Into the Lands of War

As some of you know, I’ve recently become very interested in Afghanistan and Pakistan (as well as surrounding Muslim states). I honestly could not tell you why, except of course that it is the western democracies’ most recent military memory and commands a lot of media and academic attention. I’ve become fascinated with the history of the region, and am currently endeavoring to read widely and get a simple command of Dari and Pashto (which might switch to Urdu depending on how easily I can find instruction/what is useful). I am no kind of expert; I am still struggling to immerse myself in the histories, narratives, and geography of the area, but I feel a compulsion to do so. I have a desire to go to Afghanistan and Pakistan, see these regions and to meet the people who live there, and I want to make this happen while I am still young and unattached (though would happily do so for employment).

Now, anyone with a brain or anyone who has looked at the news in the last ten years could probably well say that I am out of my mind. When President Obama called the Aghan-Pakistan border region (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) “the most dangerous place on Earth for Americans” (and that category has some stiff competition), he wasn’t whistling Dixie. Plus, Afghanistan, even post-drawdown and even with unilateral withdrawal (however unlikely), is going to be a conflict zone. The extent to which and who the actors will be I could not tell you, but it is certainly not a place to go lightly. Too many good men have died in Afghanistan for me to simply want to be a tourist. To go there means going into the lands of war, the graveyard of empires, and all the other epithets my overactive imagination hurls at the place. If I am going, I know it wouldn’t be without its many risks and possible dangers, to say nothing of total and absolute culture shock and reversal, the extent to which I’ve only vaguely sensed.

So where comes my compulsion? I honestly don’t know. I am not longing for my own slice of ‘Nam. But there is something which draws me to this stop on the highway of armies and peoples between the Indian subcontinent, Persia, and Central Asia. I want to stand where Alexander and Sultan Mehmud stood, and to walk, cautiously, in the streets of the great points of civilizations past and present. And if it means going in the way of danger, then I ought to be prepared for that. I do not believe that Afghanistan is a place where time stands still, though it is obviously of the utmost importance to understand its past, and to go there, and perhaps to work there, would be a chance to be involved in another culture, another country in the throws of change and continuities.

If this proves to be more then a passing craze, then I hope to be able to say one day that I was able to see Afghanistan, even if much of it is out of my reach currently. And I do hope to be able, despite the many dangers, to see Peshawar and Karachi as well, as Pakistan also fascinates me. Maybe someday, with time and effort.

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