Saturday, November 14, 2009

Why Canada Should get Out of Afghanistan ?

Canada should pull its troops out of Afghanistan. The West's mission there is no less a "march of folly," to use historian Barbara Tuchman's phrase about the U.S. war in Vietnam, than was the Soviet attempt to impose a regime in Afghanistan with its invasion in 1979.

That invasion was the beginning of the end of the Soviet empire. Sixty years earlier, in 1919, the British decided that their own imperial effort to dominate Afghanistan was doomed and withdrew to the other side of the Khyber Pass.

In our day, the United States is involved in an unwinnable struggle for hegemony in Iraq, Afghanistan and much of the rest of the Middle East and Central Asia. Canada should stand aside.

In Afghanistan, Canadian troops are not engaged in peacekeeping. They are involved on one side in a civil war. While Canadians have been rightly proud of this country's decision to stay out of Iraq, they have paid insufficient attention to the fact that the former Liberal government drew us ever more deeply into Afghanistan. The mission now entrusted to Canadian and other coalition troops in southern Afghanistan, under the command of Canadian Brigadier-General David Fraser, is no less a war mission than the campaigns being fought by the British and Americans in Iraq.

When President George W. Bush paid a surprise visit to Kabul this week, he spoke, as always, of his determination to prosecute the war on terror. The so-called war on terror is really a struggle in which the United States and its allies are trying to impose their hegemony on a large part of the world. (The rejoinder that the Americans had to invade Afghanistan to retaliate against the 9/11 attacks is a non-starter. They had as much reason to invade Saudi Arabia, from which much of the financing of the attacks and most of the hijackers came.)

In the process, the values that are most dear to us - democracy, human rights, equality for women, freedom of speech and the right to publish our thoughts - are being preached in a contest that has little to do with any of these. In many regions of the world, democracy, freedom and human rights are seen as cynical slogans, Orwellian doublespeak, mouthed by those who want oil and other natural resources, and the strategic pathways, such as Afghanistan, that lead to these resources.

In 1900, Mark Twain offered a warning about phony humanitarianism that still rings true. "I said to myself," he wrote about the American intervention in the Philippines, "here are a people who have suffered for three centuries. We can make them as free as ourselves, give them a government and country of their own, put a miniature of the American constitution afloat in the Pacific, start a brand new republic to take its place among the free nations of the world. It seemed to me a great task to which we had addressed ourselves.

"But I have thought some more, since then ... and I have seen that we do not intend to free, but to subjugate the people of the Philippines. We have gone there to conquer, not to redeem ... And so I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land."

If Canada and the other Western powers pull out of Afghanistan, what will be the consequences for that country?

The struggle involving the government in Kabul, the remnants of the Taliban and regional warlords will continue. At the end of the civil war, the regime that emerges is unlikely to look much like a democracy that practises human rights. It could even be a fascistic theocracy.

On the other hand, the presence of Western powers, perceived in this region of the world as the forces of imperialism, will never succeed in imposing a Western-style system in the country. For centuries, the Afghans have shown an ornery tendency to throw out foreign invaders. And when, years from now, the people of the West decide to pull out of Afghanistan, withdrawal at that late date could leave an even more battered country and an even more tyrannical regime in its wake.

In the 19th century, the Europeans thought it was only natural that their empires should rule much of North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. In the 21st century, the Americans have not yet learned that this is folly, although recent public opinion polls in the U.S. suggest that the truth is dawning on them.

Not least, Canada should pull its troops out of Afghanistan for an old-fashioned, even politically incorrect, reason. It is not in our interest to put our young men and women in harm's way in a struggle that will not be won.

Written by James Laxer, a professor of political science at York University.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Road to Balkh

The road from Termez on the Oxus River to Balkh and then over the Hindu Kush to Kabul, has inspired great writers such as Robert Byron (The Road to Oxiana) Arnold Toynbee (Between Oxus and Jumna). Fitzroy Maclean (Eastern Approaches) and the two outstanding Great Game writers, Robert Keay and Peter Hopkirk.

On the say the US and British forced lauched their attack on Iraq, I was in the Mother of all cities, Balkh. It was also my birthday. March 21, 2003. I travelled with Ali Hassan Quoreshi and Zaman. Here is an extract from my diary and photos I have taken along that road over a 30 year period.

