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An Annotated & Illustrated Collection of Worldwide Links to Mythologies,
Fairy Tales & Folklore, Sacred Arts & Sacred Traditions
by Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.




~~~ PART THREE ~~~



Note: for those unfamiliar with the many alternate spellings,
Qandahar on this map is what is usually spelled Kandahar.

20 March 2010:
Author's Note

I did not originally intend to go beyond the Mughal period in Afghanistan. At heart, I'm a romantic.  As messy, brutal, and depressing as earlier times were, once past the Industrial Revolution (c.1850) everything gets increasingly worse.  Warfare, for example, seems always to have involved genetics via rape and/or intermarriage, but the radioactive residue of modern weapons actually causes DNA-mutations, inflicting the misery of birth defects upon generations yet to be born. And hidden minefields continue to kill decades after the end of a conflict.  Such horrific military "advantages" never existed in earlier times.

So, yes, I preferred to stop with the Mughals and their tranquil water gardens on page 2 and jump from there to the Taliban and post-9/11 on page 3. What happened in the centuries between the Mughals and the Taliban was bound to be disheartening.  But I kept wondering about the Pashtuns -- where had they come from? how had they gained so much power?  That piece was crucial. So last night I looked at that period on the Afghanan site and realized I had to include those "in-between" centuries.  After all, they're why we are where we are today, in such a tragic mess.......

Overview of
18th - 20th Centuries
[Section added 20March 2010]
[Added 20March 2010]:, as usual in their many historical pages, provides a good overview (based on work from Louis Dupree and others; also widely copied elsewhere on the net).  Here are some excerpts:
AFGHANISTAN'S HISTORY, its internal political development, its foreign relations, and its very existence as an independent state have been largely determined by its location at the crossroads of Central, West, and South Asia. Waves of migrating peoples poured through the region in ancient times, leaving a human residue to form a mosaic of ethnic and linguistic groups. In modern times, as well as in antiquity, great armies passed through the region, establishing at least temporary local control and often dominating Iran and northern India as well.

...Afghanistan did not become a truly independent nation until the twentieth century. For centuries a zone of conflict among strong neighboring powers, the area’s heterogeneous groups were not bound into a single political entity until the reign of the brilliant Ahmad Shah Durrani, who in 1747 founded the monarchy that ruled the country until 1973. After his death, the absence of a strong successor possessed of military and political skills resulted in the temporary disintegration of the kingdom he had created, a frequent pattern in the society’s history.... Afghanistan in the nineteenth century lay between the expanding might of the Russian and British empires. It was in the context of this confrontation that Afghanistan in its contemporary form came into existence during the reigns of Dost Mohammad Khan and Amir Abdur Rahman Khan.

Historical patterns of the past several centuries remained relevant to the nation’s situation in the mid-1980s. First, because of Afghanistan’s strategic location geopolitically, great rival powers have tended to view the control of Afghanistan by a major opponent as unacceptable.  Sometimes the Afghans have been able to use this circumstance to their benefit, but more often they have suffered grievously in the great power struggles....

...Only in response to foreign invasions or as part of a conquering army outside the country have the many diverse groups found common cause. In the more remote areas tribal warriors-particularly the Pashtuns, the largest ethnic group-have successfully resisted foreign domination for centuries....

Finally, one cannot examine Afghan history without noting the key role of Islam.... An important, if often unacknowledged, event in Afghan history that played a role in the politics of Afghanistan’s neighbors and the entire region up to the present was the rise in the tenth century of a strong Sunni dynasty- the Ghaznavids-whose power prevented the eastward spread of Shiism from Iran and thereby assured that the majority of Muslims in Afghanistan and South Asia would become Sunnis.

Mirwais Khan Hotak
(1709 - 1715)
[Section added 20 March 2010]

Mirwais Khan Hotaki
[Link goes to more info + map]
Ruled 1709-1715
Portrait Gallery of Afghan Leaders
[Added 20March 2010]:Let me begin with the earliest years of the 18th century -- in Afghanistan, that means with this man  -- it's a compelling, if very dark, tale:
... On the whole the indigenous Pushtun tribes living in the Kandahar area were more attached to the Persians and, indeed, on those occasions when the Moghuls received the city by means other than conquest, it was disaffected Persian governors who instigated the transfer, not the tribes. The tribes were not above pitting foreigner against foreigner in order to further their attempts to better one another. However, siding sometimes with the Persians, sometimes with the Moghuls, but never with each other, they perpetuated tribal disunity and prolonged foreign domination.

The principal contenders in these tribal disputes came from the two most important Pushtun groups in the Kandahar area, the Ghilzai and the Abdali (later Durrani), between whom there was long-standing enmity. As a matter of fact, because of these quarrels, many of the turbulent Abdali had been forcibly transferred to Herat by the irritated Persians by the end of the 16th century. This left the Ghilzai paramount in Kandahar, but the dispute more hotly contested, the hatred more deeply entrenched, and revenge more fervently sought.

The Persians were adept at manipulating such machinations and their rule at Kandahar was tolerant until the court at Isfahan began to sink in decadence. Mirroring this, the Persian governors of Kandahar became more and more rapacious and, in response, the tribes became more and more restless.

Mounting tribal disturbances finally caught the concern of the court and they sent Gurgin, a Georgian known for his uncompromising severity toward revolt, to Kandahar in 1704. Kandahar's mayor at this time was Mir Wais Hotak, the astute and influential leader of the Ghilzai. Gurgin, advocate of law by force, burnt, plundered, murdered and imprisoned, but the tribes would not be subdued; revolts were crushed only to break out anew and Mir Wais, credited with master-minding the rebellions, was sent to Isfahan tagged as a highly dangerous prisoner.

Imagine Gurgin's surprise and dismay when Mir Wais returned to Kandahar shortly thereafter clothed in lustrous robes of honour, symbols of respect and trust. The Shah of Persia thus declared the influence of Mir Wais, not Gurgin, at the Persian court. Mirwais had extricated himself from a very nasty situation but, more importantly, he had observed the depths of decay at Isfahan, much as Babur had observed it at Herat, and correctly determined that the Safavid Empire was on the brink of collapse.

Mir Wais formulated plans for disposing of the hated Gurgin; only the difficult task of waiting for the right moment remained. The moment came in April, 1709. Because details of the assassination are varied, this discussion recounts the version popular among Kandaharis today who say that Mir Wais invited Gurgin to a picnic at his country estate at Kohkran on the outskirts of Kandahar city. Here the guests were fed all manner of rich dishes and plied with strong wines until "everyone was plunged in debauch." This was the moment. Mir Wais struck, killing Gurgin, and his followers killed the Georgian's escort. The rebels then marched to take possession of the citadel....

If they were to remain free the tribes must be united and to this formidable task the venerable statesman devoted the rest of his life. But not many years were left for Mir Wais. He died in 1715. An imposing bluedomed mausoleum at Bagh-i-Kohkran, next to the orchard where Gurgin was assassinated, is a fitting monument to Afghanistan's first great nationalist.  The qualities which enabled Mir Wais to lead the tribes toward a meaningful unity were not, unfortunately, inherited by his ambitious 18 year old son, Mahmud, whose visions only encompassed conquest and power. Killing his uncle, elected successor to Mir Wais, Mahmud gathered his followers and marched across Persia and seized the Safavid throne (1722). Mahmud met an early death in 1725 and was succeeded by his cousin, Ashraf, who ruled until 1730 when a new soldier-of-fortune, the Turkoman Nadir Quli Beg, ended Ghilzai rule.

Ahmad Shah
and the Durrani Empire
(1747 - 1772)
[Section added 20 March 2010]

Empires of Central Asia
[Added 20March 2010]:Next, we skip forward a few years to Ahmad Shah, about whom we know that, as noted in a passage in the above overview: the area’s heterogeneous groups were not bound into a single political entity until the reign of the brilliant Ahmad Shah Durrani, who in 1747 founded the monarchy that ruled the country until 1973.  Here are further lengthy passages on this rare Afghani leader:
 From the death of Nadir Shah in 1747 until the communist coup of April 1978, Afghanistan was governed -- at least nominally -- by Pashtun rulers of the Abdali tribe. Indeed, it was under the leadership of the first Pashtun ruler, Ahmad Shah, that the nation of Afghanistan began to take shape after centuries of fragmentation and rule by invaders. Even before the death of Nadir Shah, the tribes of the Hindu Kush area had been growing stronger and were beginning to take advantage of the waning power of their distant rulers.

The Ghilzai Pashtuns had risen in rebellion against Iranian rule early in the eighteenth century, but they had been subdued and relocated by Nadir Shah. Although tribal independence would remain a threat to rulers of Afghanistan, the Abdali Pashtun established political dominance, starting in the middle of the eighteenth century with the rise of Ahmad Shah. Two lineage groups within the Abdali ruled Afghanistan from 1747 until the downfall of the monarchy in the 1970s-the Sadozai of the Popalzai tribe and the Muhammadzai of the Barakzai tribe.

Although the names of Timur, Genghis Khan, and Mahmud of Ghazni are well-known for the destruction they wrought in South and Central Asia, the name of the founder of the Afghan nation-state is relatively unknown to Westerners, though Ahmad Shah created an Afghan empire that, at its largest in the 176Os, extended from Central Asia to Delhi and from Kashmir to the Arabian Sea. There have been greater conquerers in the region before and since Ahmad Shah, but never before his reign and rarely since has there been a ruler of this fragmented area capable not only of subduing the truculent Afghan tribes but also of pulling them together into a nation.

Ahmad Shah Durrani
[Link goes to more info]
Ruled 1747-1773
Portrait Gallery of Afghan Leaders

Ahmad was the second son of the chief of the Sadozai, which although small was the most honored of the Abdali lineages. Along with his brother, he had risen in rebellion against Nadir Shah and had been jailed by the Ghilzai in Kandahar. Finally released by Nadir Shah in 1738 when he took the city from the Ghilzai, Ahmad rose in the personal service of the Iranian monarch to the post of commander of an elite body of Afghan cavalry. When Nadir Shah, who had become vicious and capricious in his later years, was killed by a group of dissident officers, Ahmad and some 4,000 of his cavalrymen escaped with the treasury Nadir Shah always carried with him for payments and bribes en route.

