by Pepe Escobar for The Saker Blog and friends
Dear reader: this is very special, a trip down memory lane like no other: back to prehistoric times – the pre-9/11, pre-YouTube, pre-social network world.
Welcome to Taliban Afghanistan – Talibanistan – in the Year 2000. This is when photographer Jason Florio and myself slowly crossed it overland from east to west, from the Pakistani border at Torkham to the Iranian border at Islam qillah. As Afghan ONG workers acknowledged, we were the first Westerners to pull this off in years.
Those were the days. Bill Clinton was enjoying his last stretch at the White House. Osama bin Laden was a discreet guest of Mullah Omar – hitting the front pages only occasionally. There was no hint of 9/11, the invasion of Iraq, the “war on terror”, the perpetual financial crisis, the Russia-China strategic partnership. Globalization ruled, and the US was the undisputed global top dog. The Clinton administration and the Taliban were deep into Pipelineistan territory – arguing over the tortuous, proposed Trans-Afghan gas pipeline.
We tried everything, but we couldn’t even get a glimpse of Mullah Omar. Osama bin Laden was also nowhere to be seen. But we did experience Talibanistan in action, in close detail.
Today is a special day to revisit it. The Forever War in Afghanistan is over; from now on it will be a Hybrid mongrel, against the integration of Afghanistan into the New Silk Roads and Greater Eurasia.
In 2000 I wrote a Talibanistan road trip special for a Japanese political magazine, now extinct, and ten years later a 3-part mini-series revisiting it for Asia Times.
Part 2 of this series can be found here, and part 3 here.
Yet this particular essay – part 1 – had completely disappeared from the internet (that’s a long story): I found it recently, by accident, in a hard drive. The images come from the footage I shot at the time with a Sony mini-DV: I just received the file today from Paris.
This is a glimpse of a long-lost world; call it a historical register from a time when no one would even dream of a “Saigon moment” remixed – as a rebranded umbrella of warriors conveniently labeled “Taliban”, after biding their time, Pashtun-style, for two decades, praises Allah for eventually handing them victory over yet another foreign invader.
Now let’s hit the road.
KABUL, GHAZNI – Fatima, Maliha and Nouria, who I used to call The Three Graces, must be by now 40, 39 and 35 years old, respectively. In the year 2000 they lived in an empty, bombed house next to a bullet-ridden mosque in a half-destroyed, apocalyptic theme park Kabul – by then the world capital of the discarded container (or reconstituted by a missile and reconverted into a shop); a city where 70% of the population were refugees, legions of homeless kids carried bags of cash on their backs ($1 was worth more than 60,000 Afghanis) and sheep outnumbered rattling 1960s Mercedes buses.
Under the merciless Taliban theocracy, the Three Graces suffered triple discrimination – as women, Hazaras and Shi’ites. They lived in Kardechar, a neighborhood totally destroyed in the 1990s by the war between Commander Masoud, The Lion of the Panjshir, and the Hazaras (the descendants of mixed marriages between Genghis Khan’s Mongol warriors and Turkish and Tajik peoples) before the Taliban took power in 1996. The Hazaras were always the weakest link in the Tajik-Uzbek-Hazara alliance – supported by Iran, Russia and China – confronting the Taliban.
Every dejected Kabuli intellectual I had met invariably defined the Taliban as “an occupation force of religious fanatics” – their rural medievalism totally absurd for urban Tajiks, used to a tolerant form of Islam. According to a university professor, “their jihad is not against kafirs; it’s against other Muslims who follow Islam”.
I spent a long time talking to the Dari-speaking Three Graces inside their bombed-out home – with translation provided by their brother Aloyuz, who had spent a few years in Iran supporting the family long-distance. This simple fact in itself would assure that if caught, we would all be shot dead by the Taliban V & V – the notorious Department for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, the Taliban religious police.
The Three Graces’ dream was to live “free, not under pressure”. They had never been to a restaurant, a bar or a cinema. Fatima liked “rock” music, which in her case meant Afghan singer Natasha. She said she “liked” the Taliban, but most of all she wanted to get back to school. They never mentioned any discrimination between Sunnis and Shi’ites; they actually wanted to leave for Pakistan.
Their definition of “human rights” included priority for education, the right to work, and to get a job in the state sector; Fatima and Maliha wanted to be doctors. Perhaps they are, today, in Hazara land; 21 years ago they spent their days weaving beautiful silk shawls.
Education was terminally forbidden for girls over 12. The literacy rate among women was only 4%. Outside the Three Graces’ house, almost every woman was a “widow of war”, enveloped in dusty light blue burqas, begging to support their children. Not only this was an unbearable humiliation in the context of an ultra-rigid Islamic society, it contradicted the Taliban obsession of preserving the “honor and purity” of their women.
Kabul’s population was then 2 million; less than 10%, concentrated in the periphery, supported the Taliban. True Kabulis regarded them as barbarians. For the Taliban, Kabul was more remote than Mars. Every day at sunset the Intercontinental Hotel, by then an archeological ruin, received an inevitable Taliban sightseeing group. They’d come to ride the lift (the only one in town) and walk around the empty swimming pool and tennis court. They’d be taking a break from cruising around town in their fleet of imported-from-Dubai Toyota Hi-Lux, complete with Islamic homilies painted in the windows, Kalashnikovs on show and little whips on hand to impose on the infidels the appropriate, Islamically correct, behavior. But at least the Three Graces were safe; they never left their bombed-out shelter.
Doubt is sin, debate is heresy
Few things were more thrilling in Talibanistan 21 years ago than to alight at Pul-e-Khisshti – the fabled Blue Mosque, the largest in Afghanistan – on a Friday afternoon after Jumma prayers and confront the One Thousand and One Nights assembled cast. Any image of this apotheosis of thousands of black or white-turbaned rustic warriors, kohl in their eyes and the requisite macho-sexy stare, would be all the rage on the cover of Uomo Vogue. To even think of taking a photo was anathema; the entrance to the mosque was always swarming with V & V informants.
Finally, in one of those eventful Friday afternoons, I managed to be introduced into the Holy Grail – the secluded quarters of maulvi (priest) Noor Muhamad Qureishi, by then the Taliban Prophet in Kabul. He had never exchanged views with a Westerner. It was certainly one of the most surrealist interviews of my life.
