same figures, over the next 50 years the
people of Afghanistan must step on mines in groups to make their land safe
and livable. The reason is because every group or sect has strewn mines
against the other without a map or plan for later collection. The mines
are not set in military fashion as in war and collected in peace. This means
that a nation has placed mines against itself. And when it rains hard, surface
waters reposition these devices turning once safe remote roads into dangerous
These statistics reveal the extent of the unsafe living environment in
Afghanistan that leads to continuous emigration. Afghans perceive their
situation as dangerous. There's constant fear of hunger and death.
Why shouldn't Afghans emigrate? A nation with an emigration rate of 30
percent certainly feels hopeless about its future. Of the 70 percent remaining,
10 percent have been killed or died and the rest or 60 percent were not
able to cross the borders or if they did, they were sent back by the neighboring
This perilous situation has also been an impediment to any foreign presence
in Afghanistan. A businessman would never risk investing there unless he
is a drug dealer and political experts prefer to fly directly to Western
countries. This makes it difficult to resolve the crisis that Afghanistan
is faced with. At present, due to UN sanctions and safety concerns, with
the exception of only three countries (officially) and two others (unofficially),
there are no political experts in Afghanistan. There are only political
suppositions offered from a distance.
This adds to the ambiguity of crisis in a country burdened with such
an enormous scope of tragedy and ignorance on the part of the world. I witnessed
about 20,000 men, women and children around the city of Herat starving to
death. They couldn't walk and were scattered on the ground awaiting the
inevitable. This was the result of the recent famine. That same day the
then United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Japan's Sadako Ogato,
also visited these same people and promised that the world would help them.
Three months later, I heard on Iranian radio that Madame Ogata gave the
number of Afghans dying of hunger to be a million nationwide.
I reached the conclusion that the statue of Buddha was not demolished
by anybody; it crumbled out of shame. Out of shame for the world's ignorance
towards Afghanistan. It broke down knowing its greatness didn't do any good.
In Dushanbeh in Tajikestan I saw a scene where 100,000 Afghans were running
from south to north, on foot. It looked like doomsday. These scenes are
never shown in the media anywhere in the world. The war-stricken and hungry
children had run for miles and miles barefoot. Later on the same fleeing
crowd was attacked by internal enemies and was also refused asylum in Tajikestan.
In the thousands, they died and died in a no-man's land between Afghanistan
and Tajikestan and neither you found out nor anybody else.
As Mrs. Golrokhsar, the renowned Tajik poet put it: "It is not strange
if someone in the world dies for so much sorrow that Afghanistan has. What's
strange is that why nobody dies of this grief."
Afghanistan, a country with no images
Afghanistan is a country with no images, for various reasons. Afghan
women are faceless which means 10 million out of the 20 million population
don't get a chance to be seen. A nation, half of which is not even seen
by its own women, is a nation without an image.
During the last few years there has been no television broadcasting.
There are only a few two-page newspapers by the names of Shariat, Heevad
and Anise that have only text and no pictures. This is the sum total
of the media in Afghanistan. Painting and photography have also been prohibited
in the name of religion. In addition, no journalists are allowed to enter
Afghanistan, let alone take pictures.
In the dawn of the 21st century there are no film productions or movie
theatres in Afghanistan. Previously there were 14 cinemas that showed Indian
movies and film studios had small productions imitating Indian movies but
that too has vanished.
In the world of cinema where thousands of films are made every year,
nothing is forthcoming from Afghanistan. Hollywood, however, produced "Rambo"
about war in Afghanistan. The whole movie was filmed in Hollywood and not
one Afghan was included. The only authentic scene was Rambo's presence in
Peshawar, Pakistan, thanks to the art of back projection! It was merely
employed for action sequences and creating excitement. Is this Hollywood's
image of a country where 10 percent of the people have been decimated and
30 percent have become refugees and where currently one million are dying
The Russians produced two films concerning the memoirs of Russian soldiers
during the occupation of Afghanistan. The Mujahedin made a few films after
the Russian retreat, which are essentially propaganda movies and not a real
image of the situation of the past or present-day Afghanistan. They are
basically a heroic picture of a few Afghans fighting in the deserts.
Two feature films have been produced in Iran on the situation of Afghan
immigrants, "Friday" and "Rain". I made two films "The
Cyclist" and "Kandahar". This is the entire catalogue of
images about Afghans in the Iranian and world media. Even in TV productions
worldwide there are a limited number of documentaries. Perhaps, it is an
external and internal conspiracy or universal ignorance that maintains Afghanistan
as a country without an image.
The historical image of an imageless country
Afghanistan emerged when it separated from Iran. It used to be an Iranian
province some 250 years ago and part of Greater Khorasan province in the
era of Nadir Shah. Returning from India, one midnight, Nadir Shah was murdered
in Ghoochan. Ahmad Abdali, an Afghan commander in Nadir Shah's army fled
with a regiment of 4,000 soldiers. He declared independence from Iran and
thus Afghanistan was created.
In those days it was comprised of farmers and overwhelmingly ruled by
tribes. Since Ahmad Abdali belonged to the Pashtoon tribe, naturally, he
could not have been accepted as the absolute authority by other tribes such
as the Tajik, Hazareh and Uzbek. Thus, it was agreed that each tribe would
be governed by its own leaders. The rulers collectively formed a tribal
federalism known as the "Loya Jirga".
Since then until the present, a more just and appropriate form of governing
has not emerged in Afghanistan. The Loya Jirga system reveals that not only
has Afghanistan never evolved economically from an agricultural existence,
it has never moved beyond tribal rule and failed to achieve a sense of nationalism.
An Afghan does not regard himself an Afghan until he leaves his homeland.
He is regarded with pity or suffers humiliation. In Afghanistan each Afghan
is a Pashtoon, Hazareh, Uzbek or Tajik. In Iran, perhaps except in the province
Kurdistan, we are all Iranians first. Nationalism is the first aspect of
our perception of a common identity. But in Afghanistan all are primarily
members of a tribe. Tribalism is the first aspect of their identity.
This is the most obvious difference between the spirit of an Iranian
with that of an Afghan. Even in presidential elections in Iran, the candidate's
ethnicity has no national significance and draws no special vote. In Afghanistan
since the era of Ahmad Abdali until today as the Taliban rule over 95 percent
of the country, the main leaders have always been from the Pashtoon tribe.
(Except for the nine months of Habiballah Galehkani's rule known as Bacheh
Sagha and the two years of the Tajik Burhannuddin Rabbani respectively,
Tajiks have not otherwise held power.) The people of Afghanistan, however,
since the time of Ahmad Abdali, have always been content with tribal federalism.
What does this indicate in comparison to the situation in Iran? Under
Reza Shah, tribalism was weakened and replaced by nationalism. In Afghanistan
that did not happen. Even the Mujahedin of Afghanistan never fought foreign
enemies in a unified manner, rather each tribe warred with foreign enemies
in their own regions.
During the making of Kanadahar while I was in the refugee camps at the
border of Iran and Afghanistan, I realized that even those Afghan refugees
who have lived in difficult camp conditions, did not accept their Afghan
national identity. They still had conflicts over being Tajik, Hazareh or
Pashtoon. Inter-tribal marriages still do not take place among Afghans neither
is there any business conducted between them. And with the most minor conflict,
the danger of mass bloodshed prevails. I once witnessed one tribal member
killed by someone from another in revenge for curring in a bread line.
In the Niatak refugee camp (border of Iran-Afghanistan) that accommodates
5,000 residents, it is not easy for Pashtoon and Hazareh children to play
with each other. This sometimes leads to mutual aggression. Tajiks and Hazarehs
find Pashtoons their greatest enemy on earth and vice versa. None of them
are even willing to attend each other's mosques for prayers. We had difficulty
seating their children next to each other to watch a movie. They offered
a compromise wherein Hazareh and Pashtoon children took turns watching.
Many diseases were prevalent in this camp and there were no doctors.
When a doctor was brought in from the city, the camp residents didn't give
priority to treating those who were most ill. Only a tribal order was accepted.
They appointed a day for Hazareh patients and another for Pashtoons. In
addition, class distinctions among the Pashtoons prevented them from coming
to the clinic on the same day.
In shooting scenes that needed extras, we had to decide to choose from
among either Hazarehs or Pashtoons, though all of them were refugees and
both suffered the same misery. Yet, tribal disposition came first in any
decisions. Of course, the majority were unfamiliar with cinema. Like my
grandmother, they thanked God for not having stepped foot inside a movie
The reason for Afghanistan's perpetual tribalism rests with its agrarian
economics. Each Afghan tribe is trapped in a valley with geographical walls
and is a natural prisoner of a culture stemming from a mountainous environment
and farming economy. Cultural tribalism is the product of farming conditions
rooted in the deep valleys of Afghanistan. Belief in tribalism is as deep
as those valleys.
The topography of Afghanistan is 75 percent mountainous of which only
7 percent is suitable for farming. It lacks any semblance of industry. The
country is solely dependent on farming, as grasslands (in non-drought years)
are the only resources for economic continuity. Again, farming is the foundation
of this tribalism that in turn is the basis for deep internal conflicts.