The entrance to The Salang tunnel as you see it coming from Mazar I Sharif. and the men who keep the road open. The Salang Pass (Persian: كتل سالنگ Kotal-e Sālang) (el. 3878 m.) is the major mountain pass connecting northern Afghanistan and Kabul province, with further connections to southern Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Salang River originates nearby and flows south.

The pass crosses the Hindu Kush but is now bypassed through the Salang tunnel, built by the Soviet Union in 1964, which runs underneath it at a height of about 3,400 m. It links Charikar and Kabul with Mazari Sharif and Termez.

The potter and his family at Istalif. Photo: Bob McKerrow

A boy and his donkey on the roadside. Photo: Bob McKerrow
The Chamar valley in the Hindu Kush. Photo: Bob McKerrow
The author reading from Eric Newby's ' A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush' to some local lads in the Panjsher valley. Photo: Ian Clarke.

Mainly Uzbek soldier at a Nowruz celebration in Mazar I Sharif. Photo: Bob

A carpet repairer on the roadside. Photo: Bob McKerrow
At the Blue Mosque in Mazar I Sharif on Nowruz, the fertility pole is raised. Photo: Bob McKerrow

An hour and a half after leaving Kabul the road starts climbing up towards the Hindu Kush. Photo: Bob McKerrow

The game of Bushkashi celebrating Nowruz in Kabul. Photo: Bob McKerrow
Jewett's Tower at Jabal Seraj. In 1911 an American Engineer camne to Jebal Seraj to install Afghanistan's first hydro-electric plant for Amir Habibullah. A.C. Jewett stayed here eight years and built his home and published a book, An American Engineer in Afghanistan. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Trip from Mazar I Sharif to Kabul 21 March 2003

Had a very informative and interesting visit to Mazar I Sharif. We were due to fly back Saturday 22 March 2003 by Red Cross flight but due to bad weather, it was cancelled. Then, we found out early Sunday that the flight was going from Mazar to Peshawar, Pakistan, and not Kabul. Not wanting to get stuck in Peshawar with events happening in Iraq, Quoreshi and I drove from Mazar I Sharif to Kabul. It was a 13 and a half hour trip

The Afghan Red Crescent Society, supported by the Federation in the north are doing a superb job with 17 very well run Mother and Child Health Clinics.

We also travelled up to Hairaton, on the banks of the Oxus (Amu Daraya River), just near the border of Uzbekistan to visit one project. I marvelled at the history of this great river.

We also went to watch Buskashi, Afghanistan's version of rugby on horseback where they use a headless goat instead of a ball. Great spectacle to watch,

With the war intensifying in Iraq I was expecting some strong protests here but things have been quiet so far. It could flare up at any time.

Trip schedule

0845 Left Mazar with its the typical planted fields mixed with desert patches and blowing sand over the road up to Gowr e Mar, just before the turn-off to Hairaton. Passed a herd of camels grazing just after the turn-off.

0915 50 km. Arrived at Kulm (Tashqurghan) famed for its covered bazaar. I worked here in 1976 after the big Kulm earthquake.. The city has a delightful backdrop of rocky peaks. We are now into ancient Afghanistan with its dried mud houses and from the exterior, it could be the 10th Century . For the next few km the road closes in with villages hemmed in by mud walled as the road narrows to Tangi Tashqurghan, that spectacular gap in high mountain walls through which flows the Tashqurghan River.

0945 Talhuki (now in Samanghan province). There is a distinct lack of animals compared to previous visits to this area.. With 4 years of drought animals have died, been sold or eaten for survival.

0955 Arrived at the outskirts of Samanghan (Aibak) where the trees were blooming with walnut and almond flowers, a hue of pink and white.

For the past 10 km I’ve seen many bomb craters on the road or in nearby fields that were dropped by the American on the fleeing Taliban/suspected Al Quaida. From Alexander's coins on sale in local bazaars, to recent US bomb craters, history is etched into every footstep of this journey.

0957 110 km Arrived in Aibak.

From here you leave the Tashqurghan River and climb up to Kotali Robatak with Mt. Robatak on the left. Grand views of the lower Hindu Kush and across parts of Hazarajat are so striking..

1025 (147 km) Aikak, a small settlement where the road has been washed out by heavy rains in the past few days, is so typical of these old roadside villages.

1040 Enter Baghlan province and drive through Shismasher with either freshly dug or recently planted fields on either side of the road.. Some still being ploughed. This village is nestled in a semi circle of snow covered mountains, the nearest a mere 8 km away.

