My Travel Map

Friday, March 14, 2008

Kabuliwallah to Charlie Wilson's War

Lately have had a lot of Afghanistan thrust into all the creative media entertainment that I have been indulging myself in. All = 4 instances, at last count. Well, I accept that to say that the latest Subhash Ghai offering “Black & White” had something to do with Afghanistan would not be correct in spirit, but would be very much correct in letter. So there.

If you are wondering where all this is going, let me say at the onset this is going nowhere. Just had to write about something before all my creative juices dried up in utmost entirety. So why Afghanistan? Well, ask Khaled Hosseini – for he’s the one to blame for my falling in love with the rugged country and its rugged people. The canvas that he painted through his masterpiece “The Kite Runner” – which incidentally I recently saw on celluloid – made, to put it mildly, a deep impression on my impressionable psyche. The snow capped Hindu Kush in the distance and the rugged brown mountainscape in the forefront, the smell of the kebabs roasting in tandoors and the mysterious beauty in the twinkling eyes of the women – I can conjure all that up in the batting of an eyelid, thanks to Mr. Hosseini. In fact, the film doesn’t do full justice to the geography at all, being shot somewhere in Inner Mongolia or thereabouts.

The British, the Russians and the Americans have all played their part in ravishing this beauty for their own petty gains over the last 300 years, and particularly so since the 70’s, when the country became a pawn in the Cold War endgame. The hot-blooded tribes that inhabit the unforgiving landscape have played their part too, falling prey to bloody infighting incited by scheming Cold War powers, that has wiped away entire villages, families, clans and generations. Power hungry warlords have ruled the mountains and fought for control of the Kabuls, Herats and Kandahars – even as foreign invaders were vanquished with the help of other foreign invaders. Why did the US military intelligence wait 10 bloody years before they realized that the only way to win the war was to supply the Mujahideen with anti-aircraft missiles, something that was known on the ground for at least 2-3 years before that? It seems they wanted to exhaust the Soviet Union’s resources in killing the Afghans, so that they could watch the disintegration of the Soviet empire later in gleeful mirth. And then they make films with Tom Hanks to glorify the fact that some Congressman wallowing in drugs and women found it worth his while to convince the CIA to send in those very anti-aircraft guns. And end the movie saying that US didn’t play the endgame very well. Ah, well…didn’t we know that?

As soon as the Soviet army left the land of the Afghans (originally Pashtuns, but also Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks and others), the US conveniently forgot about them until they found a scapegoat in a bearded guy named Osama Bin Laden who reportedly owned responsibility (unproven?) for driving two passenger jets through the World Trade Centre in New York. Till then, the fact that the Taliban existed hadn’t bothered them – the fact that the Taliban exercised capital punishment in the form of stoning innocent men and women to death for adultery during half-times of football matches in Kabul’s national stadium and barred women from education and jobs hadn’t stirred their curiosity (as the global guardians of morality and human rights and such similar crap) – but the fact that they had had the gall to provide shelter to some small time operatives known as Al Qaeda (Arab Afghans) propelled them into a full blown war. Did you hear you saying its all a gimmick to gain strategic military position in Central Asia? You know the global political landscape well then, I must admit! A country, which had not yet picked up all the landmines that the Russians had planted in their land, (some of which were deliberately shaped like candies so that children would pick them up, lose limbs and their parents wouldn’t be able to take part in the war effort) has ever since been embroiled in another war. Some 2-3 million of them still live as refugees, mainly in the North West Frontier Province in Pakistan and in Iran.

The most hilarious part in all this is that the US might have actually sponsored the holy war of terror against itself. Along with Pakistan’s ISI, the US invested heavily in the training and arming the Mujahideen who were fighting the Russians, and some of these same facilities were then used to nurture the young Talebsmadrasahs and militant training camps which came up all along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border has ever since, provided a steady stream of Talebs and suicide bombers to the world at large. The ISI and the CIA (and possibly all the world’s secret services, since it is rumoured all of them work hand-in-hand anyways) have washed their dirty hands off the issue but the fact remains that they are now fighting an enemy that they helped create themselves. Well they are not actually fighting an enemy – that’s just a ruse for getting closer and closer to dominating the oil reserves in Central Asia.

Well, some food for thought – definitely, at least, its fodder for authors and film directors who in recent and not-so-recent memory have churned out novels like The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns (again by Hosseini), Shantaram (by the Australian convict Gregory David Roberts who fought part of the Afghan war against the Russians on behalf of a Bombay mafia don) and movies like Kabul Express, Kite Runner (again) and Charlie Wilson’s War – that have kept us captivated. Thanks at least for bringing this beautiful country into the limelight – for those who have been to the upper echelons of the Himalayas where the snow capped mountains co-exist with harsh brown terrain like those in Leh, Ladakh in Kashmir and also north of Lachen in Sikkim, I’m sure they will appreciate the feeling of humbleness in their souls that the awe-inspiring, unforgiving, beauty awakens in us – such environs can only produce the most big-hearted of men for only they can match up to what the unrelenting vastness of nature demands. Will the Kabuliwallah ever return???