One blogger’s personal bridge to nowhere

Afghanistan’s graveyard of history

torabora1In Saturday’s New York Times, Peter Bergen rightly debunks the myth that Afghanistan is a “graveyard of empires.”

Since Alexander the Great, plenty of conquerors have subdued Afghanistan. In the early 13th century, Genghis Khan’s Mongol hordes ravaged the country’s two major cities. And in 1504, Babur, the founder of the Mughal Empire in India, easily took the throne in Kabul. Even the humiliation of 1842 did not last. Three and a half decades later, the British initiated a punitive invasion and ultimately won the second Anglo-Afghan war, which gave them the right to determine Afghanistan’s foreign policy.

But I think it’s a stretch to suggest that, because Babur ruled from Kabul in 1504, Afghanistan “might become the model of a somewhat stable Central Asian state” after U.S. intervention. Bergen is not a cheerleader, and his argument is not nearly so flimsy. But a better indicator of the phoniness of the “graveyard myth” than the history of past successful conquests of Afghanistan is the disturbing suggestion that there’s something about Afghanistan the place that causes empires to wither. Yes, there are mountains and rugged terrain and all sorts of geographic factors, but that’s not generally the sense I get when I hear the rumblings about Afghanistan exceptionalsim. It’s more like a Congo “heart of darkness” vibe, and this, I would argue, doesn’t often come with a side of racism. Debates about what in Afghan history and politics make it “better” or “worse” for invasion and occupation are one thing; a general intimation that qualities endemic to this foreboding place will doom your imperial ambitions is truly an excercise in myth-making.

(image from flickr user Michael Foley under a Creative Commons license)


March 30, 2009 - Posted by | Afghanistan, History | ,

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