Friday, September 18, 2009

Afghanistan I: the land of drugs and death

I've been doing some research on Afghanistan, its history, and its current status. It hasn't been a fun time, but it has been an enlightening one.

Afghanistan I: the land of drugs and death

The country of Afghanistan has a long history of internal warfare, as well as consistent invasion by neighbouring (or distant) countries. The geography and climate of Afghanistan has had a strong influence on its war-torn history, often acerbating social and political strife. It is landlocked with a climate that varies sharply throughout its different regions. Each area, from the lush, green pastures in the north, high mountain plateaus, and desolate, windy desert, has been exploited and misused to the determent of the entire country.

Afghanistan is non-coastal, located in southern Asia, and is situated to the east of Iran and both north and west of Pakistan. On the eastern side of the country Afghanistan also shares a very small border with China. The north is predominantly pastoral farmland, with fertile grassy plains, cultivated fields, and rolling hills. It also has central highlands, which are mountainous and dangerous, encompassing the heart, and majority, of the country. Further to the south is desert, dominated by dry winds and unforgiving, harsh weather.

In the north farmers grow wheat, rice, and cotton, while wandering shepherds graze their sheep and goats. Although this sounds like the idyllic homeland of Heidi, the area has all but forgotten peace. There has been severe drought, destroying crops and herds, and land mines are scattered throughout the region, severely restricting grazing flocks. In the past decade much of the farmland once used for wheat has been transformed and is now primarily used for poppy cultivation. The seeds are processed to make opium and heroin, and nintey-two percent of the world’s opium coming from Afghanistan’s northern region alone, the result is a lucrative drug-smuggling business for terrorists like the Taliban.

Afghanistan’s largest region is the central highlands, an area which has played a vital role in the history of the struggle for control of Afghanistan. This area includes a large portion of the Hindu Kush Mountains, a part of the Himalayas. These cover nearly two-thirds of the country, and are so rough and treacherous that their name roughly translates to mean the Killer of Hindus. The ranges are unforgiving and rough, prone to earthquakes and sudden weather changes. This desert-steppe area typically has snow and strong winds due to its high elevation. The deep valleys and high, ragged mountains are a perfect hiding place for anyone who does not wish to be found, as long as such a person knows how to survive in such a harsh climate.

The mostly barren and windswept area of Afghanistan is located in the desert of the southern plateau. This area is close to the borders of both Pakistan and Iran, and is extremely unwelcoming. It is where the Taliban has its strongest foothold, spreading across the desert into Pakistan. The south is mostly infertile desert, with only a few rivers snaking across it, allowing for some fertile soil.

Regardless of region, Afghanistan is a broken country. The climate and geographical conditions are acerbated by warfare, political instability, and bloodthirsty religious fervor. The strengths of each region have been exploited, whether by drug lords or terrorists or both, resulting in a country full of harsh weather, violence, and poverty.

Check out a video about life in Afghanistan here.
Check out my other sources here, here, here, and here.

Next: a (hopefully) brief history of Afghanistan.