Qureishi, like all Taliban religious leaders, was educated in a Pakistani madrassa. At first, he was your typical hardcore deobandi; the deobandis, as the West would later find out, were an initially progressive movement born in India in the mid-19th century to revive Islamic values vis-à-vis the sprawling British Empire. But they soon derailed into megalomania, discrimination against women and Shi’ite-hatred.
Most of all, Quereishi was the quintessential product of a boom – the connection between the ISI and the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) party during the 1980s anti-Soviet jihad, when thousands of madrassas were built in Pakistan’s Pashtun belt. Afghan refugees had the right to free education, a roof over their heads, three meals a day and military training. Their “educators” were semi-illiterate maulvis who had never known the reformist agenda of the original deobandi movement.
Reclined on a tattered cushion over one of the mosque’s ragged carpets, Qureishi laid down the deobandi law in Pashto for hours. Among other things he said the movement was “the most popular” because its ideologues dreamed that Prophet Muhammad ordered them to build a madrassa in Deoband, India. So this was Islam’s purest form “because it came directly from Muhammad”. Despite the formidable catalogue of Taliban atrocities, he insisted on their “purity”.
Qureishi dabbled on the inferiority of Hindus because of their sacred cows (“why not dogs, at least they are faithful to their owners”). As for Buddhism, it was positively depraved (“Buddha is an idol”). He would have had a multiple heart attack with Thailand’s Buddhist go-go girls, dancing topless at night and offering incense at the temple the morning after.
Doubt is sin. Debate is heresy. “The only true knowledge is the Koran”. He insisted that all “forms of modern scientific knowledge came from the Koran”. As an example, he quoted – what else – a Koranic verse (the Koran, by the way, in its neo-deobandi, Talibanized version, forbade women to write, and allowed education only up to 10 years old). I could not help being reminded of that 18th century French anonymous – a typical product of the Enlightenment – who had written the Treaty of the Three Impostors – Moses, Jesus and Muhammad; but if I tried to insert the European Enlightenment into (his) monologue I would probably be shot dead. Basically, Qureishi finally managed to convince me that all this religious shadow play was about proving that “my sect is purer than yours”.
Play it again, infidel
Talibanistan lived under a strict Kalashnikov culture. But the supreme anti-Taliban lethal weapon was not a gun, or even a mortar or RPG. It was a camera. I knew inevitably that day would come, and it came on Kabul stadium, built by the former USSR to extol proletarian internationalism; another Friday, at 5 pm, the weekly soccer hour – the only form of entertainment absent from the Taliban’s Index Prohibitorum apart from public executions and mango ice cream.
Jason and me were lodged at the VIP tribune – less than 10 US cents for the ticket. The stadium was packed – but silent as a mosque. Two teams, the red and the blue, were playing the Islamically correct way – with extra skirts under their trunks. At half time the whole stadium – to the sound of “Allah Akbar” – run to pray by the pitch; those who didn’t were spanked or thrown in jail.
Jason had his cameras hanging from his neck but he was not using them. Yet that was more than enough for a hysteric V & V teenage informant. We are escorted out of the stands by a small army of smiling, homoerotic brotherhood, those who were then referred to as “soldiers of Allah”. Finally we are presented to a white-turbaned Talib with assassin’s eyes; he’s no one other than mullah Salimi, the vice-Minister of the religious police in Kabul – the reincarnation of The Great Inquisitor. We are finally escorted out of the stadium and thrown into a Hi-Lux, destination unknown. Suddenly we are more popular with the crowd than the soccer match itself.
At a Taliban “office” – a towel on the grass in front of a bombed-out building, decorated with a mute sat-phone – we are charged with espionage. Our backpacks are thoroughly searched. Salimi inspects two rolls of film from Jason’s cameras; no incriminating photo. It’s now the turn of my Sony mini-DV camera. We press “play”; Salimi recoils in horror. We explain nothing is recorded on the blue screen. What was really recorded – he just needed to press “rewind” – would be enough to send us to the gallows, including a lot of stuff with the Three Graces. Once again we noticed the Taliban badly needed not only art directors and PR agents but also info-tech whiz kids.
In Taliban anti-iconography, video, in theory, might be allowed, because the screen is a mirror. Anyway, later we would know from the lion’s mouth, that is, the Ministry of Information and Culture in Kandahar: TV and video would remain perpetually banned.
At that time, a few photo-studios survived near one of the Kabul bazaars – only churning out 3X4 photos for documents. The owners paid their bills renting their Xerox machines. The Zahir Photo Studio still had on its walls a collection of black and white and sepia photos of Kabul, Herat, minarets, nomads and caravans. Among Leicas, superb Speed Graphic 8 X 10 and dusty Russian panoramic cameras, Mr. Zahir would lament, “photography is dead in Afghanistan”. At least, that wouldn’t be for long.
So after an interminable debate in Pashto with some Urdu and English thrown in, we are “liberated”. Some Taliban – but certainly not Salimi, still piercing us with his assassin’s eyes – try a formal apology, saying this is incompatible with the Pashtun code of hospitality. All tribal Pashtun – like the Taliban – follow the pashtunwali, the rigid code that emphasizes, among other things, hospitality, vengeance and a pious Islamic life. According to the code, it’s a council of elders that arbitrates specific disputes, applying a compendium of laws and punishments. Most cases involve murders, land disputes and trouble with women. For the Pashtun, the line between pashtunwali and Sharia was always fuzzy.
The V & V obviously was not a creation of Mullah Omar, the “Leader of the Faithful”; it was based on a Saudi Arabian original. In its heyday, in the second half of the 1990s, the V & V was a formidable intelligence agency – with informers infiltrated in the Army, ministries, hospitals, UN agencies, NGOs – evoking a bizarre memory of KHAD, the enormous intel agency of the 1980’s communist regime, during the anti-USSR jihad. The difference is that the V & V only answered to orders – issued on bits and pieces of paper – of Mullah Omar himself.
Rock the base
The verdict echoed like a dagger piercing the oppressive air of the desert near Ghazni. A 360-degree panoramic shot revealed a background of mountains where the mineral had expelled all the vegetal; the silhouette of two 11th century minarets; and a foreground of tanks, helicopters and rocket launchers. The verdict, issued in Pashto and mumbled by our scared official translator imposed by Kabul, was inexorable: “You will be denounced in a military court. The investigation will be long, six months; meanwhile you will await the decision in jail”.