This not only stops Afghanistan from becoming a modern country it also prevents
this would-be nation from achieving a national identity.
There is no intrinsic popular belief in what is called Afghanistan and
Afghans. Afghans are not yet ready to be absorbed into a bigger collective
identity called the people of Afghanistan. Contrary to the misnomer of religious
war, the origin of disputes lies with tribal conflicts. The Tajiks who fight
the Taliban today are both Muslim and Sunni -- as are the Taliban. The intelligence
of Ahmad Abdali is yet to be appreciated for having creating the notion
of tribal federalism. He was smarter than those who fancy the ruling of
one tribe over all others or one individual over a nation -- when tribalism
and the economic infrastructure was still intact.
Pashtoons with a population of about six million make up Afghanistan's
largest tribe. Next are Tajiks with about four million people and third
and fourth are Hazarehs and Uzbeks with populations of about four million
and one to two million respectively. The rest are small tribes such as the
Imagh, Fars, Balouch, Turkman and Qezelbash.
The Pashtoons are mostly in the south, the Tajiks in the north and the
Hazarehs in the central regions. This geographical concentration in different
regions will lead either to complete and final disintegration or the continued
connection from the head of the tribe through the Loya Jirga system. The
only alternative to these two scenarios necessitates changes in the economic
infrastructure and the replacement of a tribal idenity with a national one.
If we can elect a president in Iran today, free from issues of ethnicity,
it is because of the economic transformation resulting from oil, at least
in the last century. The question is not the quality or quantity of oil
in the Iranian economy. The point is that when oil enters the economy of
a country such as Iran that was basically agricultural, it changes the economic
infrastructure and the role of Iran becomes significant in political interactions.
It becomes an exporter of a valued raw material and in return receives the
surplus productions of industrial countries.
This transformation changes the socio-economic infrastructure that in
turn breaks the traditional culture and creates a more modern one, exporting
oil and consuming the products of industrialized countries. If we omit money
as the symbolic medium, then we have given oil in exchange for consumer
products. But Afghanistan has nothing but drugs to exchange in the world
market. Therefore, it has turned back on itself and become isolated. Perhaps,
if Afghanistan had not separated from Iran 250 years ago, it would have
had a different fate based on its share of oil revenues.
The amount of opium that I will elaborate on later is far too insignificant
to be compared to Iranian oil. In 2000 Iran's surplus income from the oil
price windfall went over $10 billion. Total sales of opium in Afghanistan
remained at $500 million.
We have played our role in the world economy and by consuming the products
of others, have understood that we have choices and have thus become somewhat
more modern. But for the Afghan farmer his world is his valleys and his
profession is farming when drought spares him. Meanwhile a tribal system
resolves his social problems. Given that, he cannot have a share in the
world economy. How are grounds for his economic and cultural transition
to be provided to let him have a share? In addition, $80 billion in the
global drug turnover depends on Afghanistan remaining in its present situation
without change because if change prevails, that $80 billion is the first
thing to be threatened. Hence, Afghanistan is not supposed to realize a
considerable profit since that itself may yield change for Afghanistan.
Although Iran and Afghanistan shared the same history some 250 years
ago due to oil, the history of Iran took a turn that is impossible for Afghanistan
to take for a very long time. Opium is the only product that Afghanistan
offers to the world. Yet both because of the nature of this product and
the insignificant amount of this tainted national wealth, it cannot be compared
to oil. If we add the $500 million income from the sale of opium to the
$300 million from the sale of northern Afghanistan's gas, and divide the
total by the 20 million population, the result is $40 per capita annual
income. If we further divide that figure by 365 days each Afghan would earn
about 10 cents a day or the equivalent of the price a loaf of bread on normal
But, the country's annual earnings belong to the government and the domestic
mafia and it doesn't get divided fairly. This revenue, therefore, is both
insufficient to meet the needs of people and too low to bring about significant
change in the economic, social, political and cultural infrastructure.
Why have 30 percent of the population emigrated?
Livestock breeders habitually move to resolve their living problems.
Urban residents and agricultural farmers are less likely to move often.
The main reason for the Afghan livestock breeders' mobility is related to
the farming seasons. They constantly move to green and warm areas to avoid
dry lands and cold weather. Movement is a natural reflex for livestock farmers.
The second reason is lack of a fixed occupation. Afghans migrate to avoid
death from unemployment.
The Afghans' daily earnings depend on working in other countries. Upon
waking up each day, an Afghan has four burdens to consider. First is his
livestock and this depends on drought not being an obstacle. Fighting for
a group or sect is his second concern and generally because of employment
he enters the army. Earning a living to support his family is another reason
why he moves and if all else fails, he enters the drug business.
The extent of this last option is limited and the labor options of a
nation of 20 million people cannot really be measured with a $500 million
account accrued from cultivating poppy seeds. Thus, characterizing the people
of Afghanistan as opium smugglers is unreal and applies only to a very limited
Afghan culture immunized against modernism
Amanullah Khan who ruled in Afghanistan from 1919-1928, was a contemporary
of Reza Shah and Kemal Ataturk. On a personal level he was inclined towards
modernism. In 1924, Amanullah traveled to Europe, returned with a Rolls
Royce and made known his reform program. The plan included a change in attire.
He told his wife to unveil herself and asked men to forego their Afghan
costumes for Western suits. Contrary to Afghan male custom, he prohibited
polygamy. Traditionalists immediately begin opposing Amanullah's modernising.
None of the agrarian tribes submitted to these changes and rioting ensued
Here, clearly modernism without a socio-economic basis, is but a non-homogeneous
imposition of culture on a tribal society economically dependent on farming;
lacking any industry, agriculture or even preliminary means of exploiting
its resources, not to mention prohibition of inter-tribal marriages. This
superficial, formalistic and petty modernism served only as an antibody
to stimulate traditional Afghan culture, making Afghanistan so immune to
it that even in the following decades, modernism could not penetrate the
culture in a more rational form.
Even today, the premis for modernism that includes exploiting resources
and presenting cheap raw materials in exchange for goods, have not been
created. The most advanced people in Afghanistan still believe that Afghan
society is not yet ready for female suffrage. When the most progressive
sect involved in the civil war, finds it too early for women to vote, it
is obvious that the most conservative will prohibit schooling and social
activities to them. It follows naturally that 10 million women are held
captive under their burqas (veil).
This is Afghan society 70 years after Amanullah's modernism that aimed
to impose monogamy on a male dominated Afghanistan, whose only perception
of family is the harem. In 2001, polygamy is still an accepted fact by women
even in refugee camps on the border of Iran/Afghanistan. I attended two
weddings among the Pashtoon and Hazareh tribes and heard them wishing for
more prosperous weddings for the groom. At first I thought it was a joke.
In another case the bride's family said: "If the groom can afford it,
up to four wives is indeed very good and it is a religious tradition as
well as helping a bunch of hungry people."
When I went to the camp in Saveh to record the wedding music for "Kandahar",
I saw a two-year-old girl being wedded to a seven-year-old boy. I never
understood the meaning of this. Neither could that boy or that little girl,
who was sucking on a pacifier, have made the choice. Given this portrait
of traditional society, Amanullah's modernism seemed an overwhelming imitation
of another country.
Of course, some people believe if a woman changes her burgha into a less
concealing veil, she may be struck by God's wrath and turned into a black
stone. Perhaps, someone has to forcibly rid her of the burgha so she'll
realize that the assumption is untrue and she can choose for herself.
There is another biased viewpoint to Amanullah's modernism. In traditional
societies, the culture of hypocricy is a form of class camouflage. In Iranian
society wealthy traditional families decorate the interior of their home
like a castle but keep the exterior looking like a shack, out of fear from
the poor. In other words, that aristocratic nucleus needs to have a poor
Opposition to modernism is not necessarily expressed by traditional organizations.
Sometimes it is a reaction by the poor against the rich. For the poor society
in Amanullah's time, while having horses as opposed to mules was a symbol
of honor and nobility, a Rolls Royce was an insult to the poor. The war
between tradition and modernism is primarily the same as the battle of the
Rolls Royce and the mule. It is a war between poverty and wealth.
Today, in Afghanistan the only modern objects are weapons. The ubiquitous
civil war that has created jobs in addition to being a political/military
action has also become a market for modern weapons. Afghanistan can no longer
fight with knives and daggers even though it lags behind the contemporary
age . The consumption of weapons is a serious matter. Stinger missiles next
to long beards and burghas are still symbols of profound modernism that
are proportionate to consumption and modern culture.
For the Afghan Mujahed, weapons have an economic basis that creates jobs.
If all weapons are removed from Afghanistan, the war ends and all accept
that there will be no more assaults on anyone, given the sub zero economic
conditions all of today's mujahedin will join the refugees in other countries.
The issue of tradition and modernism, war and peace, tribalism and nationalism
in Afghanistan must be analyzed with an eye to the economic situation and
employment crisis. It has to be understood that there is no immediate solution
for the economic crisis in Afghanistan.
