Afghanistan Declassified: A Guide to America's Longest War

By Brian Glyn Williams | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
The Ethnic Landscape

Many outsiders think we are one race. But we are not, we are many peoples.
—Afghan Uzbek parliament member Faizullah Zeki, Mazar i Sharif, 2005

Centuries of history contributed to the political and cultural landscape of Afghanistan today. The legend of the Kalash people of Pakistan is a good place to begin to understand that history.

High in the snowcapped Hindu Kush Mountains on the AfghanPakistani border lived a Dardic-Vedic people who claimed to be the direct descendants of Alexander the Great’s troops, who had once occupied the land as a distance outpost of empire, only to be erased by succeeding waves of invaders. While the neighboring Pakistanis in the Punjab and Sindh were darker-skinned Muslims, these isolated mountain people had light skin and blue eyes. Although the Pakistanis proper converted to Islam over the centuries, the Kalash people retained their pagan traditions and worshipped their ancient gods in outdoor temples. Most important, they produced wine much like the Greeks in antiquity (although this is no proof of a link to the Greeks)—this, in a Muslim country that forbade alcohol.

In the nineteenth century most of the Kalash—or Kafirs (Infidels) as they were formerly known—were brutally conquered by the “Iron Amir of Afghanistan,” Abdur Rahman. Their ancient temples and wooden idols were destroyed, their women were forced to burn their folk costumes and wear the burqa or veil, and the entire people were converted at sword-point to Islam. Their land was then renamed Nuristan, the Land of Light. Only a small pocket of this vanishing pagan race survived across the border in three isolated valleys in the mountains of what would become Pakistan in 1947.

I had never visited the pagan Kalash tribe but had always hoped to. After we discussed the Kalash in one of my history classes, a student

-11-

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Afghanistan Declassified: A Guide to America's Longest War
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - The Basics 9
  • Chapter 1 - The Ethnic Landscape 11
  • Chapter 2 - Extreme Geography 47
  • Part II - History Lessons 89
  • Chapter 3 - Creating the Afghan State 91
  • Chapter 4 - Soviet Rule, the Mujahideen, and the Rise of the Taliban 125
  • Chapter 5 - The Longest War- America in Afghanistan 184
  • Index 241
  • Acknowledgments 247
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