Ahmad and his Abdali horsemen rode past Herat and southeastward, joining the chiefs of the Abdali tribes and clans at a shrine near Kandahar to choose a paramount chief.... Despite being younger than other claimants, Ahmad had several factors in his favor. He was a direct descendant of Sado, eponym of the Sadozai; he was unquestionably a charismatic leader and seasoned warrior, who had at his disposal a trained, mobile force of several thousand cavalrymen; and he had part of Nadir Shah’s treasury in his possession. In addition, the other chiefs may have preferred someone from a small tribe who would always need the support of the larger groups to rule effectively.

One of Ahmad’s first acts as chief was to adopt the title“Durr-i-Durran” (meaning “pearl of pearls” or “pearl of the age”), whether because of a dream or because of the pearl earrings worn by the royal guard of Nadir Shah. The Abdali Pashtuns were known thereafter as the Durrani. Ahmad’s rise was owing not only to his personality and talents but also to extraordinary luck. His reign coincided with the deterioration of the empires on both sides of Afghanistan- the Mughals to the southeast and the Safavis to the west.

Even his first days as paramount chief were blessed with good fortune. Just before arriving in Kandahar, where some resistance was expected, Ahmad encountered a caravan bound for the Iranian court laden with treasure. The new ruler seized it, used it to pay his cavalry and to bribe hostile chiefs, and invited its Qizilbash (Turkmen Shia who served as palace guards for many Afghan and Iranian rulers) escort to join his service.

Ahmad Shah began by taking Ghazni from the Ghilzai Pashtuns and then wrested Kabul from a local ruler. In 1749 the Mughal ruler, to save his capital from Afghan attack, ceded to Ahmad Shah sovereignty over Sind province and over the areas of northern India west of the Indus. He [Ahmad Shah] returned to his headquarters in Kandahar to put down one of an endless series of tribal uprisings and then set out westward to take Herat, which was ruled by Nadir Shah’s grandson, Shah Rukh. Herat fell to Ahmad after almost a year of bloody siege and conflict, as did also Meshed (in present-day Iran)....

... Early in 1757 he sacked Delhi, but he permitted the attenuated Mughal Dynasty to remain in nominal control as long as the ruler acknowledged Ahmad’s suzerainty over the Punjab, Sind, and Kashmir. Leaving his second son Timur (whom Ahmad married to a Mughal princess) in charge, Ahmad left India to return to Afghanistan, Like Babur, he preferred his homeland to any of his other domains. Dupree quotes an Afghan writer’s translation of one of Ahmad Shah’s poems:

Whatever contries i conquer in the world. I would never forget your beautiful gardens. When i remember the summits of your beautiful mountains i forget the greatness of the Delhi throne.
The collapse of Mughal control in India, however, also facilitated the rise of rulers other than Ahmad Shah. In the Punjab the Sikhs were becoming a potent force, and from their capital at Poona the Marathas, who were Hindus, controlled much of western and central India and were beginning to look northward to the decaying Mughal empire, which Ahmad Shah now claimed by conquest....
Ahmad called for Islamic holy war against the Marathas, and warriors from the various Pashtun tribes, as well as other tribes such as the Baluch, answered his call....  Although he decisively defeated the Marathas, Ahmad Shah was not left in peaceful control of his domains because of other challenges to the ailing monarch in his last years. Moreover, the ultimate effect of the 1761 Battle of Panipat may have had detrimental effects on the rule of Ahmad Shah’s descendants; by thwarting the consolidation of Maratha power in northern and central India, the battle may have set the stage for the rise of both Sikh and British power in the region....
... Even before the end of 1761 the Sikhs had risen and taken control of much of the Punjab. In 1762 Ahmad Shah crossed the passes from Afghanistan for the sixth time to subdue the Sikhs. He assaulted Lahore, and when he had taken the Sikh holy city of Amritsar, he massacred thousands of its Sikh inhabitants, destroyed their temples, and desecrated their holy places with cow blood....

... By the time of his death, he had lost all but nominal control of the Punjab to the Sikhs, who remained in control until defeated by the British in 1849....

In 1772 Ahmad Shah retired to his home, the mountains east of Kandahar, where he died. He was buried in Kandahar, where his epitaph, recalling his early connection with the Iranian monarchy, calls him a ruler equal to Emperor Cyrus.

Despite his relentless military attacks and his massacres of Sikhs and others in imperial warfare, he is known in Afghan history as Ahmad Shah Baba, or “father.” Although confusion reigned after his death, Ahmad Shah was clearly the creator of the nation of Afghanistan, As scholar Leon B. Poullada notes, the loyalty of the Afghan tribes was not transferred from their own leaders and kin to the concept of nation, but Ahmad Shah succeeded to a remarkable degree in balancing tribal alliances and hostilities and in directing tribal energies away from rebellion into his frequent foreign excursions. He certainly enjoyed extraordinarily good luck, but he was clever in exploiting his good fortune, and he showed exemplary intelligence in dealing with his own people. Having started his rule as merely the paramount chief of the Durrani, Ahmad Shah never sought to rule the Pashtuns by force. He reigned in consultation with a council of eight or nine sirdars (or sardars), the most powerful Durrani Pashtuns, each of whom was responsible for his own group. He sought the advice of his council on all major issues. Although he favored the Durrani, and especially his own lineage, the Sadozai, he was conciliatory to the other Pashtun chiefs as well.

Ahmad Shah’s successors were not so wise, and the nation he had built almost collapsed because of their misrule and the intratribal rivalry that they could not manage. By the time of Ahmad Shah, the Pashtuns included many groups whose greatest single common characteristic was their Pashto language. Their origins were obscure: most were believed to have descended from ancient Aryan tribes, but some, such as the Ghilzai, may have been Turks. To the east, the Waziris and their close relatives, the Mahsuds, have been located in the hills of the central Suleiman Range since the fourteenth century. By the end of the sixteenth century and the final Turkish-Mongol invasions, tribes such as the Shinwaris, Yusufzais, and the Mohmands had moved from the upper Kabul River Valley into the valleys and plains west, north, and northeast of Peshawar, and the Afridis had long been established in the hills and mountain ranges south of Khyber Pass. By the end of the eighteenth century the Durranis had blanketed the area west and north of Kandahar.

The Sadozai Shahs
(1772 - 1818)
[Section added 20 March 2010]

Timur Shah Durrani
Portrait Gallery of Afghan Leaders
[Added 20 March 2010]: As we have seen in the above two sections on the Pashtuns, "the two most important Pushtun groups in the Kandahar area... [were] the Ghilzai and the Abdali (later Durrani), between whom there was long-standing enmity."  Afghan rulers from the Abdali/Durrani group were further subdivided:  "Two lineage groups within the Abdali ruled Afghanistan from 1747 until the downfall of the monarchy in the 1970s--the Sadozai of the Popalzai tribe and the Muhammadzai of the Barakzai tribe."  Ahmad Shah, in the first of those two lineages, "was a direct descendant of Sado, eponym of the Sadozai."  After his death in 1772, other Sadozai Shahs ruled until 1818.  Here are some passages about that period:
Grim internecine struggles, tribal revolts, and the rise of local rulers in the Indian provinces characterize this next period of Afghanistan's history. Sadozai fought Sadozai and the Barakzai backed first one and then another with bewildering reversals. Objections to Ahmad Shah's heir-designate, his second son, Timur (1772-1793), were voiced even as the Shah lay ill in the hills to the east of Kandahar....Timur Shah so alienated the tribal elite at Kandahar that he was forced to move his capital to Kabul (1776).... His irresolute lack of foresight is vividly exemplified, for instance, by the fact that at his death he left 23 sons but no heir-designate....The others were either defeated in battle, murdered, blinded, imprisoned and lost forever within the dungeons of Kabul's Bala Hissar, or, aligned with one or another of the major combatants.  Prince Zaman, (1793-1800) the fifth son, was the first to triumph and he occupied his father's throne in Kabul with the help of Payenda Khan, chief of the Barakzai....

Thus was established a division which would persist, though with frequent shifts in the cast of characters, until the end of the 19th century: Kabul became the major seat of power; Herat remained a semi-independent state from which bids for Kabul's throne were constantly launched; Kandahar continued in a state of chaos, fought over by both Herat and Kabul....

There is much more -- palace intrigues, gross ineptitude, treaties, betrayals, a harem scandal, an assassinated Barakzai leader with 21 sons who compete with the many surviving Sadozi sons, imprisonments (some prisoners wind up blinded and/or hacked to death), victories, defeats -- the many names of all these sons and their ever-changing allies and schemes blur.  At the end,  "The empire was gone and the Sadozai struggled to maintain authority at home."

I leave it to you to explore on your own, if you're interested.

Dost Mohammad and the
Beginning of the Great Game
(1826 -1839 / 1843 - 1863)
[Section added 20 March 2010]

Dost Mohammad Khan
Portrait Gallery of Afghan Leaders
[Added 20 March 2010]:   Dost Mohammad was one of the 21 sons of Payenda Khan, the Barakzai leader mentioned above.  He was also the offending person in the complicated harem scandal noted above.  Here is how his crucial story continues -- and how the "Great Game," which burdens us still, began.  Thus, I am quoting it in full:
It was not until 1826 that the energetic Dost Mohammad was able to exert sufficient control over his own brothers to take over the throne in Kabul, where he proclaimed himself amir, not shah. Although the British had begun to show interest in Afghanistan as early as 1809 with their agreement with Shuja, it was not until the reign of Dost Mohammad, the first of the Muhammadzai rulers, that the opening gambits were played in what came to be known as the Great Game. The Great Game involved not only the confrontation of two great empires whose spheres of influence moved steadily closer to one another until they met in Afghanistan, but also the repeated attempts by a foreign power to impose a puppet government in Kabul. The remainder of the nineteenth century was a time of European involvement in Afghanistan and the adjacent areas and of conflicting ambitions among the various local rulers.

Dost Mohammad achieved predominance among his ambitious brothers through clever use of the support of his mother’s Qizilbash tribesmen and his own youthful apprenticeship under his brother, Fateh Khan. He was, by all accounts, a shrewd and charming leader. Many problems demanded his attention: consolidating his power in the areas under his command, controlling his half-brothers who ruled the southern areas of Afghanistan, defeating Mahmud in Herat, and repulsing the encroachment of the Sikhs on the Pashtun areas east of the Khyber Pass. After working assiduously to establish control and stability in his domains around Kabul, the amir next chose to confront the Sikhs.

In 1834 Dost Mohammad defeated an invasion by ex-shah Shuja, but his absence from Kabul gave the Sikhs the opportunity to expand westward. The forces of Ranjit Singh occupied Peshawar and moved from there into territory ruled directly by Kabul. In 1836 Dost Mohammad’s forces, under the command of his son, defeated the Sikhs at Jamrud, a post some 15 kilometers west of Peshawar.