A long-term resolution is contingent on an economic miracle and not on
a nationwide military attack from north to south or vice versa. Have these
miracles not happened time and again? Was the Soviet retreat not a miracle?
Was the sovereignty of the Mujahedin not a miracle on their part? Was the
sudden conquest of the Taliban not a miracle of its kind? Then why do problems
remain? Modernism under discussion here faces two fundamental problems.
One is rooted in economics and the second is immunization of Afghan traditional
culture against premature modernism.
Geographical situation and its consequences
Afghanistan has an area of 700,000 square kilometers. Mountains account
for 75 percent of the land. People live in cavernous valleys surrounded
by towering mountains. These elevations not only attest to a rough nature,
difficult passage and impediments to business, but are also viewed as cultural
and spiritual fortresses among Afghan tribes. It is obvious why Afghanistan
lacks inter-state routes. The shortage of roads not only creates obstacles
for the fighters who seek to occupy Afghanistan, it stops businessmen whose
prosperity may become a means of economic growth.
To the same degree that these mountains obstruct foreign intrusion, they
block interference of other cultures and commercial activities. A country
that is 75 percent mountains has problems creating consumer markets in its
potential industrial cities and in exporting agriculture products to the
cities. Despite the use of modern weapons, wars take longer and find no
In the past Afghanistan was a passageway for caravans on the Silk Road
traversing China through Balkh and India through Kandahar. The discovery
of waterways and then airways in the last century, changed Afghanistan from
being an ancient commercial route into a dead-end. The old Silk Road was
a passage of camels and horses and didn't have the characteristics of a
modern road. Through the same winding roads Nadir Shah, Alexander, Timur
and Mahmmod Ghaznavi went to India. Given the mountainous character of these
roads, there used to be primitive wooden bridges that have been badly damaged
in the past 20 years of war.
Perhaps today, after two decades of foreign and civil war the people
want the strongest party to win and give a single direction to Afghanistan's
historical fate, no matter what. These same mountains, however, are a hindrance.
Perhaps, the true fighters of Afghanistan are not its hungry people but
the high mountains that don't surrender. The Tajik resistance led by Ahmad
Shah Massoud owes its survival to the Panjshir valley. Conceivably, if Afghanistan
was not mountainous, the Soviets could have easily conquered it; or it could
have been prey for the Americans to hunt down like the plains of Kuwait,
and bring it closer to the Central Asian markets.
Being mountainous increases both the cost of war and reconstruction after
peace. If Afghanistan was not so rugged it would have had a different economical,
military, political and cultural fate. Is this a geographical misfortune?
Imagine a fighter who has to constantly climb up and down mountains. Suppose
he conquered all of Afghanistan. He then has to constantly conquer the peaks
to provide for his army. These mountains have been sufficient to save Afghanistan
from foreign enemies and domestic friends.
When you look at the Soviet-Afghan war, you see a nation's resistance
but when on the inside, you realize that each tribe has defended the valley
it was trapped in. When the enemy left, again, everyone saw their valley
as the center of the world. And again, the same mountains have made agriculture
very difficult. Only 15 percent of the land is suited for agriculture and
practically just half of this is actually cultivated. The reason for livestock
farming is that the grasslands are on the mountainsides or its environs.
It can be said that Afghanistan is a victim of her own topography. There
are no routes in the mountains and road construction is expensive. The roads
if any, are either military or narrow paths for smugglers. The only trunk
road passes around the borders. How can a border road function like a primary
artery in the body of Afghanistan to resolve problems of social, cultural
and economic communications? The few interstate roads that existed were
destroyed in the war. To whose advantage is it to pay for the costs of drilling
these tough and elevated mountains? For which potential profit should this
exorbitant cost be borne?
It is said that Afghanistan is full of unexplored mines. From what route
are these possibly exploitable resources supposed to reach their destinations?
Who will be the first to invest in mines that will generate profits in an
uncertain future? Has the lack of roads been a sufficient disincentive for
the Soviets and Afghans not to think of excavating the mines?
On the other hand, Afghanistan is a land of eternal hidden paths that
are quite efficient for smuggling drugs. There are as many winding roads
as you want for smuggling but for crushing the smugglers, you need straight
ones that don't exist. You can't know the infinite number of paths and you
can't attack a path every day. At the most, you can await a caravan at a
junction. A smuggler was arrested around the city of Semnan in Iran who
had walked barefoot from Kandahar carrying a sack of drugs. He had no skin
on his soles when arrested, but kept on walking.
In the mountains of Afghanistan water is more of a calamity than a blessing.
In winter it is freezing. It floods in spring and in the summer its shortage
yields drought. This is the property of mountains without dams. Uncontrolled
waters and hard soil reduce agricultural possibility. This is the geographical
picture of Afghanistan: Arduous to cross, incapable of cultivation and mines
impossible to exploit due to transport costs.
The fact that some find Afghanistan as a museum of tribes, races and
languages is because of its geography and sheer difficulty. Every tradition
in this country has remained intact because of isolation and lack of interference.
It is only natural for this rough and dry country (with only 7 percent of
its land being used for agriculture of which half is threatened by drought)
to turn to cultivation of poppy seeds to support its people. If the conditions
are normal and the price of bread does not increase, from all this poppy
wealth, a single loaf of bread is what every Afghan receives.
In its present state the economy of Afghanistan can keep its people half
full without any economic development. Wealth though, rests with the domestic
mafia or gets spent on unstable Afghan regimes and the people don't get
a share of it.
The basic question then comes to mind as to how the Afghan people are
supported? It is either through construction work in Iran, participation
in political wars or becoming theology students in the Taliban schools.
According to statistics over 2,500 schools of the Taliban with a capacity
between 300 to 1,000 students, attract hungry orphans. In these schools
anybody can have a piece of bread and a bowl of soup, read the Quran and
memorize prayers and later join the Taliban forces. This is the only remaining
option for employment.
It is the result of this geography that emigration, smuggling and war
remain as occupations and I'm wondering how Massoud is going to meet the
needs of the people after possible victory over the Taliban? Will it be
through continued war or development of poppy seeds or prayer for rain?
On the Iranian border the UN pays 20 dollars to any Afghan volunteering
to return to Afghanistan. They are taken by bus to the first cities inside
Afghanistan or dropped around the borders. Interestingly, due to lack of
jobs in Afghanistan, the Afghans quickly come back and if not recognized,
go in line again to get another 20 dollars. The jobless Afghans turn every
solution into an occupation. And as much as war may be a profession, few
Afghan leaders have died pursuing it.
Continued war provides opportunity for the U.S., the Soviets and the
six neighboring countries to give aid to forces loyal to them. This largness
is normally aimed at continuing a war or balancing power but in the case
of Afghanistan it merely creates jobs. Let's not forget that there's been
a two-year drought and livestock have died as a result. The mortality as
announced by the UN is predicted at one million within the next few months.
The war has nothing to do with this. It is poverty and famine. Whenever
farming has been threatened by shortage of water, emigration has increased
and wars have worsened.
The average life expectancy of an Afghan has been calculated at 41.5
years and the mortality rate for children under two years of age was between
182 to 200 deaths per 1,000 kids. The average longevity was 34 years in
1960 and in 2000 was pegged at 41. The reality however is that in recent
years it has gone down to even lower than what it was in 1960.
I never forget those nights of filming Kanadahar. While our team searched
the deserts with flashlights, we would see dying refuges like herds of sheep
left in the desert. When we took those that we thought were dying of cholera
to hospitals in Zabol, we realized that they were dying of hunger. Since
those days and nights of seeing so many people starving to death, I haven't
been able to forgive myself for eating any meals.
The Afghans between 1986 to 1989 had about 22 million sheep. That is
one sheep per person. This has traditionally been the main wealth of a farming
nation such as Afghanistan. This wealth was lost in the recent famine. Imagine
the situation of a farming nation without livestock. The original tragedy
of Afghanistan today is poverty and the only way to resolve the problems
is through economic rehabilitation.
If I had gone to support the mujahedin instead of the true freedom fighters
who are ordinary people struggling to stay alive, I would have come back.
If I were president of a neighboring country, I would encourage economic
relations with Afghanistan in lieu of political-military interventions.
God forbid if I was in the place of God, I would bless Afghanistan with
something else that would benefit this forgotten nation. And I write this
without believing it will have any impact in this era very different than
that of Sa'di's time when, "all men are limbs of one body".
Dr. Kamal Hossein, the UN Humanitarian Adviser for Afghanistan affairs
from Bangladesh, visited our office in the summer of 2000 and told us that
he had been reporting quite futilely to the UN for 10 years. He had come
to assist me in making a movie that perhaps would awaken the world. I said:
"I'm looking for that which will affect."
It must be added that Afghanistan has not so much suffered from foreign
interference as it has from indifference. Again if Afghanistan were Kuwait
with a surplus of oil income, the story would have been different. But Afghanistan
has no oil and the neighboring countries deport its underpaid laborers.
It's only natural when options of occupation fail--as explained earlier
in the text--the only remaining choices are smuggling, joining the Taliban
or falling down in a corner in Herat, Bamian, Kabul or Kanadahar and dying
for the world's ignorance.