Once again, we were being charged with espionage, but now this was the real deal. We could be executed with a shot on the back of the neck – Khmer Rouge style. Or stoned. Or thrown into a shallow grave and buried alive by a brick wall smashed by a tractor. Brilliant Taliban methods for the final solution were myriad. And to think this was all happening because of two minarets.
To walk over a supposedly mined field trying to reach two minarets was not exactly a brilliant idea in the first place. Red Army experts, during the 1980s, buried 12 million mines in Afghanistan. They diversified like crazy; more than 50 models, from Zimbabwe’s RAP-2s to Belgium’s NR-127s. UN officials had assured us that more than half the country was mined. Afghan officials at the Mine Detention Center in Herat, with their 50 highly trained German shepherds, would later tell us that it would take 22,000 years to demine the whole country.
My objects of desire in Ghazni were two “Towers of Victory”; two circular superstructures, isolated in the middle of the desert and built by the Sassanians as minarets – commemorative, not religious; there was never a mosque in the surroundings. In the mid-19th century scholars attributed the grand minaret to Mahmud, protector of Avicenna and the great Persian poet Ferdowsi. Today it is known that the small minaret dates from 1030, and the big one, from 1099. They are like two brick rockets pointing to the sheltering sky and claiming for the attention of those travelling the by then horrific Kabul-Kandahar highway, a Via Dolorosa of multinational flat tires – Russian, Chinese, Iranian.
The problem is that, 21 years ago, right adjacent to the minarets, there was an invisible Taliban military base. At first we could see only an enormous weapons depot. We asked a sentinel to take a few pictures; he agreed. Walking around the depot – between carcasses of Russian tanks and armored cars – we found some functioning artillery pieces. And a lone, white Taliban flag. And not a living soul. This did look like an abandoned depot. But then we hit on a destroyed Russian helicopter – a prodigy of conceptual art. Too late: soon we are intercepted by a Taliban out of nowhere.
The commander of the base wanted to know “under which law” we assumed we had the right to take photos. He wanted to know which was the punishment, “in our country”, for such an act. When the going was really getting tough, everything turned Monty Python. One of the Taliban had walked back to the road to fetch our driver, Fateh. They came back two hours later. The commander talked to Fateh in Pashto. And then we were “liberated”, out of “respect for Fateh’s white beard”. But we should “confess” to our crime – which we did right away, over and over again.
The fact of the matter is that we were freed because I was carrying a precious letter hand-signed by the all-powerful Samiul Haq, the leader of Haqqania, the factory-cum-academy, Harvard and M.I.T. of Taliban in Akhora Khatak, on the Grand Trunk Road between Islamabad and Peshawar in Pakistan. Legions of Taliban ministers, province governors, military commanders, judges and bureaucrats had studied in Haqqania.
Haqqania was founded in 1947 by deobandi religious scholar Abdul Haq, the father of maulvi and former senator Samiul Haq, a wily old hand fond of brothels and as engaging as a carpet vendor in the Peshawar bazaars. He was a key educator of the first detribalized, urbanized and literate Afghan generation; “literate”, of course, in Haqqania-branded, Deobandi-style Islam. In Haqqania – where I saw hundreds of students from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan indoctrinated to later export Talibanization to Central Asia – debate was heresy, the master was infallible and Samiul Haq was almost as perfect as Allah.
He had told me – no metaphor intended – that “Allah had chosen Mullah Omar to be the leader of the Taliban”. And he was sure that when the Islamic Revolution reached Pakistan, “it will be led by a unknown rising from the masses” – like Mullah Omar. At the time Haq was Omar’s consultant on international relations and Sharia-based decisions. He bundled up both Russia and the US as “enemies of our time”; blamed the US for the Afghan tragedy; but otherwise offered to hand over Osama bin Laden to the US if Bill Clinton guaranteed no interference in Afghan affairs.
Back in Ghazni, the Taliban commander even invited us for some green tea. Thanks but no thanks. We thanked Allah’s mercy by visiting the tomb of sultan Mahmud in Razah, less than one kilometer from the towers. The tomb is a work of art – translucid marble engraved with Kufic lettering. Islamic Kufic lettering, if observed as pure design, reveals itself as a transposition of the verb, from the audible to the visible. So the conclusion was inevitable; the Taliban had managed to totally ignore the history of their own land, building a military base over two architectural relics and incapable of recognizing even the design of their own Islamic lettering as a form of art.
All pictures taken from The Roving Eye Video Archives. Pepe Escobar, 2000
Can we hope the “modern” iteration of Talibanistan gets transmogrified into an internationaly accepted Afgalistan?, that’s not a typo, I for one hope so.
Sure (that’s pretty much what happened). There probably was a pernicious Zionist influence on Deobandi-style Islam from the start and certainly from the 1970s until 2000 (via Saudi Arabian Wahhabism). But Zio-Wahhabi pseudo-Islam is increasingly seen for what it is (the Zionist enemy) and is not that dominating anymore (in countries like Turkey and Pakistan). Saudi Arabia and the UAE actually left Afghanistan along with the by the Afghans defeated Yankees.
Years of brutal war and suffering destroys a people mind. They don’t see beauty anymore just survival.
Really appreciated the travel log and the pictures. Left me feeling a bit envious, however. What a time to document a visit to Afghanistan! Kind of a condensed version of Newby’s “A short walk in the Hindu Kush”. I’ve got the feeling that Afganistan is a such a crazy patch work of cultures, languages, and ethnicities. Never mind the differing views of Islam. A kind of Frankenstein country. We in the U.S. have such a monolithic view of the country. I suppose ignorance and arrogance go hand in hand.
What are the betting odds that the Taliban change and rule Afghanistan with practicality and modernization in lieu of retreating to the seventh century?
They would be the first ideological power with firm control of a country to abandon their fundamental dogma. And do it under no external or internal pressure.
I think everyone who thinks the Taliban will change or can change or have changed are going to be disappointed.
Shooting a police chief 25 or 30 times, hanging someone from a runner of a helicopter, murdering a folk singer are the Taliban as true as they can be to their demented beliefs.