1220 Arrived at Doshi at the confluence of the Surkhab and Anderab rivers. Here the road branches to Bamiyan and Salang. On entering Doshi there is a delightful tree lined avenue with a disappearing perspective up to the massive heights of the Hindu Kush

From here we then followed the Anderab river up into Khenjan district small, high-walled villages. Pink blossoms gladden the eye on the harsh mud and rock landscape.

1240 Reached Khenjan where there is a checkpoint. The landscape gets steeper with small, well irrigated wheat fields..

1250 (264 km) climbed up to Walian another small and pretty village. It is surprising how high they plant the wheat fields here..

1255 (267 km) one reaches the first of three new bridges built by the Government of Uzbekistan
The second bridge at 1258 and next at 1303. These strong and smart looking bridges have done much to improve the road and passage of heavy vehicles.

1307 Passed Char Zah the steep roadsides lined with neat rock walls, with old tanks and APC’s littering the road side. Good to see stunted pines thriving in the harsh alpine environment, leaving some semblance of bio diversity in the alpine regions..

At about 1330 about 6 km from the tunnel a large volume of vehicles decide to play ‘Machina Bushkashi’ as an undisciplined bunch of drivers try to pass each others with wheels literally hanging over precipices to get ahead of the other car.. Hundreds of trucks lined one side of the road waiting to get through the tunnel.

1338 Made very little progress and now stuck in traffic. I was bursting for a pee and ventured slightly off the road to relieve myself when I saw a red rock. “Mines,” shouted an Afghan in English. The red painted rock indicated the spot where the mines had been cleared too.

1346 Moved a hundred metres or so and then stopped again.

1420 Nearing the first portal

1445 After a lot of stops and starts, through and out of the first portal.

The next hour the ‘machina bushkashi’ continued as the traffic in one direction kept trying to pass one an other, often three abreast for no gain. A real dog eats dog madness interspersed with halts.

1515 Away again, and another 100 metre gained. The car in front of us got stuck in a gaping hole which we managed to avoid.

1530 We got stuck at the second portal close to the entrance to the Salang Tunnel (on the northern side) at 3,800 metres for about 3 hours surrounded by deep snow. A beautiful place to get stuck and we enjoyed the awesome mountain scenery and the very fresh air. A complete stranger in another car shared his dried mulberries with us and then as always, Afghan hospitality is there every time you turn. It was nice to get out and talk to people in the middle of this mountain madness as cars and buses tried the impossible to pass cars that were two and sometimes three abreast, causing even a greater jam.

At 1615 the sun set behind the Hindu Kush and there was a few moments of tranquility as the evening cold starts gnawing at your bones.. Quoreshi and I seemed the only foreigners in a crowd of over 800 Afghans in buses trucks, taxis and cars.

Then it was announced by ACTED road men that a truck and convoy were coming with a dead body from the southern side, despite the road being open only in our direction. Imagine the scene of cars and buses and trucks some three abreast, having to maneuver themselves into a single lane to let a northbound convoy through. I felt there was a need for a mountain giant to appear with a barrel of oil and a crow bar, and to pour oil over all the vehicles and prise them out one by one and stack them in an orderly line. Much to my amazement, a giant wasn’t called for somehow, the vehicles slithered and maneuvered themselves in such a way that the convoy carrying the dead body managed to crawl by.

Looking down from the Salang Pass at the road which winds up from Kabul. Photo: Bob McKerrow

After about half an hour we took off our chains and joined in a race, something like a rally car race, as all and sundry raced for Jebal Seraj and distant Kabul., passing Walang and Salang villages. Looking back over my shoulder I marvelled at the view, the star studded sky and a trail of cars and bus headlights snaking down from the skyline of the Hindu Kush.

2015 Once at Jebal Seraj, after consultation with ICRC through Younis, we decided to head for Kabul as many other cars were doing the same.

What has changed in Kabul is the rainbow colour lights you see miles ahead which illuminates and indicate the many new gas stations.

Passed three checkpoints, the final one being at Khair Khanna as we entered Kabul at 2130. At this checkpoint there was a huge illuminated portrait of Ahmed Shah Massoud, watching over Kabul and its twinkling lights.

Arrived at our House in Wazi Akbar Khan just after 2200 hours.