The Afghan leader, however, did not follow up this triumph by retaking Peshawar. Instead, Dost Mohammad decided to contact the British directly for help in dealing with the Sikhs. In the spring of 1836 he wrote the new governor general of India, Lord Auckland, a letter of congratulations and asked his advice on dealing with the Sikhs. Just as Dost Mohammad’s letter formally set the stage for British intervention in Afghanistan, so also did Lord Auckland’s reply foreshadow the duplicitous policy of the British in dealing with the Afghans. Auckland responded that he would send a commercial mission to Kabul and stated that “it is not the practice of the British Government to interfere with the affairs of other independent states.” In fact, at the heart of the Great Game lay the willingness of Britain and Russia to subdue, subvert, or subjugate the small independent states that lay between them.

The British -- through the East India Company -- had first become involved in the subcontinent of India in 1612 during the heyday of the Mughal Empire. British influence spread until, by the end of the eighteenth century, their interests in northern India impinged on Central Asia. Although by that time the empire of Ahmad Shah Durrani was already disintegrating, the British were well aware of his exploits in northern India only four decades before, and they feared what they thought was a formidable Afghan force.

By the end of the eighteenth century the British had approached the Iranians, asking that they keep the Afghans in check. By the last years of the eighteenth century, a new worry motivated the British in the region-fear of French involvement. Napoleon was, in the British view, capable of overrunning areas of Central Asia and northern India, just as he had defeated much of Europe. In 1801 the British signed an agreement with Iran not only to halt any possible Afghan moves into India by attacking their western flank but also to prevent the French from doing the same thing. In 1807 Napoleon signed with the tsar of Russia the Treaty of Tilsit, which envisaged a joint invasion of India though Iran. The British hastened to cement their relationship with the Iranians and signed an agreement with Shuja in 1809, only a few weeks before he was deposed.

The debacle of the Afghan civil war left a vacuum in the Hindu Kush area that concerned the British, who were well aware of the many times this area had been the invasion route to India. In the first decades of the nineteenth century it became clear to the British that the major threat to their interests in India would not come from the fragmented Afghan empire, the vitiated Persians, or from the French, but from the Russians, who had begun a steady advance southward from the Caucasus.

As in earlier times, two great empires confronted each other, with Central Asia lying between them. The Russians feared permanent British encroachment into Central Asia as the British moved northward, taking control of the Punjab, Sind, and Kashmir. Equally suspicious, the British viewed Russian absorption of the Caucasus and Georgia, Kirghiz and Turkmen lands, and Khiva and Bukhara as a threat to British interest in the Indian subcontinent.

First Anglo-Afghan War
[Section added 20 March 2010]

George Eden, 1st Earl of Auckland (1784-1849)
Engraving 1815: Getty Images
[Added 20 March 2010]:Once the insanity of the Great Game began, it was like a massive boulder rolling down a steep hill: there was no stopping it.  Instead of helping Dost Mohammad with the Sikhs, the pompously inept British, under Lord Auckland, decided instead to restore the previous ruler, Shuja, by attacking Dost Mohammad in 1839. Many died pointlessly on both sides.  As is noted near the end of the following report, the bitterness felt by the Afghans "lasted well into the twentieth century and may have accounted for much of the backlash against the modernization attempts of later Afghan monarchs." Here is the background:
...To justify his plan, Auckland ordered a manifesto issued on October 1, 1838, at Simla that set forth the reasons for British intervention in Afghanistan. The Simla Manifesto stated that the welfare of India required that the British have on their western frontier a trustworthy ally. The British pretense that their troops were merely supporting the tiny force of Shuja in retaking what was once his throne fooled no one. Although the Simla Manifesto asserted that British troops would be withdrawn as soon as Shuja was installed in Kabul, Shuja's rule depended entirely on British arms to suppress rebellion and on British funds to pay tribal chiefs for their support. Like other interventions in modern times, the British denied that they were invading Afghanistan but claimed they were merely supporting its legitimate government (Shuja) "against foreign interference and factious opposition."

From the point of the view of the British, the First AngloAfghan War (often called "Auckland's Folly") was an unmitigated disaster, although it proved surprisingly easy to depose Dost Mohammad and enthrone Shuja. An army of British and Indian troops set out from the Punjab in December 1838 and by late March 1839 had reached Quetta. By the end of April the British had taken Qandahar without a battle. In July, after a two-month delay in Qandahar, the British attacked the fortress of Ghazni, overlooking a plain that leads to India, and achieved a decisive victory over the troops of Dost Mohammad, which were led by one of his sons.

The Afghans were amazed at the taking of fortified Ghazni, and Dost Mohammad found his support melting away. The Afghan ruler took his few loyal followers and fled across the passes to Bamian, and ultimately to Bukhara, and in August 1839 Shuja was enthroned again in Kabul after a hiatus of almost 30 years. Some British troops returned to India, but it soon became clear that Shuja's rule could only be maintained by the presence of British forces. Garrisons were established in Jalalabad, Ghazni, Kalat-iGhilzai (Qalat), Qandahar, and at the passes to Bamian. After a winter in temporary quarters, the British thought to move their Kabul garrison to the great fort, Bala Hissar, overlooking the city, but Shuja, either on his own or under pressure, refused to sanction the move.

Omens of disaster for the British abounded. Opposition to the British-imposed rule of Shuja began as soon as he assumed the throne, and the power of his government did not extend beyond the areas controlled by the force of British arms. The British cantonment in Kabul was eventually constructed on a virtually indefensible open plain northeast of the city, with the commissariat and munitions outside the low walls of the garrison. Early in 1841 a new commander, who was elderly, ill, and indecisive, joined the British troops in Afghanistan.

After several attacks on the British and their Afghan protege Dust Mohammad decided to surrender to the British and in late 1840 was allowed to go into exile in India. Sir William Macnaghten, one of the principal architects of the British invasion, wrote to Auckland two months later, urging good treatment for the deposed Afghan leader. With that fairness and clearsightedness that, in retrospect, was characteristic of British colonial officials, Macnaghten said:

His case has been compared to that of Shah Shoojah . . . but surely the cases are not parallel. The Shah [Shujal] had no claim on us. We had no hand in depriving turn of his kingdom, whereas we ejected the Dost, who never offended us, in support of our policy, of which he was the victim.
Dual control (by Shuja and the British) was unworkable. Shuja did not succeed in garnering the support of the Afghan chiefs on his own, and the British could not -- or would not sustain their subsidies. When the cash payments to tribal chiefs were curtailed in 1841, there was a major revolt by the Ghilzai.

By October 1841 disaffected Afghan tribes were flocking to the support of Dost Mohammad's son, Muhammad Akbar, in Bamian. Barnes was murdered in November 1841, and a few days later the commissariat fell into the hands of the Afghans. Macnaghten, having tried first to bribe and then to negotiate with the tribal leaders, was killed at a meeting with the tribal chiefs in December. On January 1, 1842, the British in Kabul and a number of Afghan chiefs reached an agreement that provided for the safe exodus of the entire British garrison and its dependents from Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the British would not wait for an Afghan escort to be assembled, and the Ghilzai and allied tribes had not been among the 18 chiefs who had signed the agreement. On January 6 the precipitate retreat began and, as they struggled through the snowbound passes, the British were attacked by Ghilzai warriors. Although a Dr. W. Brydon is usually cited as the only survivor of the march to Jalalabad (out of more than 15,000 who undertook the retreat), in fact a few more survived as prisoners and hostages. Shuja remained in power only a few months and was assassinated in April 1842.

The destruction of the British garrison prompted brutal retaliation by the British against the Afghans and touched off yet another power struggle among potential rulers of Afghanistan. In the fall of 1842 British forces from Qandahar and Peshawar entered Kabul long enough to rescue the British prisoners and burn the great bazaar. All that remained of the British occupation of Afghanistan was a ruined market and thousands of dead. Although the foreign invasion did give the Afghan tribes a temporary sense of unity they had lacked before, the accompanying loss of life and property was followed by a bitterness and resentment of foreign influence that lasted well into the twentieth century and may have accounted for much of the backlash against the modernization attempts of later Afghan monarchs.

The Russians advanced steadily southward toward Afghanistan in the three decades after the First Anglo-Afghan War, and historians of the period generally agree that the Russians were motivated, at least in part, by British intervention in Afghanistan. In 1842 the Russian border was on the other side of the Aral Sea from Afghanistan, but five years later the tsar's outposts moved to the lower reaches of the Syr Darya. By 1865 Tashkent had been formally annexed, as was Samarkand three years later. A treaty with the ruler of Bukhara virtually stripped him of his independence, and by 1869 Russian control ran as far as the northern bank of the Amu Darya. As the Russians overran much of Central Asia north of the river, the British advanced toward Afghanistan as well, absorbing territories that had once been part of Ahmad Shah Durrani's empire: Sind in 1843, Kashmir in 1846, the Punjab in 1849, Baluchistan in 1859, and the North-West Frontier in 1895.
[Added 20 March 2010]: While trying to find a painting of Lord Auckland (see thumbnail above), I came across this firsthand account on the Project Gutenberg website, Forty-one years in India: From Subaltern To Commander-In-Chief by Frederick Sleigh Roberts, first published in 1897.  It covers recollections of this period c. 1841, his thoughts on Russia, as well as the author's own later experiences in Afghanistan. I only had time to glance at a few sections but it looks like an engrossing look backwards into a vanished world.

Second Anglo-Afghan War
[Section added 20 March 2010]
[Added 20 March 2010]: Now Dost Mohammad comes back into the picture and is re-seated on the throne:
After months of chaos in Kabul, Mohammad Akbar secured local control, and in April 1843 his father, Dost Mohammad, returned to the throne of Afghanistan. In the following decade, Dost Mohammad concentrated his efforts on reconquering Mazar-e-Sharif, Konduz, Badakhshan, and Qandahar. During the Second Anglo-Sikh War, in 1848-49, Dost Mohammad's last effort to take Peshawar failed.

In 1854 the British were interested in resuming relations with Dost Mohammad, whom they had more or less ignored since 1842. In the period immediately preceding the outbreak of the Crimean War, British officials in India, though they had no immediate concerns. for Russian involvement, thought to make Afghanistan a barrier to Russian penetration across the Amu Darya. Dost Mohammad agreed, apparently perceiving the utility of British backing against the Russians and even the Iranians, to whom the independent rulers of Herat always turned for support against re-absorption into the Afghan kingdom. In 1855 the Treaty of Peshawar reopened diplomatic relations, proclaimed respect for each sides' territorial integrity, and committed each to be the friends of each other's friends and the enemies of each other's enemies.