Once, I happened to be in a camp around Zabol that was filled with illegal
immigrants. I wasn't sure if it was a camp or a prison. The Afghans who
had fled home because of famine or Taliban assaults were refused asylum
and waiting to be returned to Afghanistan. It all seemed legal and rational
to that point. People, who for any reason enter a country illegally and
are afterward refused, get deported. But these particular people were dying
of hunger. We had ended up there to choose extras for my film. I asked the
authorities and found out that the camp could not afford to feed so many
people and they hadn't eaten for a week. They had only water to drink. We
offered to provide meals. They wished we'd go there every day.
We brought food for 400 Afghans ranging from one-month old babies to
80-year old men. Most of them were little kids who had fainted of hunger
in their mothers' arms. For an hour, we were crying and distributing bread
and fruits. The authorities expressed grief and regret and said that it
took a long time for budget approvals and kept saying that the flow of hungry
refugees was far greater than what they could manage. This is the story
of a country that's been ravaged by its own nature, history, economy, politics
and the unkindness of its neighbors.
An Afghan poet who was being deported from Iran back to Afghanistan expressed
his feelings in a poem and left:
I came on foot, I'll leave on foot.
The stranger who had no piggy bank, will leave.
And the child who had no dolls, will leave.
The spell on my exile will be broken tonight.
And the table that had been empty will be folded.
In suffering, I wandered around the horizons.
It is me who everyone has seen in wandering.
What I do not have I'll lay down and leave.
I came on foot, I'll leave on foot.
The ratio of drug consumption in the world to its production in Afghanistan
In modern day economy, every supply is based on a demand. The production
of drugs everywhere meets the need for its consumption. This universal market
includes both poor and advanced countries such as India, the Netherlands,
the U.S., etc. According to UN reporting in 2000, in the late 90's about
180 million people worldwide were using drugs. Based on the same report
90% of illegal opium is produced in two countries of which one is Afghanistan
as well as 80 % of heroin. Again, 50 % of all narcotic drugs is produced
in Afghanistan. You may think if that 50 % equals half a billion dollars
then the total value of drugs reaches one billion globally but that's not
the case. Why?
Although Afghanistan earns half a billion from drug production the actual
turnover is only 80 billion dollars. In transit to the rest of the world,
the mark-up stretches 160 times. Who gets the 80 billion dollars?
For example, heroin enters Tajikistan at one price and exits at twice
that much. The same goes for Uzbekistan. By the time drugs reach consumers
in the Netherlands, they cost 160 to 200 times the original price. The money
ends up with the various mafias who also manipulate the politics of those
countries en route.
The secret budget of many Central Asian countries is supplied through
drug traffic, otherwise, how can smugglers who walk all the way from Kandahar
for example, be the prime beneficiaries of this wealth? How can we at all
consider them the true smugglers of drugs?
If it weren't for the extremely high drug profits, Iran for example,
could have ordered a half a billion-dollars worth of wheat to Afghanistan
as an incentive to stop planting poppy seeds. Yet the 79.5 billion-dollar
profit is far too valuable for the mob and its allied forces to dispose
of poppy seeds. Ironically, the Afghan drug producer is not himself a consumer.
Drug use is prohibited but its production is legitimate. Its religious justification
is sending deadly poisons to the enemies of Islam in Europe and America.
This reasoning is nicely paradoxical given the economic significance of
drugs on the governmental budget of Afghanistan.
The total drug turnover in the world is 400 billion dollars and Afghans
are the victims of this market. Why is Afghanistan's share only 1/800th?
Whatever the answer, the market needs a place with little to contribute
civilly but which is a cornucopia of drug production.. If there were roads
in Afghanistan instead of obscure paths, or the war ceased and the economy
flourished and other incentives replaced the half a billion dollars, then
what would happen to the 400 billion dollar market?
In September of 2000 when I was returning from Kandahar, I saw the governor
of Khorasan on the way to Tehran. He said that when opium cost 50 dollars
in Herat, it was 250 dollars in Mashad. And when the fight against smugglers
intensified, instead of getting more expensive, opium got cheaper. For example,
if in Mashad it reached 500 dollars, it cost 75 dollars in Herat. The reason
was due to extreme poverty and famine. The Afghan sheep that used to cost
20 dollars a head is now sold at one dollar at the border but since they
are sick, there is no market and the borders are controlled for sheep smuggling
Although poppy seed does not have the fundamental importance of oil as
a source of Afghanistan's wealth it is somehow the equivalent of oil. More
importantly, the secret budget of Central Asian countries is supplied through
drugs. That explains the strong incentive for the world to remain indifferent
towards Afghanistan's chronic economic condition. Why should Afghanistan
become stable? How could it possibly compensate for the 80 billion dollars
directly generated from its soil?
Drugs are an interesting business for many. Just a few months ago when
I was in Afghanistan, it was said that every day an airplane full of drugs
flies directly from Afghanistan to the Persian Gulf states. In 1986, when
I was doing research for the making of The Cyclist, I took a road trip from
Mirjaveh in Pakistan to Quetta and Peshawar in Pakistan. It took me a few
days. When I entered Mirjaveh, I got on a colorful bus of the same kind
that you might have seen in The Cyclist. The bus was filled with all kinds
of strange people. People with long thin beards, turbans on the head and
At first, I wasn't aware that the bus roof was filled with drugs. The
bus drove across dirt expanses without roads. Everywhere was filled with
dust and the wheels would sink into the soft soil. We arrived at a surreal
gate like the ones in Dali's paintings. It was a gate that neither separated
nor connected anything from or to anything. It was just an imaginary gate
erected in the middle of the desert. The bus stopped at the gate. There
then appeared a group of bikers who asked our driver to step down. They
talked a little and then brought a sack of money and counted it with the
driver. Two of the bikers came and took our bus. Our driver and his assistant
took the money and left on the bikes. The new driver announced that he was
now the owner of the bus and everything in it. We then found out that together
with the bus we had been sold.
This transaction was repeated every few hours and we were sold to several
smugglers. We found out that a particular party controlled each leg of the
route and every time the bus was sold, the price increased. First it was
one sack of money then it went up to two and three towards the end. There
were also caravans that carried Dushka heavy machineguns on the back of
their camels. If you eliminated our bus and the arms on camel back, you
were in the primitive depths of history. Again we would arrive in places
where they sold arms. Bullets were sold in bags as if they were beans. Kilos
of bullets were weighed on scales and exchanged. Well, how would the world's
drug trade take place if such premises didn't exist?
I had gone to Khorasan and along the border was looking for a site for
filming. By sunset the villages near the border would be evacuated. The
villagers would flee to other cities for fear of smugglers. They also encouraged
us to take flight. Rumors of insecurity were so widespread that few cars
passed after sundown. In the darkness of the night, the roads were ready
for the passage of smuggling caravans. The caravans according to witnesses
are comprised of groups of five to a 100 people. Their ages range from 12
to 30 years. Each carries a sack of drugs on their backs and some carry
hand-held rocket launchers and Kalashnikovs to protect the caravan.
If drugs are not flown by airplane, they go in containers and if otherwise,
they are carried by human mules. Imagine the enormity of events these caravans
pass through from one country to another until for example, they reach Amsterdam.
Again, imagine what fear and horror they create among the people in different
regions to maintain that 80 billion-dollar trade.
I asked an official in Taibad about the number of killings committed
by the smugglers. The figures say 105 were either killed or kidnapped in
two years. Over 80 have been returned. I quickly divided 105 by the 104
weeks of the two years. It equals one person per week. I reckoned that if
these numbers render a region so unsafe that people prefer not to stay in
their own villages and flee to other cities by night, how do we expect the
people of Afghanistan to stay put? In the past 20 years, they have had one
killing every five minutes. Should they stay in Afghanistan and not migrate
to our country? How can we think that if we deport them, the lack of safety
in Afghanistan will not bring them back?
I inquired of the officials stationed on the roads about the causes for
kidnappings and killings. Apparently, the caravans on the Iranian side of
the border deal with the villagers. When an Iranian smuggler does not pay
money on time, he or one of his family members is kidnapped and they are
returned once the money is exchanged. Again, I realize that this aggression
also has an economic basis. Near the Dogharoon border the customs agents
were saying that the region had been unsafe for eight years but the papers
had been reporting about it for only two years. The reason for the relative
wave of openness is related to the new situation of newspapers in Iran.
Emigration and its consequences
Except for seasonal movement with his livestock, the emigrant Afghan
farmer never traveled abroad until about two decades ago. For this reason,
every trip, even a limited one, has left serious marks on the fate of Afghans.
For example, Amanullah Khan and a group of students that had traveled to
the West for studying, became the pioneers of Afghanistan's unsuccessful
experiment with modernism. The few officers who went to Russia, later provided
the grist for a communist coup d'etat. The emigration of 30% of Afghanistan's
population in the recent decades however, has not been for academic pursuits.
