In his classic book about Vietnam, War offices (Anagrama), the American journalist Michael Herr He explained that he had a map of Indochina on the wall of his room in Saigon and reflected: "There has been a long time that there was no country, only a war." Something dramatically similar could be written about Afghanistan: 63.7% of Afghans are under 25 years old, which means they were born, grew up and saw many relatives die in one of the wars the country has suffered since the Soviet invasion in 1979. Meeting point of cultures and civilizations on the margins of Asia, Afghanistan has produced an intense literature tinged with fascination, but also with the pain of endless conflict that suffers.
Rudyard Kipling recounted in The man who wanted to be king, what John huston in 1975 it became one of the best adventure films in history, how two British hustlers enter a wild territory called Kafiristan, a remote region of Afghanistan, with the aim of getting rich. There they find a country in war of all against all - distribution after tribe they receive the same complaint: “They assault our villages, kidnap our women and mean upstream while we bathe” - they even run into something much deeper: the remote souvenir of Sikandar, the Persian name of Alexander the Great, who got there and founded a city, Aï Janum, whose ruins have been razed in recent decades after half a century of French excavations.
The city of Alexander the Great
The American historian Frank L. Holt told that original campaign in his book Into the land of bones. Alexander the great in Afghanistan (In the land of bones. Alexander the Great in Afghanistan, University of California Press, 2005), insisting on the brutality of the Hellenic invasion, between 329 and 327 BC, but especially in the way in which this country has been trapped since then in what the American journalist Dexter Filkins called in a book of reports Eternal war (Booket, 2012). “Afghanistan cannot escape the crossroads of history. In each of the last three centuries, different superpowers - British, Soviet and American - have set their sights on this tragic land, willing to impose a new order, ”writes Holt to describe what has been called the Great Game as an eternal field of battle that extends from the time of Alexander to the present.
The signature, last week, of a peace agreement between the Taliban and the US Government, it opens a remote hope that this last conflict will end, which has lasted since 2001. After the attacks of September 11, Washington relied on local militias to defeat the Taliban, who gave shelter to Osama bin Laden and at the senior level of the terrorist group responsible for that attack, Al Qaeda. But the conflict continued without either party being able to win it, but also not losing it. Now, the US has announced its withdrawal in the next 14 months, leaving Afghanistan to its fate.
Soviet invasion and civil war
The prospects for the future are not good: in 1989, when the Soviet troops defeated by the mujahideen, a civil war broke out between different groups to which only the hatred of the invader joined. It was much more destructive than the invasion of the USSR. Most of the Lords of war since then, and most of the ethnic and cultural divisions of a country that are disputed among other Pashtun, Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara groups (the latter are in addition to Shiite creed), they remain intact. In fact, the arrival of the Taliban in power between 1994, when they took Kabul, and 1996, when they already controlled 90% of the territory, was well received by an important part of the population and the international community, including the United States.
The perception changed later, when the world proved the inhuman treatment they gave to women, the cruelty of their regime, the massive violations of human rights and the growing presence of Al Qaeda (which led, for example, to the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan to erase any non-Muslim cultural remains). Shortly before 9/11 a book was published that became a rapid sales success and remains a reference to understand not only the fanatic guerrilla, but the history of this country: The Taliban (Peninsula, 2001), of the Pakistani researcher Ahmed Rashid. Few works serve to summarize in such a rigorous and entertaining way the history of a country broken by endless battles. A great travel book, published in the same period, also masterfully portrays the country, its landscapes, its people and its history: An unexpected light: Travels through Afghanistan (Peninsula, 2001), by Jason Elliot. Both are unfortunately discontinued in Spanish.
The Afghanistan of the Taliban, who were trying to drag the country into the early days of Islam, also aroused a fascination in the West, which moved to fiction. Novels written by exiled Afghan writers became bestsellers: Kites in the sky (Salamandra, 2008) and One thousand splendid suns (Salamandra, 2007), of the refugee in the United States Khaled Hosseini, Y The stone of patience (Siruela, 2009), with which Atiq Rahimi won in 2008 the Gouncourt award, the most prestigious in France. Both are focused on the suffering of women under the Taliban.