In October 1856 the Iranians siezed Herat, and the British, whose policy it was to maintain the independence of this city, declared war against Iran. After three months the Iranians withdrew from Herat and committed themselves never again to interfere there or elsewhere in Afghanistan. This brief war convinced the British that they should bolster the strength of Dost Mohammad in an attempt to enable him to meet future challenges by the Iranians. In 1857 an addendum was signed to the 1855 treaty that permitted a British military mission to go to Qandahar (but not to Kabul) and to provide a subsidy during conflict with the Iranians. Fraser-Tytler notes that as Dost Mohammad signed the document he proclaimed, "I have now made an alliance with the British Government and come what may I will keep it till death." Even during the 1857 Sepoy Rebellion in India, when British forces in the Punjab were thinned dramatically, Dost Mohammad refused to take advantage of British vulnerability to retake the Pashtun areas under British control.

In a world of such shallow gamesmanship, Dost Mohammad's sense of honor, as shown in the above passage, is remarkable. Few on either side would ever emulate him.
The British governor general of India at the time of the 1857 agreement with Afghanistan stated in a memorandum that the British would never again intervene in Afghan internal affairs or send an army across its borders unless Herat was besieged, and then only with Afghan consent. He went so far as to argue in favor of the Afghan absorption of Herat. In 1863 Dost Mohammad retook Herat with British acquiescence. A few months later Dost Mohammad died and, although his third son, Sher Ali, was his proclaimed successor, he did not succeed in taking Kabul from his brother, Muhammad Afzal (whose troops were led by his son, Abdur Rahman) until 1868. Abdur Rahman retreated across the Amu Darya and bided his time.

The disaster of the First Anglo-Afghan War continued to haunt the British for decades, and the 70 years following the defeat of 1842 were a period of extraordinary vacillation in British policy toward Afghanistan. Not only were political perspectives different in Delhi and London, but there were also changes in government between what writer John C. Griffiths calls "half-hearted Imperialists and ill-informed Liberals." The former favored what was called the Forward Policy, which held that the defense of India required pushing its frontiers to the natural barrier of the Hindu Kush so that Afghanistan (or at least parts of it, such as Herat) would be brought entirely under British control. The Liberal policy rested on the assumption that the Forward Policy was immoral and impractical. Many of its adherents believed that the Indus River formed the natural border of India and that Afghanistan should be maintained as a buffer state between the British and Russian empires.

In the years immediately following the First Anglo-Afghan War, and especially after the 1857 Sepoy Rebellion in India, Liberal governments in London tended toward the buffer-state approach. By the time Sher Ali had established control in Kabul in 1868, he found the British ready to provide arms and funds in support of his regime, but nothing more. Fraser-Tytler reports that Sher Ali declared, "As long as I am alive, or as long as my governments exists, the foundation of friendship and goodwill between this and the powerful British Government will not be weakened."

From this high point, relations between the Afghan ruler and the British steadily deteriorated over the next 10 years. Despite the good feeling between Sher Ali and the British in 1869, the sensitivities engendered by the First Anglo-Afghan War made it impossible for Sher Ali to accept a British envoy in Kabul, and there is no doubt that misperceptions colored the unfortunate sequence of events that led to the Second Anglo-Afghan War. In 1873 relations between Sher Ali and the British viceroy began to become strained. The Afghan ruler was worried about the southern movement of Russia, which in 1873 had taken over the lands of the khan (ruler) of Khiva. Sher Ali sent an envoy to ask the British for advice and support. In 1872, however, the British had signed an agreement with the Russians in which the latter agreed to respect the northern boundaries of Afghanistan and to view the territories of the Afghan amir as outside their sphere of influence. With this agreement in mind, and still following a noninterventionist policy as far as Afghanistan was concerned, the British refused to give any assurances to the disappointed Sher Ali.

In 1874 Benjamin Disraeli became prime minister of Britain, and in 1876 a new viceroy was dispatched to Delhi with orders to reinstate the Forward Policy. Sher Ali rejected a second British demand for a British mission in Kabul, arguing that if he agreed the Russians might demand the same right. The Afghan ruler had received intimidating letters from the Russians, but the British offered little in return for the concessions they demanded. Sher Ali, still sensitive to the probable reaction in Afghanistan to the posting of British officers in Kabul or Herat, continued to refuse to permit such a mission.

After tension between Russia and Britain in Europe ended with the June 1878 Congress of Berlin, Russia turned its attention to Central Asia. In the summer of 1878 Russia sent an uninvited diplomatic mission to Kabul, setting in motion the train of events that led to the Second Anglo-Afghan War. Sher Ali tried to keep the Russian mission out but failed. The Russian envoys arrived in Kabul on July 22, 1878, and on August 14 the British demanded that Sher Ali accept a British mission. Sher Ali had not responded by August 17 when his son and heir died, throwing the court into mourning.

When no reply was received, the British dispatched a small military force, which was refused permission to cross the Khyber Pass by Afghan authorities. The British presumably considered this an insult, but more likely it was viewed at the highest levels as a fine pretext for implementing the Forward Policy and taking over most of Afghanistan. The British delivered an ultimatum to Sher Ali, demanding an explanation of his actions. The Afghan response was viewed by the British as unsatisfactory, and on November 21, 1878, British troops entered Afghanistan at three points. Sher Ali, having turned in desperation to the Russians, received no assistance from them. Appointing his son, Yaqub, regent, Sher Ali left to seek the assistance of the tsar. Advised by the Russians to abandon this effort and to return to his country, Sher Ali returned to Mazare Sharif, where he died in February 1879.

With British forces occupying much of the country, Yaqub signed the Treaty of Gandamak in May 1879 to prevent British invasion of the rest of Afghanistan. According to this agreement and in return for an annual subsidy and loose assurance of assistance in case of foreign aggression, Yaqub agreed to British control of Afghan foreign affairs, British representatives in Kabul and other locations, extension of British control to the Khyber and Michni passes, and the cession of various frontier areas to the British.

An Afghan uprising against the British was, unlike that of the First Anglo-Afghan War, foiled in October 1879. Yaqub abdicated because, as Fraser-Tytler suggests, he did not wish to share the fate of Shuja following the first war.

Despite the success of the military venture, by March 1880 even the proponents of the Forward Policy were aware that defeating the Afghan tribes did not mean controlling them. Although British policymakers had briefly thought simply to dismember Afghanistan a few months earlier, they now feared they were heading for the same disasters that befell their predecessors at the time of the First Anglo-Afghan War. Fraser-Tytler summarizes the position of the viceroy:

He could hardly have based his policy on the assumption that after overrunning the country and thereby once more inflaming the hatred  of every patriotic Afghan against us, we should by some magic discover among the Afghan chiefs a leader who would he acceptable both to ourselves and to the Afghan people . . . And yet this is what he did . . . The amazing thing is that while his assumption was wholly unwarranted his gamble was successful. While the British and Indian Governments were arguing over the dismembered corpse of the Afghan Kingdom, the one man who could fulfill the requirements o[ a desperately difficult situation was moving southwards into Afghanistan.
Just as the British interventionists were reaching this conclusion, the Liberal Party won an electoral victory in March 1880. This assured the end of the Forward Policy, which had been a major campaign issue.

Amir Abdur Rahman Khan
(1880 - 1901)
[Section added 20 March 2010]

Amir Abdur Rahman Khan
[Link goes to more info + Durrand Line, etc maps]
Portrait Gallery of Afghan Leaders
[Added 20 March 2010]: The story continues:
Amir Dost Mohammad carefully selected his third son, Sher Ali, to succeed him, and earnestly enjoined his other sons to serve him faithfully, but, as in the past, only a few acquiesced, with reluctance, and the others openly challenged him. All the familiar disruptive patterns now reappear with the same devastating consequences: brother fought against brother; uncle against nephew, tribe against tribe. Herat held out against Kabul while the Khanates in the north happily resumed their play, one against the other. Beyond the borders outsiders kept the rivalries boiling. In short, between 1863 and 1880, Amir Sher Ali won and lost the throne twice (1863-1866; 1868-1879) and Russian-British hostility again brought a British army on to Afghan soil. Despite the internal dissensions and connivance of his neighbors, Amir Sher Ali was still able to pursue an energetic series of reforms. He created a national army, laid the groundwork for collecting land taxes, began the Afghan postal system, and published Afghanistan's first newspaper.

Forces gathered against him. As the year 1878 drew to a close the sudden, uninvited arrival of a Russian Mission in Kabul precipitated the final calamitous events. Irritated when they were refused permission to send a similar mission, the British marched their troops to Jalalabad, into Khost, to Kandahar and up to Kalat-i-Ghilzai; and the Second Anglo-Afghan War began. Ringed by enemy forces, Amir Sher Ali went north seeking promised Russian aid which failed to materialize and he died, disheartened, in Mazar-i-Sharif in February, 1879.

His son, Amir Yaqub Khan, then travelled to meet with the British at Gandamak, west of Jalalabad, in May, and there signed a treaty which secured for the British their long sought after permission to station a British Representative in Kabul. The treaty further stated that the Amirs of Afghanistan agreed to "henceforth conduct all relations with foreign states in accordance with the advice and wishes of the British Government." Thus the British endeavored to control without actually annexing their prickly neighbor but less than three months later the Afghans protested this renewed British interference in their affairs by killing the newly arrived Representative and all but a few of his escort in their residence inside the Bala Hissar of Kabul. The massacre took place on September 3rd, 1879. This gave the British the pretext to bring their armies immediately to occupy Kabul (October) and, after the abdication of Amir Yaqub Khan, to assume direct control of the government of Kabul. General Roberts was in charge.

The country was restless and numerous engagements were launched all over the country to show their disapproval of the British presence. The British on their part desperately searched for a leader acceptable to all. It was then that Abdur Rahman rode into Afghanistan from eleven years of exile in Samarkand as a guest of the Russian Government. His talents as a strong energetic tribal leader were well known for he had fought successfully to place his father, Amir Mohammad Afzal, an elder half-brother of Amir Sher Ali, on the throne in 1866. Even when his father died a year later, Abdur Rahman continued to serve the new Amir, his uncle, Mohammad Azam, until defeat at the hands of Amir Sher Ali forced him into exile in Russia in 1868.