War and poverty forced them to leave and now, their large population has
exhausted their hosts. The emigration of 2.5 million Afghans to Iran and
3 million to Pakistan has created grave concerns for both countries. When
I objected to officials in charge of deporting Afghans that they were our
guests, the reply I heard was that this 20-year party had gone on too long.
If it continued in Khorasan and Sistan & Baluchestan provinces, our
national identity would be threatened in the said regions and we would face
even more intense crises such as demands for independence of those areas
or even increased insecurity at the borders.
Unlike Pakistan that prepared schools to train Islamic mujaheds (Taliban),
Iranian society did not anticipate any schools to train Afghans. During
the making of The Cyclist, I used to go to Afghan neighborhoods to find
actors. At that time, one of the Afghan officials told me that they expected
the Iranian universities to accept Afghan students so that if Russia left
Afghanistan, they would have ministers with at least bachelor degrees. Otherwise,
with a bunch of fighters you can wage war but not govern the country.
Later on, a few Afghans were accepted in Iranian universities but none
of them are willing to return home today. They state their reasons as being
insecurity and hunger. One of them mentioned that the highest level of living
in Afghanistan is lower than the lowest level in Iran. I heard in Herat
that the monthly salary of Herat's governor (in 2000) was $15 per month.
That's 50 cents a day or 4,000 Iranian rials. Because of widespread Afghan
emigration, human smuggling has become a new occupation for Iranian smugglers.
Afghan families that reach the borders have to go a long way to arrive in
Tehran and since their arrest is likely in Zabol, Zahedan, Kerman or any
other city en route, they leave their fate in the hands of pickup-driving
smugglers. The smugglers request 1,000,000 rials for every refugee hauled
Since in 99% of the cases, the Afghan family lacks this much money, a
couple of 13-14 year old girls are taken hostage and the rest of the family
is secreted into Tehran through back roads. The girls are kept until their
family finds jobs and pays the debt. In most cases the money is never provided.
A ten-member family with a 10,000,000 rial debt has to pay the interest
as well after three months. Consequently, a great many Afghan girls are
either kept as hostages around the borders or become the personal belonging
of the smugglers. An official in the region related secretly related that
the number of girl hostages in just one of those cities has been approximated
A friend of mine who was building a house in Tehran told me about his
Afghan workers. He had noticed that two Iranian men showed up once in while
and got most of their money. When asked, the Afghans said that they were
brought for free on the condition that they pay the smugglers later. They
also saved a part of their money to take back to their families in Afghanistan
in case they were deported. The situation is a bit different for refugees
Those who come to Iran are Hazarehs. These people are Farsi speaking
Shiites. The common language and religion inclines them towards Iran. Their
misfortune is their distinctive appearance. Their Mongol features subject
them to quick recognition among Iranians. The Pashtoon who goes to Pakistan,
however, blends in with Pakistanis because of common language, religion
and ethnicity. Although the Shiite Hazarehs find Pakistan more liberal than
Iran, job opportunities in Iran are more appealing to them than the freedom
in Pakistan. It means that bread has priority over freedom. You must first
have food in order to search for freedom. Have the Iranians who are seeking
liberty today, passed a hunger crisis?
As a result of not finding a suitable occupation, a hungry Sunni/Pashtoon
Afghan is immediately attracted to the theological schools ready to offer
food and shelter. In fact, contrary to Iran that never dealt with Afghan
refugees in an organized manner, Pakistan promoted, organized and put into
play the Taliban government for a variety of reasons. The first is the Durand
Before Pakistani independence from India, Afghanistan shared borders
with India and serious disputes ensued between the two over the Pashtoonestan
region. The British drew the Durand line and divided the region between
the two countries, on the condition that after 100 years, Afghanistan regain
control over the Indian part of Pashtoonestan as well. Later on, when Pakistan
declared independence from India that Indian half of Pashtoonestan became
half of Pakistan. Since some six years ago, Pakistan, according to international
law was supposed to cede Pashtoonestan back to Afghanistan. How would Pakistan
that still has claims over Kashmir agree to give half of its land area to
The best solution was to raise hungry Afghan mujaheds to control Afghanistan.
The Pakistan trained Taliban would naturally no longer harbor ambitions
of recovering Pashtoonestan from their patron. No wonder the Taliban appeared
just as the 100-year deadline drew to a close. From a distance, Taliban
appear to be irrational and dangerous fundamentalists. When you look at
them closely, you see hungry Pashtoon orphans whose occupation is that of
a theology student and whose impetus for attending school is hunger. When
you review the appearance of the Taliban you see the national political
interests of Pakistan.
If fundamentalism was the reason for the independence of Pakistan from
Gandhi's democratic India, the same applies for Pakistan's survival and
expansion at the expense of Afghanistan. At the same time, Pakistan's significance
for the world prior to disintegration of the Soviet Union was based on its
being the first defensive stronghold of the West against the communist East.
With Soviet disintegration, to the same degree that the Afghan fighter lost
his heroic position in the western media, Pakistan also lost its strategic
importance and came face-to- face with an employment crisis.
According to the rules of sociology, every organization buys and sells
something. Given this definition, armies sell their military services to
their own or other nations and governments. What was Pakistan's national
occupation in the world in relation to the West? Playing the role of an
apparently eastern army but being possessed of a western internal conviction
and selling military services to the United States. With Soviet disintegration,
the demand for Pakistan's military services for the West also diminished.
To which market then was Pakistan to present its military services and
maintain this vital national occupation? That is why Pakistan created the
Taliban: to have covert control of Afghanistan and stop the Afghans from
demanding the cession of Pashtoonestan. The fact that Pakistan, first and
foremost, faces an employment crisis, is rooted in this reasoning. If as
a filmmaker I cannot make my films in my homeland, I'll go elsewhere for
my occupation. Armies are the same way. For any big war effort, enormous
reserves of a nation's energy are directed towards forming military organizations
that dispense military services. Once the war is over, these units look
for other markets to maintain their services. If they can't find a market,
they become discouraged and either stage a coup d'etat or transform into
economic foundations. Examples of the latter are found in countries that
have used their military organizations to control traffic or help with agriculture
or road construction.
In the broader world, every once in a while, wars are fomented to create
demands for military materiel and take government purchase orders. Let's
go back to the issue of emigration. Unlike Iran, Pakistan used Afghan refugees
as religio-political students and founded the Taliban army.
Before the Soviet invasion, an Afghan was a farmer. With the Soviet attack,
each Afghan turned into a mujahed to defend his valley. Organizations and
parties were formed. With the Soviet retreat, the Afghans didn't go back
to farming. The new occupation seemed more appealing and prosperous. Every
sect or group began fighting another. Six neighboring countries, the U.S.
and Russia each sought their own mercenaries among the military groups.
As a result, a new wave of employment came into existence. The civil war
intensified so much that in two years, the damages were greater than in
the longer period of the Russian presence. People were fed up with civil
war and when Pakistan dispatched the army of the Taliban holding white flags
with the motto of public disarmament and peace, people welcomed them. In
a short time, the Taliban had control over most of Afghanistan. It was then
that the Taliban's Pakistani roots went on display.
The Taliban have always been criticized for their fundamentalism but
little has been said about the reasons for their appearance. Although the
Herati poet who had come to Iran on foot, returned to Afghanistan on foot,
the orphan who had walked to Peshawar in Pakistan, returned to conquer Afghanistan
driving Toyotas offered by the Arab countries.
How could Pakistan, who had subsistence problems with its own people,
afford to feed, train and equip the Taliban? With the help of Arab countries
such as Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates--who as Iran's competitors
had previously created tensions in Mecca--looked for a religious power compatible
with Iran. Saudi Arabia and the Emirates who once felt their modern interests
were threatened by the motto of return to Islam, thought that if there is
to be any return to Islam, why not return to a more regressive Islam like
that of the Taliban. If there's a contest for returning and the winner is
one who regresses the most, why not go back to the most primitive state
namely Talibanism! .
In modern times, emigration is a measurable issue in cultural, political
and economic planning. For example, Turks migrated to Germany and worked
in professions refused by the Germans. Unlike the Germans who had no incentive
for reproduction, the Turks went on producing children and now it is predicted
that in the next few decades the Turks will make up the majority of Germany's
Based on this premise, Germany will soon have a Turkish identity and
considering the role of elections, we can imagine that perhaps in 30 years,
a Turk will become the German chancellor. This means that the need for Turk
workers will gradually change the national identity of Germany. This is
The same applies to Asian and African emigration to the United States.
At first European emigrants marked the national identity of America. Asian
and Africans, however, migrated to America because of revolutions or in
pursuit of intellectual and financial achievements. Unlike the European
emigrants to America, Asians and Africans increased their population through
reproduction. Gradually the semi-European American identity will change
to an Asian-African identity. Inter-racial conflicts are then likely to
arise as a result.
If the American society welcomes the `Dialogue of Civilizations' paradigm,
it is because of concerns over future racial conflicts in American society.
Unlike what Iranians think, in the American context, it is not a proposal
for exchange between cultures rather dialogue is a domestic American issue
among its own cultures.