Three empires three defeated
In the moments of greatest military deployment in the US there were 100,000 troops in the country. Three thousand five hundred international soldiers have died in Afghanistan, of which 2,300 are Americans and 102 Spaniards. There is no clear number of Afghans who have lost their lives, but it could be around 70,000 since 2001. Afghanistan has already become the longest war the United States has fought, more than Vietnam, and has infiltrated all aspects of American everyday life, including fiction. For example, the series Stumptown, which currently broadcasts HBO, is starring an old marine, turned into a private detective, who suffers from post-traumatic stress, a consequence difficult to measure after a war, but which, together with the wounded and the dead, penetrates deeply into a society. For the USSR, the invasion of Afghanistan was a disaster, decisive for the fall of communism, along with the disastrous management of the Chernobyl nuclear accident.
A book of the Nobel Prize for Literature Svetlana Aleksiévich narrates what Afghanistan meant for that deceased empire through the testimonies of those who were there: The Zinc Boys: Soviet Voices of the Afghanistan War (Debate, 2016). And the British historian William Dalrymple recounts in an essay The return of a king. The British adventure in Afghanistan 1839-1842 (Desperta Ferro, 2017), the humiliating defeat suffered by another empire in those same indomitable landscapes. “Despite its long history, Afghanistan - or Jorasan, as the Afghans had called this region during the last two millennia - had enjoyed only a few occasions of political or administrative unity. Much more often it had been an area between multiple borders: a vast fractured and disputed territory formed by mountainous stretches, floodplains and deserts that separated it from its better organized neighbors, ”writes Dalrymple.
In the winter of 2001, during the fall of the Taliban, traces of the previous wars were everywhere: rusty Soviet tanks in the Panshir valley, roads and roads undermined, the ruins of entire Kabul neighborhoods that looked like Dresden in 1945, bandits and armed groups of all fur but, above all, a population tired of war, who had not known anything else and, now, breathed with relief in Tajik areas in the face of the Taliban withdrawal. The ruins of Aï Janum could be seen in the distance, as waves of American B-52 bombers passed crushing the Taliban positions.
The country in peace that no longer exists
And another 20 years have passed, two decades during which peace has been erased from collective memory. However, in an important part of the twentieth century, there was a country in peace, exotic, dangerous and welcoming at the same time, a place to look for the traces of many cultures, which is part of the call Hippy trail, which Manu Leguineche evokes in his account of the return to the world he made in 1978, which he reflected in his book The shortest path (Editions B, 2018). A 1967 novel by the great French adventure writer Joseph Kessel describes very well that lost country: The riders (Destiny, 2001), focused on the game of Buzkashi, a kind of pole to the beast in which players dispute a sheep. John Frankenheimer adapted it to the cinema in 1971 in the film Pride of race, with Omar Sharif. Shot in Afghanistan, lets see the country it was, when Kabul was still a beautiful city.
The masterpiece of travel literature on Afghanistan remains Trip to Oxiana (Peninsula, 2000), by British architecture expert Robert Byron (1905-1941). Originally published in 1937, Bruce Chatwin wrote in 1980, in full Soviet invasion: “If I were still alive today, I think that Byron would agree that, over time (in Afghanistan everything needs its time), Afghans will do something terrible to its invaders: perhaps waking the sleeping giants of Central Asia. ” These are words that have never ceased to resonate since then.
- Ahmed Rashid, The Taliban. Peninsula, 2013. Translation by Jordi Fibla
- Jason Elliot, An unexpected light. Peninsula, 2001. Translation by Carme Camps / Inma Gutiérrez
- William Dalrymple, The return of a king. The British adventure in Afghanistan 1839-1842 (Awake Ferro, 2017). Translation by Alba Villar Gómez.
- Svetlana Aleksiévich, The Zinc Boys: Soviet Voices of the Afghanistan War (Debate, 2016). Translation of Ioulia Dobrovolskaia and Alba Garcia Gonzalez
- Khaled Hosseini, Kites in the sky (Salamandra, 2008) and One thousand splendid suns (Salamandra, 2007). Translation by Isabel Murillo Font y Bartolome Moral Gem.
- Atiq Rahimi, The stone of patience (Siruela, 2012). Translation of Elena García-Aranda.
- Frank L. Holt, Into the land of bones. Alexander the great in Afghanistan (University of California Press, 2005).
- Dexter Filkins, Eternal war (Booket, 2012). Translation of Enrique Herrando
- Rudyard Kipling, The man who wanted to be king. Different editions and translations in Spanish.