Forbidding music, banning women in jobs and careers, ordering women to stay home, ending college for girls (and probably all school shortly) and insisting that law in Afghanistan will be Taliban version of Sharia Law are very clear indicators that they will drag all of Afghanistan backward 14 centuries.
Maybe China can convince them otherwise.
China will trade with the devil if a quid is to be made. So I would hold out much hope there.
I married a Chinese woman, born 1966 (heart of cultural revolution), so have a passing knowledge of Chinese culture and thinking.
Also an interest in current affairs.
Most deals with China are win:win. China WINS and the other party wins. Like a virus, it is counter-productive to kill the host (unless absolutely necessary).
Still, China, Russia and Iran are probably the best hope for Afghanistan after being raped for 20 years by ‘the great Satan’
> Maybe China can convince them otherwise.
Or try what USA tried. Introduce democracy, one step at at a time. For all of them who cheered the USA to get out, they will look back longingly for the glory days of freedom in general, freedom to listen to music of their liking, watch a soap opera, dance on the street or see a bollywood cinema.
Shame on all of you who cheered the USA out.
Shame on all of you who cheered the USA out. – You have to be kidding ! I’m still cheering.
Don’t feel such bitterness. As long as Erdogan and BHL care for the future of Afghanistan, there is hope — as opposed to the grim prospects for The Exceptionals and Indispensables.
Or try what USA tried. Introduce democracy, one step at at a time.
Introducing democracy, one cash bundle at a time, to corrupt politicians and warlords. Like the bundles they gave to amrullah saleh, karzai and ghani. amrullah was the first to corner the cash. He was the one who helped the first CIA team which landed in the panjshir valley in 2001. He assisted the US, which dropped 12000 bombs, killing 10000 afghans. He was not impressed by the magnitude of destruction and said to the americans “this is all the US air force can do?”
‘Freedom’ within the urban city centers protected by NATO troops and housing those who were payed by the NATO occupation. bollywood cinema? their physics defying movies should have already been declared a blasphemy. For the rural folk and in the pashtun lands, there was other kind of ‘freedom’. (https://www.wired.com/2011/02/i-flattened-afghan-villages/)
about 241,000 people have been killed in the Afghanistan and Pakistan war zone since 2001. More than 71,000 of those killed have been civilians.
civilian killings coverup by the us forces
and many more.
Such shameless people, who didnt cheer for such a magnificent body count in the conflict started by NATO. Dont worry, future generations will get a chance to cheer and thump their chests when hollywood makes a movie about the brave nato troops in afghanistan, much better than the bollywood.
democracy? LOL! The US is the most corrupt REPUBLIC in the world. It’s NEVER introduced democracy anywhere. Buy a dictionary.
True to form, Afghanistan under the Ghani/Karzai regimes and US occupation was in the top few most corrupt countries in the world, and a rare one outside of the African continent.
People would go from the cities to the countryside for a fair Taliban judge to dispense judgments rather than the “highest bidder wins” courts of the cities, I am told. Income per capita is in the dollar per day region.
I think if they can prevent a foreign-incited civil war, things can scarcely but get better in that beautiful and large country. Sadly, things were best for women under the communist regime of the 1970s, but from then to now, only in the cities.
Does that include all the dead we left behind, the wedding parties that we blew up, those who are simply deemed collateral of a demented want to be empire. So yes I’ll cheer up the leaving of America from Afghanistan and even more when they leave Syria and Iraq and leave Iran to their own devices.
I dont know what you mean by Taliban dragging afghanistan backward 14 centuries. The puppet government used to call afghanistan as the islamic republic of afghanistan which had laws based on sharia. The Quran is from the 7th century. So any implementation of the sharia will have jurisprudence based upon the Islam practiced in the 7th century. There are islamic ruling like strict gender segregation, stoning for adultery, lashing for fornication, cutting off hands for serious robbery, these rulings cannot be changed by any version or sect of islam, no matter how much the west abhors these laws. Saudi arabia, malaysia, indonesia, brunei, iran and many other muslim countries also implement sharia laws from the 7th century.
The taliban isnt a monolithic organisation, they are composed of multiple groups ranging from extremists to ‘progressives’ and afghanistan isnt a centralized country. So the extremists will and are going to hunt down people they think collaborated with the previous puppet government and the people they deem devious, through a legal procedure or through street justice. On a brighter side (for those who are worried about the women rights), there won’t be aerial strikes anymore, that used to kill most of the civilians.
China is never going to change the ideology of afghanistan, its not NATO which goes around doing the noble deed of bringing democracy and freedom. The chinese do not enforce their ideas or try to mold others into the chinese version of communism.
“first comes one englishman, as a traveler or for a hunt. then come two and make a map. then comes an army and takes the country. therefore, it is better to kill the first englishman”
Thats a proverb I can get behind. The travellers are usually lefties who are always “enamoured” with your culture. These are deadlier than the army or the map makers. Theylll learn your language and customs and will be totally shocked when the army turns up even though it happens every time.
Well in this case, public display of Three Graces picture (in case they are true and they made it till today) just signed them a death warrant.
Be careful of the news you read, and what news you spread. There is a lot of fake stuff going around as the people controlling the main stream media are all upset that world events are not going their way. For example, RT is reporting the person said to be have been hung from a helo’ turned out to be some guy in a safety harness going for a joy ride (https://www.rt.com/news/533573-taliban-nato-funeral-helicopter-victory/). I can’t say RT is a wholly truthful organization either, but they certainly demonstrate there are other ways to depict an event. The main stream media does have a long history of putting out fake news. A lot of it is so bad that it is laughable. These days, I take all news with a grain of salt.
As for the rest of the murders we have video proof and eyewitnesses? Ignore them?
It’s like the rationalization that the spectrum of Taliban rule is from vicious, manic, psychopathic to beneficent, and we shouldn’t judge them too harshly for the slaughter they dish out.
Why not then use that standard for the war crimes of the Western nations in their war efforts?
Even after reading this excellent article portraying the true nature of the Taliban some people still have high hopes for the ‘progressiveness’ of the Taliban.
Yes, the Taliban will survive and lead Afghanistan into further ruins through the export of Opium and extremism, after all, many survive through the misery of others. If one country is to blame for the scourge of the Taliban it is Pakistan, they have suckered the United States, as they will China, in the continuing great game in Afghanistan.
