Afghanistan Declassified: A Guide to America's Longest War

By Brian Glyn Williams | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
Extreme Geography

The Afghans are extraordinary fighters, tough and resourceful and cruel, and
they know their business inside out. On their own territory they are unbeatable.
They love fighting and dealing with invaders. It is almost a game to them. The
country is Death Valley 10 times over.
—George MacDonald Fraser, New York Times, January 20, 2007

This expedition was to be one of my most ambitious in Afghanistan, a ten-hour journey into the Hindu Kush, the majestic mountain chain linked to the nearby Himalayas. This traditionally lawless area—Hindu Kush usually translates as “Hindu Killers”—has always fascinated me, in part due to its inaccessible nature and the mysterious race living there. Known as the Hazaras, the Hindu Kush highlanders are Shiites descended from Genghis Khan’s Mongol hordes. The Persian-speaking Hazaras were long feared and still live in relative isolation in their snowcapped peaks.

My journey took me out of the bustling city of Kabul, across the Shomali Plain, and up into a valley carved by a fast-flowing mountain river. As we (my driver and I, along with an English colleague) ascended the Ghorband Valley, the air began to clear and the nature of the terrain changed. No longer in the hot plains, we were enveloped by barren brown mountains that resembled those of the Sinai Desert or Death Valley. Looming high above the brown mountains, snowcaps melted on distant peaks in the warm spring sun. Their snowmelt flowed down the mountainsides in countless rivulets that cooled the air and brought life to this arid valley.

Along the riverbanks the local Hazaras had carefully cultivated fields and built terraced houses out of clay that resembled the pueblos of the Navajos. As our four-wheel-drive SUV drove along the bumpy excuse for a “road,” I noticed that the terrain was not the only thing that was changing. Women working in the fields no longer wore blue burqas. Instead,

-47-

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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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