But why can't the Iranian intellect that suggests strategic solutions
for other continents, find ways to utilize the emigration of Afghans to
its own advantage? The reason is that Iranians, unlike the Pakistanis who
regard Afghanistan as an opportunity, have always considered it more of
a threat than an opportunity. Iranians have always perceived Afghans as
smugglers or fundamentalists. Iranian investors have never considered the
large number of hungry Afghan workers to be potentially profitable in situ.
The have never mulled over the sort of investment that would make Afghanistan
a consumer of their goods or use cheap Afghan labor and perhaps export the
Afghans have been unfortunate both with the geographical situation of
their country and in political relations with their neighbors. Years ago,
there was a big question about Franco, the Spanish dictator. Although Spain's
neighbors had democratic governments, Franco operated a dictatorship. Influenced
by its neighbors, Spain later also became more democratic, to the extent
that today, it is a vital member of the EEC. The meaning of the fate of
Spain is that better living is possible if one is destined to have neighbors.
Afghanistan is stuck with neighbors who see it as threat or find it an
opportunity for resolution of their own political-military problems. If
Afghanistan had more democratic neighbors who viewed it as an economical-cultural
opportunity it would have been in better shape by now. Fascist Spain became
democratic due to the fortunate adjacency to democratic European countries
while Afghanistan of the would-be progressive Amanullah Khan, because of
unfortunate circumstances of neighborhood, turned into the redoubt of the
Taliban. An Arabic proverb well describes the situation: "First the
neighbor, then the house".
Who are the Taliban?
According to sociologists, the nations' demand for security from their
governments is greater than any other consideration. Welfare, development
and freedom come next. After the Soviet retreat, the outbreak of intense
civil war created nationwide insecurity and the country was placed in extremely
perilous straits. Each group aimed at providing its own security through
continuous fighting. None of them however were able to provide safety for
the nation. The mocking irony of this period was that every one tried to
insure security by making the country unsafe.
The strategy of disarmament and dispatch of the religious Taliban claiming
to be harbingers of peace quickly succeeded in winning popular consent.
The unsuccessful efforts of other groups were centered on offering war and
insecurity. Although the people of Herat speak Farsi and the Taliban speak
Pashtoon, when in Herat, I inquired about the Taliban, the reply I heard
from the shopkeepers was that prior to the Taliban, their shops were robbed
daily by armed and hungry men. Even those who opposed the Taliban were happy
with the security they brought.
Security was established for two reasons. One was the disarmament of
the public and the other the severe punishments such as cutting the hands
of thieves. These punishments are so harsh, intolerable and quick that if
the 20,000 hungry Afghans in Herat saw a piece of bread before them, nobody
would dare take it.
I saw truck drivers who had traveled to and from Afghanistan for two
years and had never locked their vehicles. Nothing was ever stolen from
them either. Not only were the Afghans in need of financial security but
practical safety and freedom from harassment have always been a concern.
I heard different stories about how prior to the Taliban people's lives
and chastity were violated by other tribes and sects. Disarmament and execution
by stoning, however, have reduced the number of such violations.
So we have 20 million hungry people before us 30% of who have emigrated,
10% of who have died and the remaining 60% who are starving to death. According
to UN reports, one million Afghans will die of hunger within the next few
months. Today, when you enter Afghanistan, you see people lying around on
street corners. Nobody has energy to move and no arms to fight with. Fear
of punishment stops them from committing crimes. The only remedy is to stay
and die while humanity is overtaken by indifference. This is not Sa'di's
time of "all men are limbs of one body".
The only one whose heart had not turned to stone yet, was the Buddha
statue of Bamian. With all his grandeur, he felt humiliated by the enormity
of this tragedy and broke down. Buddha's state of needlessness and calmness
became ashamed before a nation in need of bread and it fell. Buddha shattered
to inform the world of all this poverty, ignorance, oppression and mortality.
But negligent humanity only heard about the demolition of the Buddha statue.
A Chinese proverb says: "You point your finger at the moon, the fool
stares at your finger."
Nobody saw the dying nation that Buddha was pointing to. Are we supposed
to stare at all the different means of communication rather than at what
they are intended to convey? Is the ignorance of the Taliban or their fundamentalism
deeper than the earth's ignorance towards the ominous fate of a nation such
For filming the starving Afghans, I called Dr. Kamal Hussein, the UN
representative from Bangladesh. I told him I wanted to get permission to
go to north Afghanistan (controlled by Ahmad Shah Massoud) and Kandahar
(controlled by the Taliban). It was decided that a small group would go
and eventually just two of us (my son and I) received approval to travel
with only a small video camera. We were to be permitted to go to Islamabad
(Pakistan) and take a small 10-passenger UN airplane that flew once a week
to the north and once a week to the south.
It took two weeks for the UN office to call and inquire when it was convenient
for us to depart. We were ready but they said that it would take another
month. "Since it will get colder in a month and more people will be
dying, it would make your film more interesting", they said. They recommended
February. I asked, "More interesting?" They replied that perhaps
it would provoke the conscience of the world. I didn't know what to say.
We were silent for a while. Then I asked whether or not we could go to
both north and south. The Taliban didn't agree. They are not too fond of
journalists. I made a promise to only film those dying of hunger. Again
the Taliban do not approve. I told them I need another invitation from the
UN to re-enter Pakistan. Later, I received a facsimile stating that I had
to go to the Embassy of Pakistan in Tehran. I was happy because before I
had gotten a visa to Pakistan from the embassy to bring costumes for Kandahar
I referred to the Embassy of Pakistan. At first, I am not received warmly.
A little while passes and I'm called. A very respectable lady and a gentleman
direct me to a room. Of the 20 minutes that I am in that room, for 15 minutes
they talk about my daughter Samira and her international success in cinema.
They avoid the main issue and in between words, I am asked why I applied
through the UN to get a visa and informed that it would have been better
if I referred directly to them. In addition they don't favor a film that
misrepresents the Taliban government. They prefer I go to Pakistan not Afghanistan.
I feel like I am in the embassy of the Taliban.
I ask if they have seen The Cyclist and tell them I made a part of it
in Peshawar and that it is not a political film. I tell them that my intentions
are humanitarian and I want to help the Afghans especially with regards
to hunger. I tell them that my film is about the crisis of employment and
hunger. They say that we have 2.5 million Afghans in Iran. Why not film
them? It is useless to continue the discussion. They keep my passport and
I am kindly asked to leave. A few days later, I receive my passport with
a statement saying that if I want to go to Pakistan as a tourist, the visa
can be issued but not for filming or going to Afghanistan. When I leave
the embassy, all of what I have read or heard about the Taliban passes before
I remember a Taliban school in Peshawar where I was escorted out as soon
as my Iranian identity became known. And I remember a day when in Peshawar
for filming The Cyclist, I was arrested and handcuffed. I don't know why
every time I intend to make a film about Afghanistan I end up in Pakistan!
People tell me to be careful. There is always the threat of kidnapping
or terrorism at the borders. The Taliban are reputed to assassinate suspected
opponents en route between Zahedan and Zabol. I keep saying my subject is
humanitarian not political. Eventually, one day when we are finished filming
near the border, as I am walking around, I come across a group that have
come to either kill or kidnap me. They ask me about Makhmalbaf. I am sporting
a long thin beard and wearing Afghan dress. A Massoudi hat with a shawl
covering it and half of my face makes me look like an Afghan. I send them
the other way and begin running while I cannot figure out whether they have
been dispatched by a political group or smugglers have sent them to extort
Let me go back to the issue of security. The Taliban, under the auspices
of public disarmament and implementation of punishments such as amputation
of the hands of thieves, stoning adulterers and execution of opponents have
brought an apparent security to Afghanistan. When you listen to Shariat
radio (Voice of Taliban) that only has a two-hour program daily, even if
there is fighting somewhere, they don't announce it just to maintain a sense
of national security. They say for example, that the people of Takhar, welcomed
the Taliban and you know it means that the Taliban attacked and conquered
Takhar. The rest is just news about Friday prayer or the amputation of the
hand of some bandit in Bamian, the stoning to death of a young adulterer
in Kandahar or punishment of some barbers who've cut a few teenagers' hair
in the western style of infidels. Whatever it is, with all the punishments
and propaganda, a sense of national security suffuses Afghanistan.
Afghanistan, however, lacks the economic strength for the Taliban to
create public welfare, yet the Taliban are the only government that can
bring security to the country. Those who fight the Taliban bring threats
to security and those who support them reason that Afghans must rule in
Afghanistan. Whoever is to become the ruler of Afghanistan must first bring
security to the nation. Any kind of war gives way to insecurity and because
Afghanistan is inclined towards tribalism, with the coming of anybody to
power, security is again threatened. It is better to first recognize whoever
aims to rule Afghanistan, so that he can save Afghanistan from its hunger
crisis and then move on. The same group finds criticism of the Taliban irrelevant
to the lack of freedom in Afghanistan, because an insecure and famished
nation seeks welfare more than freedom and development.
In reply to the question of what the Taliban are, it must be said that
politically, the Taliban are an instrument for government supported by Pakistan.