Interview of General Assad Durrani who served as the director-general of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and former director-general of the Pakistan Army’s Military Intelligence –
OMG! Pepe this prob will be The Best of all your 2021 work! (or dare I say entire of all your works)
Its written w Real Personal Experience and thus, testament to history! Quite extraordinary!!! esp for one, w keen history spider sense, from the east!
I hope you can share more about the ‘prehistoric times’ afghan! somebody needs to pen it and mark it into history or internet these days! You, Pepe, are one few on earth that qualifies to do just that! Those memory and experience are only encoded in you! Do mark it down, for us and those after us, to read!
my minds goes into thousand of directions! afghan is a v unique place on earth, thus the culture and history there. Hopefully, we can hv a eastern ver of interpreting and seeing afghan anew. of course, we would like to see a new afghan in the new world as they collectively come together and form an agreed new identity in the international community!
I wish the afghan ppl, women and children, lasting peace and unprecedented prosperity, in the new coming future, begining as little as 90days from now.
awesome Pepe! simply brilliant!
thanks for the memories (that points to the future)!
p/s L445 china does not convince nobody nothing. china trades – meaning, you show me what you’ve got to offer, and tell me what price you want/demand, then we talk. not convince sir L445. ‘convince’ is in violation of the non-interference policy and it could easily go into the amerikan ‘freedom fighter’ self-prescribed authority and then into self-justified ‘national security interest’ massacre and genocide. Agree?
Really impressed with the depth of the background and equally exasperated with Pepe’s disappointment with the Taliban. Looks almost like he has buyer’s remorse. Now the dog has caught the bus, so to speak, he has nothing left to cheer for but to dump on them.
Dumping so be it, as it’s the unvarnished truth. With a tint of sadness from Pepe. Makes the reader feel a little clammy as well.
So, my question is: what’s your point? What are you really trying to tell?
Wow. That’s a brilliant series of articles – thank you for the gift, Pepe.
You were crazy back then, huh? But you brought back the story, that’s for sure, and I appreciate the color (and the drab).
I look forward to your many contemporary tales of Afghanistan as the tapestry is woven in the months and years to come – let us hope the spirit of Gowhar Shad will rise to eminence.
Many thanks again.
Back to the future
I’m reminded of the country of Romania. Indeed I will never forget what I learned about Romania at the fall of Ceascescu. The horrors to this day are still hard to stomach, The orphanages especially and how people were turned into almost animals when they learned and saw the West. Those who gathered supply convoy’s, one gentlemen in particular from Scotland said he’d never return there without body guards. Why? He was mobbed by people in the capital when handing out chocolate bars. A crazed mob literally they almost killed him trying to get at them and he was a large man 200 plus pounds. It was said crossing the border was like traveling 50 years into the past and the 2 most important imports into the country was bibles and pornography. lol? I met a man who was persecuted for his faith and suffered terribly for smuggling bibles into that country, was almost killed in fact for it. Being a son of the balkans I thought it strange how a European country could end up like this? Romania which was the breadbasket of Eurpoe at one time but was raped by the Nazi’s and then the communists. I mentioned all of this to an expat Romanian here in Canada and he listened to me a little amused and then to my chagrin to him about his lack of feelings he rolled his eyes at me and then looked straight at me eyeballed me and said what you are telling me is nothing? Nothing he yelled at me! Nothing i replied stunned? What if I tell you I saw a man whose stomach moved on its own? What, i said do you mean? Angrily he looked at me stomach moving by itself! A human being, a grown man, being eaten alive by worms do you understand? Woe i said you saw that? That and more! Later to i was overheard talking about the country and the work by another Romanian and he turned to me with eyes of disbelief and then interrupted us and said he had to get onto a train covered in excrement because of the lack of facilities and toiletries and such and the look of hatred for the West and our unbelievable luxuries that we take for granted and are oblivious of really to got to him as he left in a state of anger and disgust.
Humans and the human race what we do to ourselves and what we do to each other is horrifying and imagine with sports a baseball player or hockey professional etc make upwards of how many millions of dollars and do what with it? Buy build monster houses and play golf and drive around in million dollar sports cars? Someone should set up a jumbotron in that Stadium Pepe Escobar and roll videos of life in the west. If people got a taste of that the Taliban would need their own body guards to protect them I’d say?
This is something to that bothers me about mass immigration and this desire to assimilate the West with all the peoples of the world? It must come as a terrible shock to Afgani’s like for example to immigrant to the West would be like entering a heaven on earth which surely must engender some serious and dangerous emotions within the human heart.
Back to the future indeed!
West is scrared that China will be succesful. This is why these humanitarian imperialisti are so confused now.
It maybe that some are afraid of China’s economic growth and China’s vast potential but the Chinese are afraid as well. The have not solved the ‘Malacca Dilemma,’ (马六甲困境) as of today. Sure the Chinese have their Belt and Road initiative, and are working on a deep water port in Gwadar (among other projects) but these are someway from completion. Hence the ” pivot” under Obama. The wild card is Israel. If they push ahead with the war they want with Iran every plan for every major power will be upset. A major war in the middle east is likely to be undesired by every party except the Jewish state. If Iran develops nuclear weapons and a means to deliver them, Israel’s hegemony in the region is history. Where do you place your bets?
What we see unfold now is what pretty much of the West’s 99% were too arrogant and dumbed down in order to even entertain the possibility of it. Now some are in a state of shock — better believe me. Yesterday, I visited a Swedish blog where the ”top-notch” fans of Liberal Imperialism here were posting all kinds of incoherent drivel in a state of utter madness. It’s so sweet when their yelling, raging, and fuming are genuine, driven by real pain.
The rout which NATO has suffered in Afghanistan is a disaster for Western imperialism, which will be followed by equally resounding defeats at the hands of the resistance countries. China in particular was very much in the crosshairs of the angry Swedish internet warriors, predicting that the horrors of genocide in Xinjiang (Adrian NonZenz) would now befall Afghanistan. Quite right but not as envisaged.
Verdict: If September 11 2001 came as a brutal shock to most Western mortals, 20 years on the world has reached a much more serious and ominous turning point. The West is getting beaten and is reeling badly.
“China in particular was very much in the crosshairs of the angry Swedish internet warriors, predicting that the horrors of genocide in Xinjiang (Adrian NonZenz) would now befall Afghanistan. Quite right but not as envisaged.”
