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Afghanistan oh Afghanistan

Updated on March 10, 2010

Soldiers stand guard

Boys with Guns

I travelled to Juarez, Mexico a few days ago to get a crown on a chipped tooth at the famous Washington Clinic that many of my friends frequent and trust to take care of all their dental needs. As we crossed over the border from El Paso in our air-conditioned special van, there were a number of soldiers patrolling the streets with big guns hanging from their shoulders. I don’t remember the last time I saw soldiers with guns. We don’t have to witness much military action in this country, at least not where I live in the mountains of New Mexico. Juarez has been under siege by the Mexican drug cartel for years so the government has increased its visibility even in the safer parts of the city around the border and clinics. The soldiers looked so young, like teenagers, and had to be so serious and responsible. One looked inside the van so I smiled at him. He smiled back with his big dark eyes.

A City at War

Hamid Karzai and troops

War is War

As I watched the nightly news and heard about the casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq, I remembered these young Mexican soldiers and how our own troops look just as young; they are young! They were saying there were only eight casualties this month in Iraq as opposed to fifteen last month. Only eight. We are so used to hearing about the bombings and killings and casualties that we don’t often reflect on how every one of these deaths affect families, friends and communities. Each precious soul lost had a history, dreams for the future, plans for life after service. And for every American soldier killed, there are countless innocents that die. The “collateral damage” is the euphemism. Now that our focus is turning to Afghanistan, one hears of dozens of women and children who were in the wrong place at the wrong time and died under “smart” bombs or from artillery fire from our brave young soldiers. We see images of their meager homes blown apart and reduced to rubble. How do they survive this constant siege? How do you go on after half your family has been bloodied and killed? The Afghanis are doing just that. They are amazing people.

A present Map

The Hippie Trail

In the early 70’s I was part of a group that travelled through Afghanistan on our way to India from Italy via trains and buses. It was before the Russian invasion and before the Taliban took their stronghold on the people. After WWII, a good two-lane road was constructed from Iran that ran through Herat, Kandahar, and Kabul ending at the Pakistani border. By the late 1960s large numbers of travelers were using it as part of the Hippie trail; I was one of them. All through the country we rode colorful busses through hundreds of miles of nothingness finally arriving in the three cities along the route. The rugged Afghan people were very friendly and curious about all of the strange looking young people arriving in their towns. Much of the population lived on the outskirts or in nomadic groups. Horse-drawn carriages mixed with old cars and cabs as transportation in the towns. It was like dropping off the planet to land in Herat. As poor as the population was, in general they seemed very happy and content, laughing often and ready to engage in lively conversation. It was a very different place then. I’m so fortunate to have witnessed the country then.

When will it end?

The country has had little respite from repression and war beginning with the Russian invasion in 1979 when the Carter administration started supporting and arming the mujahideen to combat the Russians who were defeated in 1988. After that the Taliban gained control and began their reign of terror especially over the women. Since 2001 the U.S. has been battling these forces and Al-Qaeda without much success. Now as we pull out of Iraq, the war is ramping up in Afghanistan. Helmand province, the home of many insurgents and the location of the country’s huge opium crops, is the focus of this latest campaign. The hope is to rid the people of the Taliban and begin rebuilding the infrastructure and replace opium crops with other viable resources. It is a huge undertaking in a wild country where local military leaders carry out the rule of law. My prayers go out to these war-torn suffering people, and to the soldiers who do their best under extreme circumstances to try and reshape this land that no outside force has ever succeeded in doing.

The Taliban destroyed this ancient place

Afghanistan was once home to two enormous statues of Buddha at Bamiyan. They were hewn directly out of the sandstone cliffs nearly one-and-a-half thousand years ago. The larger statue was 180 feet (55 metres) high, while the other was about 60 feet s
Afghanistan was once home to two enormous statues of Buddha at Bamiyan. They were hewn directly out of the sandstone cliffs nearly one-and-a-half thousand years ago. The larger statue was 180 feet (55 metres) high, while the other was about 60 feet s

Some History

THe Giant Buddhas

I understand there is a great movie about these statues called The Giant Buddhas (2005) NR by Christian Frei. "The documentary traces the tragic tale of the giant Buddhas of Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Valley, which stood as monumental landmarks for 1,500 years until 2001, when the Taliban declared that all non-Islamic statues in the country be destroyed. Despite international protest, the statues were blown up. Through interwoven narratives from past and present, Frei’s film sheds light on the disturbing consequences of religious fanaticism." from Netflix, where you can rent the movie.


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