Individually, they are starving youth turned students and trained in crusader-breeding
schools in Pakistan. They first entered the premises for a loaf of bread
and later exited to occupy political-military positions in Afghanistan.
The Taliban as viewed by one political group, are protagonists of fundamentalism
in the region and from the viewpoint of another political group, are the
same Pashtoons who have been the only rulers of Afghanistan since the time
of Ahmad Abdali.
Today, they have reasserted 250-years of their power after an era of
internal chaos. They claim that in the past quarter millennium, except for
a 9-month period that the Tajiks ruled and another two-years that the Tajik
Rabbani governed, the Pashtoons have always had control and Afghanistan
needs their experience in governing.
I hardly understand these issues. My job is to make films and if I have
delved into these matters, it is because I want to write my script based
on a more precise analysis. The further I go though I find the case more
complicated. I keep asking people that when the U.S. found it necessary,
it retook Kuwait from Iraq in three days. Why, however, with all its touting
of modernism, does it not initiate an action to save the 10 million women
who have no schools or social presence and are trapped under the burqa?
Why doesn't it stop this primitiveness that has emerged in modern times?
Does it not have the power or does it lack the incentive? I have already
found the answer.
Afghanistan has no precious resources such as oil and it does not have
a surplus oil income like Kuwait. I hear another answer too. If the United
States supports the Taliban for a few more years, the ugly image that will
be portrayed to the world of an eastern ideology, will make everyone immune
to it like modernism in Afghanistan. If the revolutionary and reformative
interpretations of Islam are equated with Taliban's regressive interpretation,
then the world will become forever immune to the expansion of Islam. Some
people find this analysis too shabby a cliché. They tell me to let
go and I will.
Who is Molla Omar?
In my seemingly endless trip to Kandahar, everywhere there is talk of
Molla Omar. His title is Amir-al-M'omenin (Commander of the Faithful). Some
Iranian politicians believe that he was created to compete with the Iranian
government but nobody really knows much about his background. Some say he
is 40 years old and blind in one eye but there's no photograph of him to
prove or disprove this. How does a nation choose a half-blind man overnight
to lead them, whereas not even a picture has been seen of him? I get tempted
to make a film about Molla Omar. For political reasons I avoid it but my
curiosity isn't satisfied.
If Pakistan prepares a precise script for the war-stricken people of
Afghanistan under the title of disarmament, and receives a positive welcome
by what analysis do they plan for a leader called Molla Omar who has no
prior image? Someone who's nobody or has not been seen by anybody, becomes
the leader of a country in which each tribe or sect has its own leader.
Perhaps this is where the secret lies. If a known person were appointed
leader to Afghanistan, then every one would have an excuse to oppose him.
I hear a joke near the border about a teahouse. "A teahouse hosted
Afghan customers on a regular basis. There was a TV set in this teahouse
equipped with a windshield wiper so if necessary, the owner could spray
some water on the screen and wipe clean any stains. The owner was asked
about this feature and he said that whenever there was a TV program about
the mujahedin that was visible in the border areas, their opponents spit
on the TV and since the customers used snuff their secretions were colored.
After a while the TV screen became unusable so he invented the wiper."
When the image of Afghan leaders is so deeply criticized and satirized,
yet they are needed to rule Afghanistan, the best way is to design an imageless
leadership that can't be criticized for its form or background and yet be
able to free near-the-border television sets from wipers!
If I weren't ashamed of Buddha's shamefulness, I would title this article
"Afghanistan, a country without an image". Every one I ask about
Molla Omar says he is a representative of God on earth who instead of human
laws brought the Qur'an as the country's constitution. He is extremely devout,
as are his followers. His wages are as paltry as the Herat's governor's
$15 and he lives like the poor people that are dying in the streets.
I realize that the image of this imageless man is complete and appealing
because in the East, nobody expects leaders to be updated and specialized
or possess a national and universal insight. If only the leaders seem a
little like the ordinary, it's enough to satisfy the people. An Afghan expressed
the idea that if he was starving, he was happy that Molla Omar was always
fasting too and that they were like each other. He thanked God for such
In Herat I am speaking to a medical student. He is hesitant to be seen
talking to me. I ask him if he knows the total number of college students
in Afghanistan. While he keeps walking and looking directly ahead, he says:
"A thousand". "In what major?" I ask. He says: "Only
medicine and engineering." "Which one are you studying",
I ask and he says: "Theoretical medicine." I asked what it meant
and he said that Molla Omar thinks human dissection is a sin. I asked if
he had ever seen Molla Omar's picture. He said no and left.
Among the Pashtoo speaking refugees, I ran across some whom although
they hadn't seen Molla Omar knew of people who did. I even met Iranian politicians
who believe Molla Omar does really exist and that he is also handsome. A
group of Afghans who sleep in Iran at night and cross the border in the
day to sell dates in Afghanistan happen to be fascinated by Molla Omar.
They tell me that he is an ordinary monk who dreamed of Mohammad, the prophet
one night and the prophet commissioned him to save Afghanistan. Since God
was with him, he was able to conquer Afghanistan in one month.
The role of international organizations in Afghanistan
It is believed that some 180 international organizations are active in
Afghanistan. They too avoid my non-political questions. Finally, I find
out that they are in charge of a few tasks. One job is to distribute bread
among the starving. A second is the struggle for exchanging of north-south
prisoners and a third is to make artificial hands and legs for land mine
Forgetting the insignificant role of the international organizations,
I become fascinated by the young people who have come here through the Red
Cross. I meet a 19-year old British girl who says the reason she has come
"is to be useful". It is in Afghanistan that she can make several
artificial hands and legs for people each day. She says that she can't get
a job in England that offers so much satisfaction. Since she came, a few
hundred people have been able to walk with the artificial limbs she has
I have a feeling that the role of international organizations is to remedy
the deep and extensive wounds of this nation in a limited way and nothing
more. Dr. Kamal Hossein, who is probably embarrassed about the visa to Pakistan,
isn't calling me anymore.
I remember his words the day he came to our office expressing how he
felt his job and efforts were in vain and he wanted to become my assistant.
And even now that I've finished making Kandahar, I feel vain about my profession.
I don't believe that the little flame of knowledge kindled by a report or
a film can part the deep ocean of human ignorance. And I don't believe that
a country whose people in the next 50 years will loose their hands and legs
to anti-personnel devices will be saved by a 19-year old British girl. Why
does she go to Afghanistan? Why does Dr. Kamal Hossein with all his despair,
still report to the UN? Why did I make that film or write this note? I don't
know, but as Pascal put it: "The heart has reasons that the mind is
The Afghan woman, the most imprisoned woman in the world
Afghan society is a male-dominant society. It can even be claimed that
the rights of 10 million Afghan women who make up half of the populution
in Afghanistan, are less than the weakest unknown Afghan tribe. No tribe
is an exception in this regard. The fact that Afghan women even as viewed
by the Tajiks, don't have the right to vote in elections is the least that
can be said about them.
With the coming of the Taliban girls' schools were closed and for a long
time, women were not allowed in the streets. More tragically, even before
the Taliban one out of every 20 women were able to read and write. This
statistic indicates that the Afghan culture had practically deprived 95%
of women from schooling and the Taliban deprived the remaining 5%. Then
why shouldn't we more realistically ask whether the culture of Afghanistan
is affected by the Taliban or was it the cause for the Taliban's appearance?
When I was in Afghanistan, I saw women with burqas on their head begging
in the streets or shopping in second hand stores. What caught my attention
were the ladies who brought out their hands from under the burqas and asked
little peddler boys to polish their nails. For a long time, I wondered why
they didn't buy nail polish to use at home? Later I found out it was the
cheapest way to do it. Buying nail polish was more expensive than a one-time
use. I told myself again that this is a good sign that women under burqas
still like living and despite their poverty, care about their beauty to
that extent. Later on, however, I reached the conclusion that it is not
fair to isolate and imprison a woman in an environment or a certain costume
and be content that she still puts on make up.
An Afghan woman has to maintain herself so that she won't be forgotten
in the competition with her rivals. Polygamy is quite common among young
men too, and has turned many Afghan homes into harems. Although the marriage
allowance is so high that getting married means buying a woman, I saw old
men, while filming, give away 10-year old girls and with the marriage price
that they received, considered marrying other 10-year old girls for them
selves. It seems that limited capital is exchanged from one hand to the
other to replace girls from one house to the other. Among them there are
women who have an age difference of 30 to 50 years with their husbands.
These women mostly live in the same house or even the same room and not
only have they surrendered but they have also gotten used to these customs.
I had brought a lot of dresses and burqas from Afghanistan and Pakistan
for my film. Many of the women who agreed to be in the film as extras after
strenuous and lengthy persuasion, requested that we gave them burqas instead
of money. One of them wanted a burqa for her daughter's wedding, and I,
fearing that burqas may become popular in Iran, didn't give any to anyone.