Sensing a propitious moment to bid for the throne, Abdur Rahman crossed over the border into Badakhshan, gathering forces as he moved south from Kishm to Charikar where, on July 20th, 1880, a tribal council proclaimed him Amir of Kabul. On August 11th, the British formally handed over to him the Kingdom of Kabul and withdrew to India.

British composure at Kabul was severely shattered, however, by distressing news from Kandahar. On July 27th an entire British brigade had been outfought on the plains of Maiwand in one of the most crushing defeats ever suffered by a British army. The mortifying blow had been inflicted by Sardar Ayub Khan, son of Amir Sher Ali and full brother of Amir Yaqub Khan, who had declared himself Amir at Herat after hearing of his brother's abdication. Following up his victory at Maiwand, Ayub Khan invested Kandahar.

Swiftly mobilizing 10,000 picked men and 9000 animals, General Roberts marched from Kabul to the relief of Kandahar. Moving entirely on foot, with no wheeled transport to slow their progress, procuring supplies as they went, except for such essentials as tea, sugar, salt, rum and two hundred gallons of lime juice, they covered the 324 miles through hostile burning deserts with incredible speed and arrived in Kandahar, only 23 days later, on the 31st of August, 1880. Military strategists write with admiration of this difficult feat but the diaries of the men involved reveal some interesting attitudes. Just before arriving at Ghazni, for instance, Major Ashe writes: " . . . our march up to the present time has been a veritable picnic, not unaccompanied by a rubber of whist in the afternoon, and not divested of that little duck and quail slaughter which in measure consoles our youngsters for their banishment from Hurlingham.

Arriving in Kandahar tired but in good spirits, the Kabul troops were shocked at the demoralized state of the Kandahar garrison. Undaunted, they went out the very next day to defeat Ayub Khan behind the Baba Wali Pass, to the north of the city.  In seeking arrangements which would secure for Britain if not a pro-British at least not an anti-British buffer against Russia, British policy makers contemplated giving Herat to Persia and establishing Kandahar as an independent state under another Sadozai puppet. Fortunately, these proposals were vetoed and the last British troops on Afghan soil marched from Kandahar in April, 1881.

Amir Abdur Rahman in Kabul was left to become master of his own state. He faced monumental problems of divisiveness as he candidly admits in his autobiography." . . . when I first succeeded to the throne of Kabul my life was not a bed of roses. Here began my first severe fight against my own relations, my own subjects, my own people."

Rebellions began immediately and continued to erupt to the east in the Kunar, in the north around Maimana, and in the central mountains of the Hazarajat. The Ghilzai uprising alone took two years to subdue. The Amir defeated his tribal opponents on the battlefield and then, in order to insure their fealty, resettled many of the leaders in areas far from their homelands thereby cleverly exploiting age-old traditional tribal rivalries. As he rightly surmised, the Pushtun tribesmen would fight for him, a fellow Pushtun, before they would join with the Uzbaks. In this way he created a loyal force of his enemies.

In addition to the tribal wars the sorely beset Amir had moreover to fight one cousin, Sardar Ayub Khan, for Kandahar and Herat (1881) and another cousin, Mohammad Is'hak for the North (1888). Finally, in 1895 when all was relatively quiescent, he moved to conquer and convert the Kafirs, "Infidels," a warlike people living in the eastern mountains to the north of Jalalabad. The Kafirs had at one time impressed Alexander the Great who invited their young men to accompany him on his campaign to India. Later they had withstood the iconoclastic advances of Arab and Ghaznavid armies. They had even bested the august Tamerlane, but now at last they submitted and the Amir decreed that henceforth their land was to be known as Nuristan, Land of Light.

While the Amir proceeded thus to establish his rule supreme within his own domains, foreigners hemmed him in with boundaries: a joint Russian-British Boundary Commission settled the northern boundary in 1887; the unpopular western boundary demarcated during the reign of Amir Sher Ali, was renegotiated in 1888; the British drew the equally unpopular Durand Line in 1893 to separate Afghanistan from their Indian Empire.

Mutual mistrust, especially after March, 1885 when Russian troops took the Afghan fort of Panjdeh north of Herat, led to the acceptance of Afghanistan as a buffer state. For strength and protection against further Russian advances the Amir also accepted subsidies from the British in return for which they continued to control his foreign affairs.

The Amir insisted, however, on preserving the independence of Afghanistan by maintaining absolute control over internal affairs. Though the British resented the Amir's policy of isolation and bombarded him with proposals regarding advisçrs, telegraphs and railroads, commercial treaties and diplomatic missions, the Amir proved adamant, preferring to develop his country on his own. He built small forts along all major caravan routes to make hazardous travel safe, and trade flourished. He introduced factories, schools and hospitals for which he did hire, on his own several British technicians and a doctor, but only a select few. At the capital he built a new citadel to replace the palaces in the Bal~ Hissar, a heap of rubble since the days of the British occupation [and] their vengeful "lesson" to Kabul....

The Twentieth Century
At every crossroads on the path that leads to the future,
tradition has placed 10,000 men to guard the past.
  -- Maurice Maeterlinck (1862-1949)
Belgium-born dramatist, poet, essayist
[Section added 22 March 2010]

22 March 2010, 3:30pm EDT:
Author's Note

The preceding section ended with 1901.  I read the remaining Afghanan pages on the 20th century well into the wee hours of March 20th -- and the more I read, the less I knew.

[FYI: here is a list of the leaders and/or issues covered, each with his own page:  Habibullah Khan, King Amanullah Khan, Tajik Rule, Nadir accede the throne, Mohammad Nadir Shah, Mohammad Zahir Shah, Zahir & His Uncles, The Pashtunistan Issue, Weekh Zalmian, Daud As Prime Minister, The Last Decade of Monarchy, Daoud's Republic, Noor Mohammad Tarakai, Hafizullah Amin, Babrak Karmal, Najibullah Ahmadzai, Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, Burhanuddin Rabbani, The Taliban, Hamid Karzai.]
For me, one event especially stood out -- it happened in 1964, early in the Last Decade (1963-1973) of the monarchy begun over two centuries earlier by Ahmad Shah Durrani in 1747:
The single greatest achievement of the 1963-73 decade was the 1964 constitution.... In the spring of 1964 the king ordered the convening of a Loya Jirgah -- a national gathering that included the members of the National Assembly, the Senate, the Supreme Court, and both constitutional commissions.... Although the assemblage of 452 persons (including six women) that met in September 1964 was composed predominantly of officials who could be expected to support the royal line, the Loya Jirgah also included members elected from the entire nation. Dupree notes that the government did screen out many potential dissidents but concludes that "on the whole. . .delegates to the Loya Jirgah appeared to represent the full range of social, political, and religious opinion."

... Individual, as opposed to tribal, rights were strongly championed by provincial delegates, and most conservative religious members were persuaded to accept provisions that they had previously suggested were intolerably secular. The succession issue within the royal family was settled to common satisfaction. The most interesting aspect of this discussion was one delegate's query as to why the throne should not go to the king's eldest daughter if there was no qualified male heir. Although some delegates were horrified and the question was not seriously considered, Dupree notes that the mere fact of its being asked was a sign of growing political sophistication among Afghans....

To include the 20th century's Afghan leaders and issues would be a daunting task so I will leave it to you to explore on your own.  I might mention, however, that during that century a number of serious attempts were made to press for reforms in education, women's rights, and other progressive issues (see especially: Amir Amanullah Khan (1892-1960) and Experiment with Liberalized Politics (1947-1951) only to be met with fierce opposition from rigid fundamentalists who, in 20th century Afghanistan, much as in 21st century America, are adamantly against any social change.  Small wonder the Taliban were incubated during those tumultuous decades.  In addition, matters were complicated by something noted in the above section on the first 1839-1842 Anglo-Afghan war:
...the bitterness felt by the Afghans"lasted well into the twentieth century and may have accounted for much of the backlash against the modernization attempts of later Afghan monarchs."
Thus, unfortunately, the repercussions of unjust policies imposed by imperalist nations upon their less powerful puppet-neighbors have returned to haunt all of us nearly two centuries later.  What a different place Afghanistan would be today if the "Great Game" of the British and Russians (and now the Americans) hadn't aborted the normal processes of her maturation.  Yet Afghanistan's current leaders bear some of the responsibility as well.  In the past century, Afghans have worked with the British, the Russians, the Communists, the Americans, NATO, even the Taliban, but not with their own women. If this tragic mess is ever to be resolved, Afghan women finally have to be included and actively involved.

One has to wonder how is it that humanity can put men on the moon and yet keep women downtrodden on earth.  Isn't it time yet for rigid patriarchal systems, east and west, to wake up?  Yes, "token" women have gained political power here and there around the world but that's because they've adopted alpha-male values, not because they themselves are seen as having value as women.  So although we may criticize Afghans for their senseless policies against women -- in a deeper sense, we are all Afghanistan.  Afghanistan is the world.

[Note:  Kabul Museum links on Geocities died long ago.
All replacements from "Afghanistan Online" updated 3/12/10.
Comments & excerpts from 2001 remain the same.]

River Goddess from Begram
Ivory, 47cm Tall
(No date given but probably 1st–2nd century A.D.,
like the similar ivory figure from Begram at the beginning of the next section)
Kabul Museum: Gallery B, #3 -- Note: I tinted the B&W photo
This is a series of pages on the Kabul Museum in Afghanistan.  The website is especially poignant because the museum's treasures have either been bombed, looted, or destroyed by the Taliban.  There are three galleries here, each with black & white photos of lost art  (I have tinted the three appearing on my page).  Gallery A has 6 objects; galleries B & C have a dozen apiece.  Here's an excerpt from the introduction:
For thousands of years, Afghanistan was a crossroad for trade from India, Iran, and Central Asia. As a result, many treasures and artifacts have been discovered and collected. The Kabul Museum, housed the most comprehensive record of Central Asian history. Many of its pieces have been dated as far back as pre-historic times....

...These treasures and many other were tragically lost when the Kabul Museum was bombed in 1993. At first, only the upper galleries suffered losses and looting. The remaining artifacts, were transfered to lower leveled, steel doored vaults. In 1994, the United Nations attempted to stop the looting by repairing the doors, and bricking up the windows.  Dissapointingly, these attempts failed, and looters continued to plunder 90% of the museum's collections.

Both private collectors and antique dealers from as far away as Tokyo, have purchased stolen museum pieces. Looted artifacts have shown up all over the world, and they bring in large sums of money to the criminals.  Despite President Rabbani's attempts to retrieve the stolen artifacts, only 52 pieces have been recovered. Sadly, with the current war between Rabbani's government and the Taliban, the recovery of these pieces has taken a back seat....