Another way to cross the Hindu Kush is via the Khotali Anjuman which takes you from the Panjsher valley to the Anjuman valley. Crossing the pass in 1995 with Ian Clarke. Photo: Bob McKerrow

For further reading I recommend The Road to Balkh by Nancy Nancy Hatch Dupree. Afghan Tourist Organisation, 1967

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Afghanistan and the lessons of history

Buskashi, the ancient game of Afghanistan requiring outstanding horsemanship and courage. Photo: Bob McKerrow

My last posting was mainly about what I see as the lines between aid agencies and the community work of the military becoming blurred in Afghanistan and other countries where there is conflict. I was also lamenting the fact that more and more humanitarian workers are being shot, maimed or killed. Little did I know then that it would come closer to home a few days later.

Last Thursday morning I went to Banda Aceh where the Red Cross is near to completing its large Tsunami rehabilitation programme. I was stunned to get a phone call late afternoon from one of the staff of the German Red Cross saying that Dr. Erhard Bauer had been shot not too far down the road from where I was. He was travelling with three Indonesian staff when a motorcycle drew up beside the vehicle with two passengers, the rear passenger fired three shots into the front passenger side window and one bullet passed through his left side and lodged inside Erhard's abdomen. Our Red Cross team in Banda Aceh speedily organised an evacuation to Singapore so the bullet could be removed. Surgery was successfully carried out and he is now stable and recovering. Thank God he was only wounded.

It was strange standing by Erhard's bedside in the hospital in Banda Aceh last Thursday night trying to provide moral support to him as he was struggling on life support equipment. Only five days early we met at a football match in Jakarta where our children were playing in opposing teams and as we both have a love of Afghanistan, we began talking about the places in Afghanistan where he lived for many years with his wife and children.

After a few hours on oxygen, Erhard removed his mask and although in pain, started talking about Afghanistan and surprisingly, we got onto the subject of Dr. Brydon, who was the sole survivor of a sixteen thousand five hundred strong retreating British army that fled Kabul in 1842 - all but Brydon were mercilessly massacred with horrific efficiency by Afghan forces lying in wait (depicted below).

For those of us who have worked in Afghanistan, the painting of Dr. Brydon (above) evokes an array of feelings. Recently, my good friend Paul Conneally posted an article on his outstanding blog

Paul give his take on recent events in Afghanistan:
Last week's suicide bombing and armed raids on a guest house frequented by UN staff in Kabul got me thinking, not for the first time, of this interminable part of the world. The UN bombing had been preceded a few days before hand by a suicide attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul that left at least 17 dead and dozens severely injured. Then, a few days after the UN bomb we had massive explosions in the crowded alleys of Peshawar's sprawling street markets that left more than a hundred civilians dead.

I remember back in 1999 when I had my Afghanistan time, the country - apart from a territory in the north - was presided over by the Taliban and an assembly of war lords. At that time there was no alcohol allowed, no women in the workforce (or anywhere else except mostly indoors), no television, no music - no fun basically. It was a tough time on many levels not least the psychological one. You have no idea how dreadfully depressing it can be to work with some twelve hundred colleagues all of whom are male with an average age of about 50! I longed for female company and I longed also for a cold beer at the end of the day.

Given the lack of social outlet and the very real security threats life was confined to work and (heavily guarded) home - a good time to catch up on my reading and experiment with some herbal teas. At that time I became fascinated with the historical writings on what is know as the Great Game - the great rivalry between the British and Russian empires that lasted the best part of one hundred intriguing years ending in 1921 with a friendship treaty between the two great foes. The prize for the Great Game was the Indian sub-continent which Britain declared the jewel in its crown and feared mightily that Russia would conquer Afghanistan and use it as a launching pad to snatch India.

So, not for the first or last time in her long and illustrious history, the nation of Afghanistan found itself at odds - through no real fault of its own - with major military powers. A victim of its own geography. But, not being one to turn down a decent offer of a good fight, Afghanistan embraced the Great Game and played both sides off against each other, much like they did with Persia during the same period and of course the Americans and the Soviets in the 1980's.

Never conquered. Never Divided.
History will show that the whole of Afghanistan has never, not once, been controlled from the centre. And, while (in western eyes) treachery and deceit are a frequent feature of their methods of warfare (rendering the Geneva Conventions culturally biased?) Afghanistan has incredibly remained solidly intact, never fragmenting along ethnic or religious lines and maintaining its borders since its inception. It clings fiercely to the origin of its name which is Sanskrit for "land of the allied tribes".