Once when we had asked some Afghan women to be in the film, their husband
told us that he was too chaste to show his women. I told him that we would
film his women with their burqas on but he said that the viewers watching
the movie know that it is a woman under the burqa and that would contradict
Time and again I asked myself, did the Taliban bring the burqas or did
the burqas bring the Taliban? Do politics affect change in culture or does
culture bring politics?
In Niatak camp in Iran, the Aghans themselves closed down the public
bathhouse reasoning that anyone who passes along the walls knowing that
the opposite sex is naked behind those walls, is engaged in a sin.
At present there are no woman doctors in Afghanistan and if a woman wants
to refer to a doctor she has to bring her son or husband or father and through
them talk to the doctor. As far as marriage, the father or the brother,
not the bride, say yes.
According to Freud human aggression stems from human animalism and civilizations
only cover this animalism with a thin veneer. This thin skin splits at the
snap of a finger. Violence exists in both East and West what is different
is the style not the reality of its existence.
What's the difference between death by decapitation using knives, daggers
or swords or dying by bullets, grenades, mines and missiles? In most cases,
criticism of aggression is really the disapproval of the means of aggression.
The death of one million Afghans as a result of injustice in the world is
not regarded by the world as aggression. The death of 10% of the Afghan
population by civil war and war with Russia is not perceived as aggression
but the decapitation of someone with a sword will long be the main headline
of satellite TV news.
It is naturally fearsome and horrible to see a person being decapitated
but why doesn't the death of people every day by land mines give us the
same feeling? Why are knives aggressive but not mines? What's criticized
in the modern West of Afghan aggression, is form and not substance. The
West can create a tragic story for a statue but for death by millions, it
suffices with statistics. As Stalin put it: "The death of one person
is tragedy, but the death of one million is only a statistic."
Afghanistan is a country inclined to tribalism and a tribal order dominates
it. These tribes aggressively resisted against foreign dominance, yet benefited
from the conflict of interest among its tribes. Although Afghanistan is
called the museum of races and clans, tourists have never visited this museum.
If anyone passed through Afghanistan, it was either Nadir Shah intending
to conquer India or the Soviets seeking to reach warm waters. Thus, the
rough Afghan besides what he has learned from the harshness of nature, has
always been faced with foreign aggression as well.
The consequences of war in Afghanistan
Afghanistan became independent from Iran about 250 years ago and about
150 or according to other sources about 82 years ago, its borders were determined
by the Durand line. It encountered a premature modernism about 77 years
ago. Some 20 years ago it was invaded by the Soviets and it has been involved
in a civil war for the past 10 years. About 40% of Afghanistan's population
have been tragically killed or become refugees.
Nevertheless, this country and its people have either been neglected
or considered as threats or they have been used as a means of threat against
others. When I was crossing the border, I saw Iranian cannons pointed towards
Afghanistan and when I entered Afghanistan, I saw cannons pointing to Iran.
These cannon indicated that both countries regard each other as threats.
On the other side of the border I heard the region's military commander
had called the Iranian consul and told him that their homes were made of
clay so what did the Iranian cannons aim to target? He had said, "The
worst is that you bombard our houses and when it rains well take the wet
mud and build our homes anew again. Don't you find it a pity if our cannons
destroy your beautiful homes? You can't make glass and iron and ceramics
with rain. Why don't you come and build the road to Herat for us?"
When I ride to Herat from Dogharoon, I feel like I'm sailing on a turbulent
sea. I remember a time when I got trapped in a storm in the Persian Gulf
while filming. The waves would take our small boat up for several meters
and bang us back on the water's surface. The boatman told us if the craft
turned over, it was goodbye. And now I see those waves again, but they are
waves of dirt. At the beginning of the road the car goes downhill and comes
back up the hill and in the middle of the trip the car beats against the
dirt waves. Although this area is flat and includes the non-mountainous
part of Afghanistan, the road is worse than the winding roads of Iran.
Above the height of each wave, shovel-holding men and boys stand for
eternity. As far as the eye can see, these shovel-holding men are visible.
As soon as our car gets close to them, they start filling up the ditches
with dirt and while throwing worthless Afghan paper currency to them, we
see them in the dust the same way that we saw the dance of leaves in Once
Upon A Time Cinema. It is a scene of shovel-holding men who disappear in
the dust and have created an occupation for themselves out of nothing. This
is the most surreal scene that I see in Afghanistan.
I ask the driver how many cars pass this road every day. He says: "About
30." I ask if these thousands of shovel-holding men gather for only
30 cars, but the driver is paying attention to driving and he is not in
the mood to answer me. Slowly, I turn on the radio. It's been years since
I quit listening to the radio or watching TV and I haven't read any papers
for months. It is September 23rd of 2000, the 2:00 o'clock Iranian news is
on. It makes me cry to hear that two million Iranian kids have gone to first
grade today. I don't know if it is out of joy for the children who are going
to school or out of sorrow for those who don't go to school in Afghanistan.
I look at the road and I feel like I'm watching a movie. The driver tells
me that in some of these houses girls schools are established secretly and
some girls study at home. I keep thinking here is a subject for a film.
I arrive in Herat and see women polishing their nails from under the burqas.
I tell myself here is another film subject. I see the 19-year old British
girl who has come to dangerous Afghanistan to be useful. I tell myself again,
here is another subject. I see loads of lame men who've lost their legs
to mines. One of them, instead of an artificial leg, has tied a shovel to
the left side of his body and walks with it. I tell myself, here is yet
I arrive in Herat and see dying people covering the streets like carpets.
I no longer see it as another subject. I feel like quitting cinema and seeking
another occupation. When Massoud, Afghanistan's top military chief was asked
what he wished for his children to become, he replied, "politicians".
It means that war as a solution has reached a dead-end in the mind of the
commander. He thinks that the solution to Afghanistan's salvation is more
political than military. In my opinion, the only solution for Afghanistan
is a rigorous scientific identification of its problems and presentation
of a real image of a nation that has remained obscure and imageless both
for itself and for others.
Resolution of employment crisis
Once the industrial countries saturated their internal markets with their
products, they went after international markets. In paying the price for
their consumption, the non-industrial countries each offered a product and
others, cheap labor. In this game, Afghanistan, due to mountainous geography
and lack of roads was unable to exploit its raw materials cost-effectively.
Due to mismanagement, dispersion of population--arisen from the farming
period-- and disunion which is a quality of the tribes, Afghanistan did
not have the potential to offer its labor force to the world in exchange
for other goods or services. Thus, Afghanistan stayed away from the global
game of subsistence and lived on by its insignificant wealth from the grasslands.
The entrance of the Soviet Union resulted in a nationwide reaction and the
farmers turned to fighters. With the Soviet retreat, these fighters would
not consent to going back to farming.
On one hand the civil war spread because of a power struggle. Since then
insecurity and emigration increased. The 30% of Afghan emigrants probably
experienced better living in other cities and did not want to be dependent
on grasslands for a living, especially, since they would be threatened by
periodic drought. Afghans desired a more civil share of life. This means
that Afghanistan with all its historical tardiness has announced its need
to enter world trade.
What is the most immediate wealth, however, that can be offered to enter
the world of production-consumption or vice versa? Doubtlessly, the answer
is Afghanistan's cheap labor. Labor is more obtainable than exploiting raw
materials in the roadless mountainous Afghanistan. The dominant outlook
on Afghanistan should cast aside its military-political prism. It should
be replaced with an economic direction perspective. If employment is taken
both as the root and final solution for the present crisis, through national
management, Afghanistan can also enter world trade and the circle of international
subsistence. It can achieve its real share and pay for its cost which is
to offer labor, consumer products and take advantage of present-day civilization
and modernism. This was well experienced in Mao's China, Gandhi's India
and quite successfully accomplished in diligent Japan.
Viewed from this the point of vantage the illness of Afghans is not a
disaster. It is a market for Afghan doctors. The lack of specialist physicians
is not a disaster, It is a market to teach medical assistants with a few
months of education. Hunger is not a disaster. It is a market for consumption
of bread. Lack of bread is not a disaster. It is a market for wheat. Lack
of wheat is not a disaster. It is a market for harnessing wasted waters.
Waters harnessed by labor mean dams. Dams built by labor mean wheat.
Wheat is bread. Bread is satiation. Beyond satiation, it is surplus. Surplus
satiation is development. Development is civilization. Stalin had said,
"The death of one person is a tragedy, but the death of one million
is a mere statistic."
Since the day I saw a little Afghan girl 12 years of age, the same age
as my own daughter Hanna--fluttering in my arms of hunger--I've tried to
bring forth the tragedy of this hunger, but I always ended up giving statistics.
Oh God! Why have I become so powerless, like Afghanistan? I feel like going
to that same poem, to that same vagrancy and like that Herati poet, get
lost somewhere, or collapse out of shame like the Buddha of Bamian.
I came on foot, I'll leave on foot
The same stranger who had no piggy bank, will leave.
And the child who had no dolls, will leave.
The spell on my exile will be broken tonight.
And the table that had been empty, will be folded.
In suffering, I wandered around the horizons.
It is me, who everyone has seen in wandering.
what I do not have, I'll lay and leave.
I came on foot, I'll leave on foot.