Strangely, the US delisted the Turkistan Islamic Movement from its terrorist groups last year. Perhaps funding and arming them is no longer an act of treason under US law. I doubt this kind of thing would have much affect on China though.
China will continue to round up and ‘educate’ those terrorists while the West would cry about human rights 😂
MOSCOW, September 1. /TASS/. Fighting between Afghanistan’s resistance forces and the militants of the Taliban radical movement (outlawed in Russia) is raging on in various regions of the Panjshir, Parwan, and Baghlan Provinces, the Ashwaka news agency reported on Wednesday, citing sources. According to the news agency, the clashes began approximately at 23:00 local time (21:30 Moscow time) on Tuesday following the militants’ attack and are still underway. The number of casualties at this point is unknown. On Tuesday, Taliban members claimed that they had managed to capture three important regions as well as mountain passages in Panjshir and that they would announce a “complete victory” soon. Later, the resistance forces refuted this information. Last week, the first direct talks between the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan and a delegation from the Taliban were held in the town of Charikar, the administrative center of Parwan Province. As spokesman for the resistance forces Fahim Dashty told TASS, the issue of reaching a deal with the radicals on a ceasefire in northern Afghanistan is only being discussed. Earlier, he noted that the region not controlled by the Taliban does not want the government to include “the symbolic representatives of various ethnic groups” and wants to attain the formation of a truly inclusive governing body.
A most fascinating and thrilling travel story indeed. Kudos to the author.
”Talibanistan lived under a strict Kalashnikov culture. But the supreme anti-Taliban lethal weapon was not a gun, or even a mortar or RPG. It was a camera.”
Ironically, that mindset seems to have been passed on to the erstwhile occupation army, keen on getting out of the place in the dead of night. Imagine a fair number of Taliban fighters with Kalashnikovs and also cameras watching the garbage leave in broad daylight…
“Doubt is sin. Debate is heresy. “The only true knowledge is the Koran”.
Sounds familiar? Where on earth I’ve heard this before??? Oh, yes – – it was in a bit different form:
“Doubt is sin. Debate is heresy. “The only true knowledge is the MSM” – the Holy Book of liberals.
Thank you Pepe for this excellent series on Talibanistan.
The US war of aggression lasted 20 years, a generation. The old guard of prominent Talibs, Akhunzada, Baredar, etc have had contacts with Qatar, Iran, UAE, RF, maybe even PRC. If Mullah Zaeef (Mullah Omar’s ambassador to Pakistan and former guest at Gitmo Hilton) is anything to go by, there is a good chance the Taliban won’t repeat the mistakes they made the first time they ruled Afghanistan, and they mean what they say.
The younger Talibs (the majority) who grew up under the FUKUS/Nato occupation have had access to radios and tv’s though perhaps not during the period when they were enrolled in madrassa. Their views may have been moderated somewhat by this sort of exposure to the ‘world.’
Well, that is the hope anyway.
The thing is we don’t know what exactly was drummed into their impressionable minds when they were in those madrassa, and in the study groups back in their villages. If the teachers overcooked the teaching about their version of Islam by over-emphasising ‘takfir’ (apostasy) and jihad ala Seyyed Qutb or Abdul Wahhab, Afghanistan will be in trouble. That is because according to this school of thought, Karzai, Abdullah, Ghani, Massoud, Amrullah, etc and indeed any collaborator, are apostates. And there is no possibility of sharing power with apostates. Older and wiser heads in the various shuras may find it difficult to sell the idea of ‘inclusivity’ and power sharing — the best solution for Afghanistan, to my mind — to their younger constituents even if they (the wise men) really want to have an inclusive system for the country as they’ve said many times. I hope the leadership have spent much of last year articulating their plan for the ‘Emirate’ to their followers and they’re onside. The danger is that ISIS-K will welcome malcontented Talibs with open arms. And Afghanistan will be back to square one.
How could this war have ended any differently than what it did. Nothing about it was above board, from the phony pretext for starting it to the billions made by the CIA peddling heroin to Europe and the USA. Every American president since 2001 has had to dance around the ugly truth that Israel attacked the USA on 9/11 and got away with it.
Our illustrious MSM was in on it from the beginning, posting pictures of the 19 supposed hijackers all over the internet within hours of the attacks, way before any evidence-based investigation could possibly have been done. The ensuing national hysteria resulted in all the wars of this century, all for Israel. We killed millions of Muslims, all for Israel.
The 9/11 wars have bankrupted the USA both economically and morally. This, too, was by design. As Netanyahu bragged back in 1990, “America is a golden calf, and we will suck it dry, chop it up, and sell it off piece by piece until there is nothing left but the world’s biggest welfare state that we will create and control. Why? Because it is the will of God and America is big enough to take the hit so we can do it again and again and again. This is what we do to countries that we hate. We destroy them very slowly and make them suffer for refusing to be our slaves.” How right he was.
oh. how gullible we all are…
so, you think this abortion of a withdrawal was a mistake made by an incompetent administration and a beaten military ye? unintentional and foolish?
ask yourself what can an arsenal like that we’ve left behind be used for? what would it have taken to destroy most of it or ship it elsewhere for profit?
so yeah, the afghan adventure has just escalated for everyone in the region.
Taliban are Sunni extremists, no doubt, however, they are not US proxies, and they are desperate for help from the outside.
They have inherited a war-ravaged country, the West has turned off all financial aid (and even confiscated their sovereign funds)…
In order to avoid starvation, the Taliban could share water with their drought-stricken neighbours and exchange it for oil & food (even from Shia Iran)..Many rivers flow from Afghanistan into Uzbekistan, Pakistan and Iran (maybe this was also one of the strategic reasons the US chose to be there).
It will be interesting to see if the Taliban’s instinct for self preservation helps them overcome their religious/ ideological dogma.
Strange, I read the other day that they had turned on the water to Iran and also Iran has close involvement with the Taliban, so I think Iran will be more than glad to help them out along with Russia with its bumper crops and China with their one belt one road arrangement.
People of-times try to read too much into things, wait until the dust has settled, then they get a clearer picture of what’s going on. As they say, when you don’t know the names or faces of the players, it’s best to wait and see.
Apparently they had agreed to open the dam, and turn on the water for Iran, but now have walked it back…?
