Afghanistan (1919- ) is eastern Persia, Iran being western Persia. There are Persians living to the east (Pashtuns) and to the north (Tajiks), but it has most of the Persian land east of Iran. The chief difference between Iran and Afghanistan is religion: Iran is Shia Muslim, Afghanistan is mostly Sunni Muslim.
People call it the “graveyard of empires”: both the British and the Russians have come to grief there and now the Americans.
The Americans overthrew the Taliban government in 2001 just months after 9/11. With the help of the Taliban, Osama bin Laden and his men had their base of operations there. America closed down his bases but Bin Laden got away.
After being gone for some years, the Taliban is back. They made peace with Pakistan in 2006 and so now they are free to attack Afghanistan and then disappear safely into Pakistan. Afghanistan is back on the boil.
Afghanistan is shockingly poor and backward. Half the men cannot read along with four-fifths of the women. One baby in six never lives to see the age of one; most of the rest will never live to see 52.
It is a land of blue skies and cruel men.
Empires lust after Afghanistan for its position on the map. The British wanted it to keep India safe. The Russians wanted it to be one step closer to the oil in the Persian Gulf. The Americans want it because it is next to Pakistan and Iran, two countries that are causing it serious trouble.
Because it is up in the mountains it is hard to conquer, but not impossible: the Persians, Alexander, the Mongols and Tamerlane have all done it. The city of Kandahar in the south is named after Alexander. Herat in the west was one of the jewels of Tamerlane’s empire.
Warlords rule most of the country. It has been that way for most of the past 30 years. The power of the American-backed government in Kabul does not extend much beyond the city. Only the Taliban were able to bring peace, though their rule was cruel and severe.
Out of every ten Afghans four are Pashtuns, three are Tajiks, one is Uzbek and one is Hazara. They marry among themselves so the line between them is not sharp. All are Persians except for the Uzbeks – they are Turks. It seems the Hazara came from Mongolia long ago. Uzbeks and Tajiks live in the north, Pashtuns in the south and Hazara in the middle. President Karzai is a Pashtun.
The Tajiks and Uzbeks have their own countries to the north. The Pashtuns have no country: For every Pashtun in Afghanistan, two more live in neighbouring Pakistan. When the British drew the Durand Line in 1893 they made sure it went right through the middle of Pashtun land to keep them weak.
Going round the country is a ring road. It passes through each of the four chief cities: Kabul in the east, Kandahar in the south, Herat in the west and Mazar-i-Sharif in the north.
Nearly all the heroin in the world comes from red flowers in Afghanistan.