Two doves holding a string of pearls
[Undated -- & I have no idea even of an approximate period -- I just love the composition]
("This clay dish from Bamiyan is 38 cm in diameter....")
Kabul Museum: Gallery B, #7 -- Note: I tinted the B&W photo

...Continuing, this time from Afghanstan Online, here's a sad update from March 2001 on the Kabul Museum:
...In early March 2001, the Taliban decided to destroy all pre-Islamic statues and objects in Afghanistan, after an edict was announced by their leader Mullah Omar in late February.  The Taliban destroyed numerous statues in the museum which survived the previous looting and destruction as a result of war.  The Taliban also destroyed the two giant Buddhas from the 5th century in Bamiyan, and other ancient historical statues in Ghazni. One of the Buddhas in Bamiyan was the world's tallest standing Buddha.

The purpose of this page, is to help others enjoy the contents of the Kabul Museum prior to its destruction. It is important to remember our rich cultural heritage. We feel that Afghans need to have a  link to their past. It is our deepest hope that the beautiful treasures of our country can one day be found  and returned to their rightful home....

The site includes a B&W photo of the destroyed museum (see below) along with a video of the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas by the Taliban.  My computer can't handle videos but I couldn't bear to watch it anyway.  I have spent my life encouraging creativity: to watch it destroyed through ignorance would only throw me into a fierce Irish rage.  Oppressive humans can be intolerably stupid.  When they die, well, hopefully, they'll be re-born and learn from their mistakes.  When art is destroyed, it's gone forever.
If you want further details of Taliban idiocy where art is concerned, this page, "Enemies of the Afghan Heritage," comes from the passionate Revolutionary Association of the Women of  Afghanistan (RAWA).  It looks at the Taliban's destruction of ancient art -- gigantic Buddhist sculpture as well as the contents of the Kabul Museum.  It offers many hard-hitting, detailed essays (some with photos).

The Destroyed Kabul Museum
From Archaeology, April 20, 1998, comes "Museum Under Siege" by Nancy Hatch Dupree, senior consultant at the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief in Peshawar, Pakistan, and vice-chairperson of the Society for the Preservation of Afghanistan's Cultural Heritage; from 1966 to 1974 she participated in prehistoric excavations in Afghanistan conducted by her late husband Louis Dupree (see link to his work below).  This is a detailed and very depressing account of the destruction of Afghanistan's Kabul Museum.  Here is her introduction to this lengthy page:
When Soviet troops withdrew from Afghanistan in 1988, all but the capital of Kabul had fallen to the resistance, known as the mujahideen. When Kabul itself was taken in April 1992, ending the 14-year rule of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA), mujahideen factions began warring among themselves for control of the city. Attacks were often launched from the south, and the National Museum in Darulaman, six miles south of Kabul, was often on the front line. Each time a new faction triumphed, it would loot the ruins....
In addition to a detailed, gripping, sad history, the page has a link to exact data on artifacts stolen, sold on the black market, lost, or destroyed.
From Yahoo come links to Afghanistan's Buddhist cultural heritage.  Some sites include photos of Greco-Buddhist art from the Kabul Museum (before the Taliban destroyed it).  Other links look in more detail at the Taliban's role in the destruction of this art.

(Entire section added 13-14 March 2010)

From the exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Female standing on a Makara, a mythological creature,
1st–2nd century A.D.
Afghanistan, Begram
Ivory; H. 18 in. (45.6 cm)
National Museum of Afghanistan, Kabul, 04.1.15
Photo: © Thierry Ollivier / Musée Guimet
This is an unillustrated reprint of an excellent, evocative article, "Rescued riches: Afghan art treasures to tour US cities" by Pamela Constable, written for the Washington Post,  Dec. 21, 2007.  She gives many details I haven't seen elsewhere. Here are some excerpts:
They survived the collapse of civilizations and crossed the known world on camelback. Some lay buried for centuries in an Afghan nomad's sepulcher. Others were spirited out of a museum in modern-day Kabul under siege by looters and religious fanatics, then hidden in secret vaults under the presidential palace.

Now, a selection of Afghanistan's ancient artistic treasures - from a dagger hilt carved with a Siberian bear to Greek coins from an excavated city called Woman of the Moon - is scheduled to come to Washington next May and continue on a 17-month national tour, according to an announcement by the National Geographic Society and the National Gallery of Art. The exhibit...aims to provide a rare glimpse of the long-lost creative melting pot that Afghanistan once represented - centuries before it became known to most Westerners as a grim Cold War battlefield and a victim of horrific Islamic repression under the Taliban.

"We hope this exhibit will help overcome the darkness of Afghanistan's recent history and shed some light on its rich past, thousands of years old, as a crossroads of cultures and civilizations," said Said Tayeb Jawad, Afghanistan's ambassador in Washington. "We also hope it will showcase the courage of people who put their lives on the line to safeguard and preserve these treasures."

As a trove of history, the artifacts are as edifying as they are beautiful. Selected from four sites, they span 3,000 years, beginning circa 2500 B.C. (during the Bronze Age), and include designs, scripts and images from a dozen cultures as far-flung as India, China and Rome. The exhibition is dominated by gold: bowls decorated with Afghan and Mesopotamian motifs, coins minted in the Greco-Bactrian era of the 1st and 2nd centuries B.C., a floral crown with collapsible leaves and a 4-pound belt with designs of a man astride a mythical beast. There are also thrones and table legs of carved Indian ivory, glass pieces from Rome and ornaments made with local Afghan turquoise....

It was widely rumored that museum officials and employees had retrieved some objects and hidden them for safekeeping; other pieces were said to have been stolen and smuggled abroad. In 2003, a group of boxes from the museum was discovered in a sealed vault under the presidential palace....

"We had no idea what treasures were inside. It was a fantastic moment of rediscovery," said Fredrik T. Hiebert, a National Geographic fellow who is curating the U.S. exhibition and has traveled repeatedly to Afghanistan to organize it. "We kept finding more and more boxes. There were objects from the Paleolithic era to the Buddhist period. It took us three months, working seven days a week, to inventory everything."

One of the exhibit's four original sources was an abandoned, half-buried city in northern Afghanistan known as Woman of the Moon, built by Greco-Bactrian nobles who passed through Afghanistan more than 2,000 years ago. It was lost to history until the 1960s, when a French archaeologist began a painstaking, 15-year excavation. Hiebert said the exhibit will re-create parts of the city, including the treasury, theater and gymnasium.

Another, equally exotic locale was the walled-up basement tomb of a first-century noble Afghan nomad, discovered by chance in 1978. It contained six mummies - a man and five women - adorned with elaborate gold ornaments and other pieces with designs from Rome and Scythia, a region of what is now southern Russia, as well as the Siberian-bear dagger hilt. "Nomads are so hard to find archaeologically," Hiebert said. "They don't have houses or temples. So this discovery was a real victory. It showed what a crossroads Afghanistan once was." The walled-up burial site, which he also inventoried, contained 22,000 objects as well as the carefully preserved remains of the noble and five "princesses," who he speculated might have died from drought or plague.

Washington's National Gallery
The above Afghan exhibit first opened May 25 - September 7, 2008 at Washington's National Gallery.  This is the gallery's info page for the exhibit:
Some 228 extraordinary artifacts unearthed in modern Afghanistan—most on view for the first time in the United States—attest to the region's importance as a vital and ancient crossroads of trade routes known as the Silk Road, which stretched from Asia to the Mediterranean....

Ranging in date from 2200 BC to AD 200, the objects present a rich mosaic of Afghanistan's cultural heritage and are drawn from four archaeological sites. The works include gold bowls with artistic links to Mesopotamia from Tepe Fullol in northern Afghanistan; bronze and stone sculptures from the site of the former Greek city of Aï Khanum; bronzes, ivories, and painted glassware imported from Roman and Indian markets discovered in Begram; and more than 100 gold ornaments from among the 20,000 pieces known as the "Bactrian Hoard," found in 1978 in Tillya Tepe, the site of six nomad graves....
This is a "Timeline" from Washington's National Gallery of Art, showing artifacts spaced along time-grids.  If you mouse-over names or artifacts, images are nicely enlarged and a vertical message-box appears with further details. It's cleverly done, I must say, but if you have an older computer set-up, as I do (Windows ME and Netscape 7.2), it displays oddly.  The lettering in the vertical boxes is somewhat blurred, for example, and the boxes are so large that you have to keep scrolling up and down to see both the enlarged image and the text -- using horizontal boxes would have made more sense. Instead, the constant scrolling up and down got me dizzy and irritated. Worst of all, the far right end of the time-grid for Tillya Tepe from the 1st century BC-1st Century AD,  was mostly cut off and there was no Begram visible at all -- there should have been a bottom scroll-bar but there wasn't.  I understand the "addiction" to making websites more and more glitzy but when it comes to a museum site, art should always trump technology.  Reversing such values makes this page a failure. I'm jus' sayin'.

©Thierry Ollivier/Musee Guimet.
Golden bowls more than 4,000 years old are the oldest artifacts in the exhibition.
Above, a fragment of a bowl depicting bearded bulls dating back to 2200-1900 B.C.

Again, related to Washington's National Gallery, this is an NPR report by Susan Stamberg from June 10, 2008, some two weeks after the exhibit opened in Washington. You can listen to the report or read it -- it includes data on how the Afghan treasures were hidden for nearly 25 years as well as some great quotes from Fredrik Hiebert.  For example, about the 4000 year old golden cups in the exhibit, Hiebert says, "It's really unusual to find ancient gold. Gold itself doesn't rust, doesn't deteriorate, so people tend to take old gold and melt it down." Somehow, it had never occurred to me that treasures of gold would have been routinely melted down in ancient times and turned into something else.  But after reading Hiebert's comment, I realized that the ancients, of course, couldn't have known that one day an object would be considered a rare treasure. For them, it was just a nice cup or bracelet or belt buckle.
Again from NPR (May 26, 2008) comes "A Real-Life Archaeologist Talks About Treasure." You can download the radio show, about which this is written:
Ever wonder what being Indiana Jones in real life is actually like? Fred Hiebert talks about his life as an archeologist. He also talks about the amazing objects featured in a new National Gallery of Art exhibit entitled Afghanistan: Hidden Treasure.