(Although on twitter there were already pics of the dam being opened…)
I did your Afghanistan trip back in the late ’60’s before the serious so called ‘religious’ fundamentalism closed mens minds even more. A hard but peaceful place, travel everywhere no war no destruction, barter for trade, carpets whatever, you would be taken to meet the trader. Before opium became the trade of choice there for big bucks for the empire. Such a sad world we have become.
Pepe, your writing is superb:) thanks
I am not sure the appropriate /time/ venue : beg for everyones’ forgiveness:
The paper money system (Ponzi scheme- because it was never the intention of its inventors for the money they lend out to ever be repaid- which means it) is a fraud- it is a “means” to an “end” – (“end” literally).
1) They created a system of infinite demand, (cash) which causes:
2) infinite profit (for them exponentially due to the riba accruing) –
3) causing over time, infinite poverty to us (inflation- where ever paper money is used)-
4) the proceeds of which are used to disrupt and control all of geopolitics (the intention)
5) until we can switch over to the biblical version of money having intrinsic value ( gold or silver whoes value does not change – not when someone hits a numerical key
6) It is only this Ponzi scheme (paper money) of gigantic and unfathomable proportions that facilitates the geopolitical world to spin on its “evil’s axis” of control (or lack of)
7) Once it is gone, for good… we can all go home.
You are correct. This is how a slave/master society is created. As you probably know there are injunctions against this (Riba) in both the Koran and Hadiths. To me these commands against Riba are slightly more important than how much a women should cover her hair. We shall soon learn how the Taliban thinks on these issues.
adding a prologue- even though it is at the end, not beginning, but I am using it the same way, to impart meaning to the reader-so…
1) “Koran” is meant to be “Quran” (not the other way around)
2) this is a really important distinction
3) It will take me a long time to explain this properly, (I already wasted an hour “typing” it one finger at a time on my ipad and on the last word before I could hit send, it poof ..disappeared-so now I am movin up to my laptop- (and God willing it will not happen again)
5) I have to lay down an analogy in order to make the importance in transliteration transparent- which should make it, the significance, obvious
6) The last Prophet (pbuh)sent to planet earth- was approached by a smart-e (can not remember if he was Pagan or Jewish- but I am leaning Jewish) who purposely mis-pronounced the greeting for “peace onto you” in Arabic by one small phonic sound (nearly unnoticeable by English standards) but as a result converted to greeting in Arabic to “death onto you”
– 7) The other reason why the term “peace onto you” is important is because it is the term one used at any of the seven levels of seven dimensions (heavens) at the “nuclear blast resistant-probably way heaver-I doors /gates- by the angle assigned to open it for any visitor who knocks (yes you have to “knock” on the door/gate and wait for the reply- it is not my rule) – so one should be familiar with the term “peace unto you” since it is the password used there- and needed to get through it.
8) The other place “peace unto you” shows up is at the precise moment/instance of death (definition)- the separating of 3 dimensions, and all the other much more highly complex dimensions- be amazing to see one day (God willing) where an angle assigned, greets one with “peace unto you” before the soul is removed from the body- it is attached like cotton to branches-it does not want to leave-
9) So by analogy, (now it will be evident was I needed to make the analogy), “Quran” the universally correct transliteration vs. “Koran” which I am not sure where that transliteration came from – may not seem like much of a stretch by English standards, until you realize some smart-e out there must have put this in the lexicon of transliterations for a reason, which somehow ended up on the world wide web, and now more and more people are using it, unaware of its intended consequences, which now I realize I better try correct, because if I don’t others might (precaution) be endangering themselves-
10) I was trying to avoid the Arabic grammar lesson at all costs, but… : The letter “Q” in English is closest to the letter “quf” in Arabic for Qu’ran, vs the English language “K” which is closest to the the “kaf” in Arabic
11) if ones is pronouncing it the word may not make much difference which version, that is missing the point, BECAUSE one is writing the word- so now the mistake is explicit- it is self-evident– one is intentionally trying to draw or make a distinction between the correct vs the other version
12) That in the idea of just being a mistake in and of itself is fine, the problem lies in intent, and who one is actually trying to (intentional or not ) be offending.
13) If one is offending Satan -humanity’s enemy, I do not care so much, but if one is actually offending The Creator- it would be wise not too.
14) The analogy with “peace onto you” was to draw out the implications of how a Jew purposely mispronounced that word, how the meaning was changed, and what are all the applications of that greeting (which I guess no one thought of until I pointed it out)
15) I am trying to imply, that if it is that important for a greeting, how important is that distinction, for a word, God chose himself, as the title of the book, He authored.
16) p.s. The Quran is a book is not represented by any one culture out there…it is independent of culture, so – essentially it can not be represented through the media (that is the implication)
17) forgive me for any grammar error – I have not spent about 1-2 hours-by now- too tired to check
Replace “angel” wherever you see word “angle” (side note: I looked up the correct spelling of that word before typing it the first time and knew it was “angel” and auto- correct still double- crossed me)
I read all the stuff I talked about (about angels (I’m not a total “crazy” o.k. )) I did not actually “see” any of that stuff)
p.s. I did check it- proof read it once, but was too “floored” for having to write upon the matter, to make any corrections until I got some sleep- and first thing in the morning- it was still “bugging” me so I figurred I better correct it (there you happy).
We don’t know how Taliban 2.0 will proceed (but we’ll find out soon). At the same time, we are beginning to get an idea of how China intends to turn 180 ° compared to the past.
The following is taken from the People’s Daily of yesterday August 31, an official document, from the voice of the top Chinese leadership. Words that perhaps at these levels were rarely used. In the chessboard of the Great Game there is no good air and the impression is that tornadoes may also begin to fly. Hope for the best.
“China is currently facing an increasingly severe and complex international environment. The United States is implementing increasingly severe military threats, economic and technological blockades, financial strikes, political and diplomatic siege against China and is launching biological warfare, cyber warfare and Public Opinion Against China The wars and space wars have increasingly launched a color revolution against China through the fifth column within China. If right now we are to rely on those big capitalists as the main force of anti-imperialism and anti-hegemony, and we are still following the American nipple strategy, so that our young generation loses its strong and masculine vibes, then we don’t need enemies to fight. I fell first, just like the Soviet Union back then , letting the country collapse, letting the country’s wealth be sacked and left when people fell into a major disaster. Therefore, the profound changes taking place in China are precisely in response to the current serious and complicated international situation, precisely in response to the barbaric and ferocious attacks that the United States has begun to launch against China. ”
IMHO, the Obama administration’s 2012 “Pivot to East Asia” regional strategy prompted the withdrawal from Afghanistan. China is on the cusp of being one of the greatest Empires history has ever known. The AngloZionists are not about to let that happen. China still has unresolved areas of weakness and the current world hegemonic power intends to exploit all of them in due time.