But, I digress. I did not intend a historical account, even a brief one. But it is necessary for the remainder of my tale. During those turbulent days back in 1999 we did manage to escape on rest and recreation every few months to Peshawar where the first destination was the long-established American Club - a place with cold beer, conversation with women and late night darts. At the entrance of this modest but grand old building, just before you climbed the stairs to the bar, hung a gilt-framed oil painting which always stopped me in my tracks and urged me to ponder awhile. It was an original copy of "Remnants of an Army" depicting a lone soldier, Scotsman Dr. William Brydon, at the gates of Jalalabad, which lie approximately half way along the 200 mile road between Kabul and Peshawar.

Brydon was the sole survivor of a sixteen thousand five hundred strong retreating British army that fled Kabul in 1842 - all but Brydon were mercilessly massacred with horrific efficiency by Afghan forces lying in wait (depicted above). The same Afghan forces, it should be mentioned, with whom they had been allied just a few days before - things can change very quickly in Afghanistan.

This effectively brought to an end the First Anglo Afghan War (1839 - 1842) and one of the lessons learned (for evaluation it seems was also a practice back then - makes you wonder if it is really possible to learn from our mistakes) was a telling and succinct recommendation whose relevance today is undeniable: The First Afghan War provided the clear lesson to the British authorities that while it may be relatively straightforward to invade Afghanistan it is wholly impracticable to occupy the country or attempt to impose a government not welcomed by the inhabitants. The only result will be failure and great expense in treasure and lives.

From Tipperary to Afghanistan and back
Now, that painting (shown at the top of this post), as mentioned, fairly captivated me at the time especially as I was so enamored with Peter Hopkirk's writings of the Great Game that repeatedly recalled the resilience of the Afghans throughout their long and combative history. Staring at the forlorn figure of Brydon, the lone horseman, one didn't know whether to feel pity or pride. His form embodied defeat, set against an unforgiving and alien landscape; and such were the incredible odds against his survival that you were forced to wonder whether the Afghans let him loose on purpose - a barely living testimony to their military might.

The painting was the work of an artist called Lady Elizabeth Butler. When writing this post I could not remember her name so scoured the internet until I found it - and I found out a few other aspects which struck me as interesting. Elizabeth was born in Lausanne (Switzerland) but married an Irish soldier, writer and adventurer called William Francis Butler.

William hailed from the impoverished famine fields of Tipperary and had risen to great heights in the British army. The couple returned to Ireland upon William's retirement and lived in Bansha Castle before moving eventually to the east coast of Ireland, settling down in Gormanstown Castle where they stayed till their final days and are buried at nearby Stamullen Graveyard.

Year's after my own Afghan adventure I tracked down some of Elizabeth's paintings at the Imperial War Museum in London, and I was not disappointed. I have heard that the painting of Brydon - the last remnant of a decimated army - now hangs at the Tate but will have to confirm that at a later date. It may be coincidence that a painting which had such a hold over me ten years ago somehow turned out to have strong Irish connections. Whatever the case, I'll be making my way to Stamullen cemetery the next chance I get to track down the last resting place of this incredible couple and pay them my respects.

My sincere thanks to Paul Coneally from Head Down Eyes Open

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Praying for More Unemployed Grave-Diggers in Afghanistan

The lines between aid agencies and the military have become blurred in Afghanistan,

Bamiyan where New Zealand troops are doing humanitarian work alongside their military duties. Photo: Bob McKerrow

The earthquake in West Sumatra has occupied every waking moment of my life in the past five weeks and has even stolen many of my sleeping hours. Midst the hundreds of emails I received was one from my good friend in Kabul, Steve Masty entitled "PIRATES.'

dear bob

i went into spinneys, the dubai-based supermarket in kabul, and looked at your 'Mountains of your Mind' book and, while well produced it looks to be a pirate addition, with no isbn number. when i go back i will bring a pencil to jot down the web address of the second publisher, different than the real one on the title page.


When I told Anuj , my publisher in New Delhi, he replied " you should be ‘HAPPY’ if your book is pirated. The pirates only ‘GO FOR THE BEST’."
So the book I published on Afghanistan in 2003 has been pirated, so I am flattered. Photo: Tara Press New Delhi

However, thinking of my book is a bit selfish at this time because I am more concerned by the blurring of lines and mandates between aid agencies and the military in Afghanistan.

The other day there was a headline in most New Zealand newspapers announcing in shocked tones that there has been a shooting incident involving New Zealand troops in Afghanistan.