There's also a transcript available of the telephone conversation between Dr. Hiebert and the NPR host, Neal Conan (who had once been with Hiebert on a dig along the Black Sea), as well as several callers who work as archaeologists on road construction projects, shipwrecks, etc. This brief exchange with Hiebert caught my eye near the end -- it's about when he found a tiny stamp-seal from ancient India in an area that was once part of Afghanistan:
... CONAN: You don't think you're talking about the Silk Road, of course, which very broadly went from China all the way on the land route across Asia to the Black Sea and to the ports of the Mediterranean. You don't think of it going through Afghanistan.

Dr. HIEBERT: It's really quite astonishing if you think about the location of Afghanistan. It's land-locked. It's got all these mountains. But you know, these valleys that go through the mountains were the conduit for trade, both east and west and north and south. When you look at the ancient cultures of Afghanistan, it was important for early religions, early trade, early science. It's really one of the hearts of civilization that's interconnected with all of our lives.

CONAN: And when you get one of those "aha" moments, what's it like?

Dr. HIEBERT: Oh, my goodness, it's just incredible. If you find something that connects you with Rome or with China or with India and you look at one of these artifacts - and you can, actually, at the exhibition in Washington, D.C. - you look at it and you say, I can see my own connections with that artifact and realize that it was found in Afghanistan and it's some thousands of thousands of years old, it gives us new perspective on who we are and how interconnected the world is.

Copyright © 2008 National Public Radio®.

San Francisco's Asian Art Museum
The exhibit next went to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, October 24, 2008– January 25, 2009. Here is an excerpt from their exhibit page (there's also an online film trailer -- I use a dial-up modem, so didn't bother to access it):
In 1978, on windswept plains of northern Afghanistan, archaeologists unearthed tombs of ancient nomads that had been sealed for two thousand years and discovered an extraordinary trove: some 22,000 individual pieces of gold buried with the remains of six Bactrian Central Asian nomads. Within months of this discovery at Tillya Tepe, the country descended into war, and the so-called Bactrian Hoard disappeared into legend once more. Twenty-five years later, in 2003, Afghanistan surprised the world by announcing that the priceless artifacts had been located intact in the presidential palace bank vault in Kabul....

...Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul explores the rich cultural heritage of ancient Afghanistan from the Bronze Age (2500 BCE) through the rise of trade along the Silk Road in the first century CE....

Houston's Museum of Fine Arts
The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas, hosted the exhibit from March 1 - May 17, 2009. This is from their "See the Treasures" page (FYI: I waited a long time to "see the treasures" but whatever was supposed to load, never finished, so I moved on):
The oldest discoveries to be featured in this exhibit are gold vessels from a Bronze Age site called Tepe Fullol, which was populated between the third and second millennia B.C. These vessels display motifs from Mesopotamian, Aegean, and local cultures. Art works from the city of Aï Khanum, located approximately 180 miles north of Kabul, show a distinct Greek influence, dating to the period when followers of Alexander the Great controlled the area now known as Afghanistan. Among these objects are massive decorated Corinthian column capitals, bronze statues and intricately decorated stoneware.

In the city of Begram, 60 miles north of Kabul, a 1st century palace or store-house of treasures was discovered in the 1930s containing evidence of a thriving trading culture at the crossroads of East and West: carved ivories, fantastically detailed glass, bronze statues, and alabaster and porphyry jars. These objects show a wide diversity of artistic influences from India, Persia, and the Greek, Roman, and Egyptian empires.

The most stunning of all are the golden treasures found at Tillya Tepe, the "Hill of Gold". Buried with a group of nomadic royalty, these fantastic objects give us a valuable window into a culture that without the benefit of written language cannot speak directly to us. A collapsible golden crown, suitable for travel, tells of a culture both rich and constantly on the move. Turquoise jewelry and ornate daggers indicate the contradictory values of an appreciation for beauty and the reality of warfare in a territory untamed by the ancient world’s strongest empires.

New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art
The final host was the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City from June 23 - September 20, 2009.  Their public page is brief - here's an excerpt:
Ancient Afghanistan—at the crossroads of major trade routes and the focus of invasions by great powers and nomadic migrations—was home to some of the most complex, rich, and original civilizations on the continent of Asia. This exhibition will celebrate the unique role of Afghanistan as a center for both the reception of diverse cultural elements and the creation of original styles of art that combine multiple stylistic materials—such as the Hellenized examples from the second-century B.C. city of Aï Khanum, the array of trade goods found in the first-century city of Begram, and the astonishing nomadic gold found in the hoard at Tillya Tepe, which also dates to the first century. It will also commemorate the heroic rescue of the heritage of one of the world’s great civilizations, whose precious treasures were thought to have been destroyed....

Folding crown, 1st century A.D.
Afghanistan, Tillya Tepe, tomb VI
Gold and altered turquoise; 17 3/4 x 5 1/8 in. (45 x 13 cm)
National Museum of Afghanistan, Kabul, 04.40.50
Photo: © Thierry Ollivier / Musée Guimet

Metropolitan Museum's Press Release Page
Actually, the May 19th 2009 press release offers much more information than the public page, including some great information I haven't seen elsewhere.  For example:
...The display begins with objects from Tepe Fullol in northern Afghanistan.  In 1966, farmers discovered the first evidence of a Bronze Age civilization in the region. The nearby Oxus riverbed may have provided the gold used to create the artifacts found in a burial cache at the site. A highlight is a gold bowl fragment dating around 2000 B.C., depicting bearded bulls, an image familiar in the art of Mesopotamia.

..The second section focuses on Aï Khanum, one of the largest Greek-style cities founded in a region of Asia that had been conquered by Alexander the Great. Several buildings—a theater and gymnasium built in the Greek style—bear witness to the city's Greek origins, as do scientific instruments such as sundials. Works from the site show the Mediterranean influence in the area between the fourth and second centuries B.C. Sculptures and other objects from this site include a stone portrait of the Gymnasium director, a bronze image of Herakles, and a gilded silver plaque with the goddess Cybele, exhibiting a mixture of Greek and Near Eastern imagery.

The excavations at Begram, the third site, yielded works dating from between the first and second centuries A.D. Among the contents of two sealed rooms were remarkable luxury goods, including more than 180 Roman glass vessels and spectacular ivories carved in an Indian style, which are among the earliest preserved works of their kind. They depict women and children in domestic settings, as well as Indianized motifs such as the makara, a crocodile-like creature. These works shed light on the role of Afghanistan in the exchanges between East and West along the legendary Silk Road.

The fourth section of the exhibition focuses on Tillya Tepe and includes impressive inlaid gold objects found in the six nomadic tombs that were unearthed there. The individuals buried in the tombs belonged to the same group of nomadic peoples who first overran Bactria around 145 B.C. and brought an end to the Graeco-Bactrian kingdoms that had flourished in the region. The tombs of a chieftain and five women contained different kinds and quantities of objects, which may reflect their relative status. Dating from the first century A.D., the works include an exquisite crown and other luxury objects, most made of solid gold and many encrusted with turquoise and garnets. Although it is not known where the gold originated, the turquoise is probably from northeastern Iran and the other semiprecious stones may have been obtained from more distant regions through trade. The adornments found at the site display a fascinating blend of nomadic, Greek, Indian, and Chinese imagery. In addition, the closest parallels for the typically nomadic gold crown worn by the one of the women are found much later in fifth and sixth century A.D. tombs of the Silla Kingdom in Korea. Tillya Tepe thus raises compelling questions about the geographic and temporal span of nomadic traditions in Asia....
..The Metropolitan Museum, as far as I can tell, is the only one of the four USA museums to offer a simple, uncluttered page showing a good selection of the actual art without all the whistles and bells of audio, video, slides, message-boxes, and so forth.  This page provides 20 thumbnails along with dates (which I've been hard-pressed to find in one place anywhere else online).  You can click on each one and go to a larger image with much more detailed data.  These are elegant, classy pages -- I've been searching for days for something this accessible and fine.  I'm in their debt.
New York Times Review of Exhibit
This is the Times Art Review, "Silent Survivors of Afghanistan’s 4,000 Tumultuous Years" by Roberta Smith, published May 23, 2008.  It was actually written for the exhibit's opening in Washington but fits better here.  Three excerpts:
[The exhibit] begins and ends with gold objects separated by more than two millenniums. The first group consists of three rare Bronze Age gold bowls, one intact and fragments of two others. They were found in 1972 at a single site, Tepe Fullol, in northeastern Afghanistan, but their very different styles reflect influences from across Asia. The designs on the intact bowl are abstract, a square divided by an X; each quadrant contains a stepped square found on artifacts from Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. One bowl fragment is strictly local, with motifs of a wild boar, trees and mountains. The other fragment features a majestic bearded bull, an image common to Mesopotamia, 1,200 miles to the west....

Best of all, these displays attest to the survival of nearly all the Kabul museum’s revered Begram ivories. Whether made in India or locally, these small reliefs, used to decorate furniture, are exquisite. Deeply carved, they resemble gods and goddesses of Hindu temple sculpture. But the scenes here are miniature and worldly, dominated by curvaceous women unaccompanied by men (or gods); they enjoy one another’s company — sharing gossip, jokes or maybe wine — among elaborately carved archways and grills, and surrounded by opulent plants in gardens whose gates are left tantalizingly ajar....

And the fine conclusion:
Often, in the cosseted quarters of a museum, we forget that every work of ancient art is a survivor, a representative of untold numbers of similar artworks that perished. This triumphant exhibition makes us remember, while demonstrating that every survivor saves much more than just itself: long strands of culture, identity and history waiting to be woven back together.
There is a link on the page to a lovely (but slow-loading) slideshow of 10 images (FYI: except for the opening Begram plaque and a bronze mask of a youthful Silenus not included elsewhere, the others are more easily accessible on the Metropolitan Museum's site above, where more detailed info is also available).
National Geographic,
Co-Sponsor of the Exhibit
This is from the National Geographic, co-sponsor of this exhibit along with the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). It provides an archaeological map -- the first one I've found so far -- showing the location of Afghan digs plus slide shows, videos, and commentaries from Fredrik Hiebert, the exhibit's curator.  There are also other interesting Afghan-related projects to explore.  My dialup modem would take too long to access these offerings but I'm sure they're spectacular and well worth viewing.
Any good news about Afghanistan is very much on my radar and yet I completely missed this one from last year until I saw mention of it today (13 March 2010) on the above Houston, Texas museum page.  It's a March 6, 2009 National Geographic magazine article by Gretchen Peters: "More Than 1,500 Stolen Afghan Artifacts Return to Kabul." Here are some excerpts to give you a sense of the story (don't miss the link on the page to 6 of these rescued objects -- I wish there were more):
With so much bad news coming out of Afghanistan these days—a resurgent Taliban, spreading violence, and a booming opium trade—it might be easy to overlook another tragedy taking place: Across the war-shattered nation, scavengers, looters, and thieves are pillaging antiquities from more than 1,500 ancient sites around the country and smuggling them abroad....