As for Central Asia if I were a betting man I would place a bet on 4GW in a major way in the region. China needs stability for its construction projects and the Empire needs continuous acts of terrorism to delay them. Every separatist faction will come out of the woodwork. If the people of Central Asia are smart they will create a united front as China’s construction efforts will benefit everyone of those countries in the long term. The Empire and its terror will only bring more destruction and poverty.
Hey Panj! thank you for this psychedelic trip down memory lane! So good to see the color video stills!
We need to do a movie night and binge watch all the footage! What a life changing mega-journey for us both.
So happy to see the Graces faces in color…
Big hugs from Banjul – let’s talk soon
Readers who enjoyed Pepe’s account should click this link.
Jason has the story of the journey also
§§§| The Kuchi were hunkered under the black folds and welcomed us in from the August sun. Khawar had thoughtfully brought some of our food supplies from the Toyota, which the Kuchi willingly accepted after they had made us tea.
They told us they had lost much of their livestock to the drought, and sometimes to landmines, and were heading south to the Helmand River in hopes of finding water and saving the few precious camels and sheep they had left – they said it was about 28 days walk away.
I made the photograph, and thanks to Khawar and the Kuchi, I regained my confidence.
But my quiet euphoria at overcoming my fears were torn asunder the following day when we crossed the Helmand River, we all fell silent as we looked down at the river bed, it was bitterly dry.
Portuguese version at
Excellent photos, valuable and vivid report from this brave and adventurous expedition across Talibanstan (I understand that as a part of Afghanistan, under full control of Talibans). (Also thanks to White Whale for the link fioriophoto)
Mr. Escobar gave us an opportunity to compare Afghanistan now and Afghanistav then, in many aspects. Placing this 20 years old trip account, gloomy at most, I think he gave us a hint to calm down our excessive optimism, and sometimes elation, in considering current and recent events in power retake in Kabul (and whole Afghanistan). The Hollywood-styled fall of the Great Hegemon has covered some important processes on the ground, which are important for understanding the situation (it reminds me to rephrase: ‘Pentagon, we have a situation!’).
For me, the Churchill’s quote on Russia (1939), “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma,” is more applicable to Afghanistan (further in text: Afg).
When I try to understand what is going there, prior to catch to politics I try to perceive the substruction (or theatre scenography).
Let me put down a few notes and facts in this regard, which I consider intersting.
Afg is predominantly mountinuous, mean elevation 1,884 m, harsh, arid land. Suitable for tough people, capable to withstand and resist almost anything. A view around, from a paramount, is not the same as a view from a ship in the middle of ocean, or in broad flat land. Such a view inevitably creates a freedom thirst, and authority disobeyance, except that one which is accepted as equal – a chief of clan or tribe. It is a paradox: a tribe member accepts the chieftain as equal, as one from the tribe, nevertheless it obeys its whatever order, as something natural.
There are 43 % of Pashtuns, 27 % Tajik, 9 % Hazara, 9 % Uzbek etc (see quite decent articles: Afghanistan, Demographics of Afghanistan on Wikipedia).
Pashtuns are divided by Durand border (Line) between Afg (1/3) and Pakistan (2/3), covering a broad territory (see eg https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pashtuns). What is interesting, there are 340-400 Pashtun tribes and clans, forming intricate system. Quite expected, having in mind vast dwelling territory, difficult communication and travel (mountinuos obstacles, hard living etc). It will be very interesting to consider homogenity of Pashtuns’ identity.
With 35,000 km (half unpaved, 2017) of roads on 652,000 sq km, which core is the Ring Road of 2,200 km (now in bad state), surely does not provide sufficient reach of road network to villages (harsh terrain and climate). It is also a smuggling highway (see the 3rd part of Mr. Escobar article).
In his text Mr. Escobar a few times mentioned mute phones on Talibans’ offices, yes, just those less than 1 fixed subscriptions per 100 inhabitants (2019 est.). On the other hand, there are 63 mobile subscriptions per 100 inhabitants (2019 est.). On 2001, the Talibans communicated over pieces of paper and match boxes to convey orders downlink and accounts uplink (a brief account in numbers on eg https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/afghanistan/#transportation) (anyway, we should believe them for something). And nowadays?
This is the basis of control, providing the functioning of Talibans’administrative pyramid. We see from the article that the administration works quite well when it comes to taxes on smuggled goods (on 2001).
Still to add: urbanization level is 26.3%, Kabul 4.34 milion (2021), but 70 % are refugees from rural areas (mostly Pashtuns), so it is not real urban population.
Speaking of refugees, it is indicative to analyse the diagram of internal refugees (200-2020) to get an idea of population mixture change (having in mind tribal territories) (fine iconography about Afg can be found in https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/article/as-the-taliban-rise-again-afghanistans-past-threatens-its-present )
I could proceed in this direction, but this is enough to point out the approach.
Now we could go one floor up, to see what spiritual and psychological factors make such chaotic mixture to function as an entity, whatever called.
The Talibans today are not the same as those 20 years ago. At least, they learned a lesson not to show themselves in an open way. They (leaderrship) are more educated, experienced, much more aware of environment they work in, with powerful neighbours offering development on the win-win basis, not war and occupation. And they are close neighbours, not someone thousands of miles away.
How about of certain Council of chieftains of main tribes negotiating secretly what to do, out of foreigners’ eyes?
On the other floor goes negotiation with Panjshir representatives, moderated by Russian envoy, to settle the things without bloodshed. As always, an inclusive government is much better for other interested parties than pure Taliban one, since it can be made unstable, if necessary.
All parties, and the Talibans among them, have a unique opportunity to take a course into calm waters. Patience and compromise are needed to navigate through heavy seas of transition period. It is a really tough transition, of continental scale, even planetary one.