It went on to say "Government sources say our troops have been fired on."

When you call a plumber to unblock a sewerage pipe, he gets shit on his hands. Send soldiers into Afghanistan they are likely to get blood on their hands, especially the New Zealand soldiers who do humanitarian work in communities with an automatic rifle slung across their back. Soldiers should be in a country to support the regime their Governments are backing politically, or doing UN-type peacekeeping work. Mixing military intervention with humanitarian works only contributes to genuine humanitarian workers being mistaken as soldier/humanitarian workers.

In his recent article Empire Games in the New Zealand Listener, Gordon Campbell observes:

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, Taliban forces have mounted major attacks in recent weeks, rendering the provinces of Zabol, Helmand and Oruzgan highly dangerous for foreign and local ground troops. Aid workers have been withdrawn from many provincial areas. In both countries, foreigners and locals engaged in humanitarian work – including the reconstruction tasks that our deployment of 61 armed engineers have been set in Iraq – are being singled out as “soft targets”.

I am terrified when I read that 61 armed New Zealand Army engineers are doing humanitarian work, probably in areas where non-armed humanitarian workers are working.

Coalition Forces doing a form of humanitarian work in Afghanistan.

In his article Afghan aid as a military weapon, Thalif Deen in Asia Times Online in August 2004 was one of the first journalists to signal the growing problem about communities that humanitarian workers and soldiers work, Afghans have become confused as to the lines between aid agencies and the military. He writes:

"There are times when aid agencies need the support of the military - as in Bosnia - but we are concerned about the increased involvement of the US and UK military in the provision of aid," said Caroline Green of Oxfam International.

"Our impartiality is vital for us to carry out our work on the ground but this has become undermined by the United States giving aid to people not on the basis of need but in exchange for information," Green told Inter Press Service (IPS).

Besides aid agencies, humanitarian assistance - including food aid and relief supplies - have also been provided by coalition forces, including the US, the UK, France, Germany and Italy, according to the US State Department. "Communities that we work with have become confused as the lines between aid agencies and the military have become blurred in Afghanistan," Green said.

Those charges have been strongly endorsed by several other international aid organizations, including Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF or Doctors Without Borders), Christian Aid and Concern Worldwide. Last week, MSF pulled out of Afghanistan after having provided humanitarian assistance there for nearly 24 years. The reasons for the organization's withdrawal included a deterioration of the security environment in Afghanistan and, more important, the misuse of humanitarian aid by US military forces in the country.

MSF also said it was unhappy with the lack of progress in a government investigation of the killing of five of its aid workers in the northern province of Baghdis in June, presumably by insurgents. MSF, which employed about 1,400 local staff and 80 international staff, ended all its operations last week.

How many more soldiers and aid workers will be buried here ? The Christian cemetery in Kabul. Photo: Bob McKerrow

I remember the first time I went to that graveyard.
It was a cold winter’s day in early 1994 when I first met Rahimullah, grave digger and caretaker of the British Cemetery in Kabul. He looked poor in tattered Shalwah Kamez and a shawl wrapped round his shoulders to keep out the biting cold. The headstones and graves were dusted with snow. In the distance the Hindu Kush range stood high above Koh Daman, the hills that skirt Kabul. Rahimullah looked about 50 then. Since the Soviets withdrew from Kabul in 1989 he hadn’t been paid. I knew that Aurel Stein, the famous Hungarian born British Archaeologist was buried here in 1943. I didn’t know that this would to prove to be the most interesting grave yard I had ever seen. Its oldest residents are British soldiers from the Anglo-Afghan wars. Like the 29 members of the 67th Foot (South Hampshire Regiment), buried in a mass grave after a failed attempt to climb a hill south of Kabul on the 13th December 1879.
All that really remains of them is part of their grave stone, stuck along one side of the cemetery wall with other fragments of history. Long lists that tell no stories other than the staccato military details of name, rank, regiment and date. In between are assorted ranks of other visitors who never made it home. Explorers, journalists, hippies who lost the trail, engineers and aid workers; Italians and Germans and Canadians and Polish and many from other countries. Their headstones tell a snippet of Afghanistan’s rich history.

Fifteen years later my heart bleeds for the killing that is going on in Afghanistan, the country that deserves peace, a country that has been penalised by its geographic locations for more than two thousand years. I FERVENTLY PRAY FOR MORE UNEMPLOYED GRAVE-DIGGERS IN AFGHANISTAN.