But now Afghanistan is finally getting something back. The British government, with the help of the National Geographic Society and the British Red Cross, has returned 3.4 tons of stolen antiquities that were confiscated over the past six years at London's Heathrow Airport. On February 17, a Red Cross freighter plane touched down at the Kabul Airport, carrying the looted treasure back to its homeland. The artifacts are now at the National Museum. Returning the enormous shipment took more than a year to organize, and involved the cooperation of participants from around the globe.

The Heathrow collection includes more than 1,500 objects spanning thousands of years of Afghan culture: a 3,000-year-old carved stone head from the Iron Age and hand-cast axe heads, cut rock crystal goblets, and delicate animal carvings from the Bactrian era, another thousand years earlier. The oldest artifacts in the collection include a marble figure of an animal showing similarities to artifacts dating to the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods, dating as far back as 8,000 years....

Through a quarter-century of violence, Masoudi and his staff somehow managed to save about 90 percent of the National Museum's masterpieces, an incredible feat. But the museum still lost about 70,000 objects, most of them from the reserve inventory kept in storage....

Museum director Masoudi, who has spearheaded efforts to locate Afghan antiquities scattered around the globe, first heard about the objects piling up at Heathrow from British diplomats posted to Kabul. He contacted U.S. archaeologist and National Geographic Fellow Fredrik Hiebert, an expert on ancient Central Asian cultures, who arranged with officials in the U.K. to come to London and examine the artifacts.

It was not the first time Hiebert and Masoudi had worked together. Hiebert spent periods from 2004 to 2006 in Kabul cataloguing a priceless collection of 22,000 gold Alexandrian-era objects known as the Bactrian Hoard....

Hiebert said he felt similar amazement the first time he saw the antiquities amassed at Heathrow. "When I did an initial look, my eyes popped out and I said, 'They all look like they are from Afghanistan.' It was like seeing old friends again."

Helped by Carla Grissmann, an American expert on Afghan cultural heritage who has been working with the National Museum since 1973, and a British Museum curatorial team, Hiebert compared the objects in the Heathrow hoard to tens of thousands of missing items from the museum's collection. "None of the Heathrow objects came from the museum," Hiebert said. "They are from recently illegally excavated sites exported without permit."

Most of the Heathrow collection will end up in the museum's reserve collection and replace the many objects stolen during the civil war, Hiebert said. Only about 10 percent of the recovered items are museum-display quality, in part because antiquities excavated illegally get robbed of their identity. Without the original excavation context—which provides critical information allowing scholars to piece together a full picture of ancient cultures — ancient objects lose most of their significance, said Hiebert.

But that didn't lessen the significance for anyone involved in getting the Heathrow collection back home....

The vast majority of the thousands of artifacts confiscated every year at Heathrow, the world's busiest airport, come from Afghanistan, according to Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs Department (HMRC). And the Paris-based International Council of Museums (ICOM) believes that's just a fraction of the total quantity smuggled out of the country annually.  "The extent of the problem is very, very serious," said Jennifer Thévenot, who heads the fight against illicit traffic at ICOM....

Once they seize objects, HMRC agents work closely with experts from the British Museum and the U.K. Department for Culture, Media and Sport to determine their true identity and, if possible, to arrange their repatriation.  Hiebert calls repatriations like this one a critical part of Afghanistan's psychological healing. "If we can use this transfer to put some Bronze Age and Islamic Age materials back on display," he said, "that will help repair the horrible looting that went on for 25 years."....
..Finally, this is a 7 page National Geographic article, "Afghanistan's Hidden Treasures: How a trove of priceless antiquities survived" by Roger Atwood for the June 2008 issue.  It re-tells the story of how the treasures were rescued, how the Kabul Museum is currently doing, and much more.  Even though I have been reading many various accounts of the re-discovery, this article offers still more details and good quotes (also a quirky Adobe-Flash slide show with 9 photos -- my favorite is the last one, a stunning plaster Greek-style medallion of a youth, 1st century AD, Begram -- the Metropolitan's version, above, shot from a less interesting angle, is more accessible however).  Here are a few examples:
"The history of Afghanistan is one of receiving the arts of others, and then turning them into our own way of expression," says Massoudi. He believes the exhibit will help people see beyond his country's recent history of intolerance and isolation to the open, cosmopolitan spirit that long characterized this creative melting pot and hub of the Silk Road trade.

Walk through the bazaars in Kabul or Mazar-e Sharif and you'll see why, for more than two millennia, people have been calling Afghanistan the crossroads of Asia. One face looks Mediterranean, another Arab - or Indian, or Chinese, or eastern European. Eyes range from pea green to chestnut brown to something approaching orange. Successive invasions and influences wove a tapestry of ethnicities....

On Begram, there are many intriguing details not mentioned elsewhere -- here are two brief excerpts:
The ancient city of Begram supplied many of the luminous objects. Today Soviet-era land mines litter its grassy landscape, and American fighter jets from a nearby air base howl overhead. But 2,000 years ago this was the opulent summer capital of the great Kushan Empire, which stretched as far as northern India. Traders brought ivories and art from all corners of Asia. Courtiers stuffed themselves on local figs, pomegranates, and grapes against the majestic scrim of the snowy Hindu Kush.

When French archaeologists cut into the site in the late 1930s, they found a cache of luxury goods suggesting a vibrant, trade-based economy that flourished while Rome crumbled....

About on-going looting -- and the future of Afghanistan:
Despite the progress, huge challenges remain. Crime, looting, and the threat posed by Taliban insurgents could snuff out Afghanistan's nascent cultural revival at any moment. At Tillya Tepe villagers looking for antiquities and building material have practically leveled the "golden hill." At Ai Khanum, where Alexander the Great built a city on the banks of the Amu Darya, archaeologists found baths, Hellenic lettering, and other traces of an outpost of Greek culture on the doorstep of China. Since then, unemployed fighters for local warlords have started to pillage the site, turning it into a lunar landscape of pits and tunnels. At Begram, looters who were once moonlight scavengers have become bolder and better equipped....

Land mines, a resurgent Taliban, suicide bombs, the searing memory of war - the obstacles bedeviling Afghans as they try to put their country back together are daunting. "The biggest thing that's broken in Afghanistan isn't the buildings, or the roads, or even the electrical system. It's the broken psychology," says curator Hiebert. "Twenty-five years of war is hell. Not only were tons of artifacts stolen, so was the Afghans' history, their heritage. Afghan children no longer know Afghan folk songs. How can they get their pride back?"

There are many answers to that question. One is on view in Kabul, where an Afghan national treasure is receiving a makeover. In the early 1500s, the Mogul emperor and famed memoirist Babur laid out a 20-acre garden on a hillside and planted it with his favorite trees. Babur's garden had become an overgrown lot by the time the Aga Khan Trust for Culture began restoring it a few years ago. It is now Kabul's finest public space and a glowing symbol of the tentative, post-Taliban cultural flowering....

Babur's Garden in Kabul

...The day I visited, the caravansary's big courtyard echoed with the sparse, haunting sounds of a traditional stringed instrument known as the sarinda.

The man playing it, Kaka Qader, may be one of the few sarinda masters still alive in Afghanistan. But he won't be the last: A bright-eyed music student watched transfixed as the master played. Then the young man took the instrument, a tabla drummer joined in, and the courtyard resonated with the hopeful sound of a new generation of Afghans playing their music.

This is a good place to end this page -- with music -- and with hope.
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Copyright © 2001-2010 by Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.
Designed during the wee hours of 15-16 September 2001;
16 September 2001, 4:25am:  still under construction and not yet "officially" on line;
some 13 hours later: 16 September 2001, 5:22pm: it's now online "officially"
but it's still a work-in-progress for at least another week.
Updates: 17-21 September 2001; 22/23 September 2001;
1-2 October 2001 (annotated 3 more links); 4-5 October 2001 (annotated more links);
9-10 & 10-11 October 2001 (added & annotated more links); 12 & 13 October 2001 (ditto);
16-17 October 2001 (ditto); 18 October 2001 (split into 2 pages);
19 October 2001 (finally finished p. 1, now need more grokking on p.2);
20 October 2001 (finished).

10 March 2010: added link to "new" page 3 (actually the first pre-/post-9/11 war-focused half of page one, which felt too dismal a way to start these pages); also added larger version of opening map plus Wayback Machine link (below) as I have no time for a links-check and probably many are broken.
11 March 2010: began re-arranging everything, added Oxus civilization, lapis lazuli trade, etc.
12 March 2010: to make room for all the new material and art, shifted the entire last 4 sections on contemporary art and culture to first page, which then went from 145KB to 296KB.  Doing links check.
13 March 2010: working on links for historical periods and Afghan Exhibition.
14 March 2010, 5:30am: finished Afghan exhibit links. Only historical links remain to be grokked. //// Later, 10pm: did many history links after I got up today, c. 2pm .
15 March 2010: added more art and finished more history sections.  /// 16-17 March 2010: ditto.
17 March 2010: added still more thumbnails, links on Roxana, and continued grokking more history sections.
17-18 March 2010, 3:45am (EDT) -- with the completion of the Mughal section, I think I'm done <smile>.
18 March 2010: I spoke too soon -- I'd forgotten a few links in my Bookmarks.  Also, decided I needed to write "Concluding Comments." (3/21/10: later deleted those comments as superficial after I was up all night reading Afghanan's/Dupree's 20th century pages, which left me feeling I knew less than ever.)
20 March 2010, 2pm EDT:  page has become way too long so I'm splitting off the last portions so that it covers only up to the 18th century.  A new page 3 will continue from there and also cover the recent exhibitions of art.  Pre- & post-9/11 page is now p.4.
21 March 2010, 4am EDT: I'm finally at 20th century.  Read all "Afghanan"  pages but will leave it to readers to explore on their own.  Deleted earlier "Concluding Comments (see 3/18).
22 March 2010: added "Author's Intro Note" for 20th century section.
23 March 2010: expanded 20th c. Intro Note from yesterday -- tracked down & added 1964 "eldest daughter" data because that incident kept haunting me.  I think the page is done now.
24 March 2010: tracked down & added Maeterlinck quote after hearing it on Keith Olbermann the other night; added Afghanland links to leader/portraits where specific pages exist.

Note to Readers: if you find broken links here, try pasting the desired link into the Wayback Machine
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