Monday, October 09, 2006

Orchards and Peace - a musing on Afghanistan 

With British troops becoming even more involved with fighting in Afghanistan maybe we should all take time to learn a bit more about that country. I am only an interested amateur but here are a couple of snippets…

The TV pictures from southern Afghanistan show vast acres of arid fields. Surely nothing can grow here but Opium? Well actually this was once one of the great orchard areas of the world with many hundreds of square miles of carefully irrigated fields producing superb quality fruit. Only Afghan peaches would do for the courts of the Moghul emperors of India for example. This was the centre of a vast trading network.

But the irrigation systems that took centuries to build up were destroyed by the wars of the last 50 years.

Now another thought. The Pathans of Pakistan apparently refer to themselves as ‘Afghans’, though without necessarily claiming any state political implications, perhaps like the Irish saying they are Celts without necessarily making a political observation about (say) Wales. The border is however meaningless for many Pathans. And it is really not possible to discuss the present situation in southern Afghanistan without taking into account the experience of the Pathans of Pakistan.

The Pakistani authorities have an uneasy relationship with their Pathan citizens not least because the North-West Frontier Province of British India wanted to go with India rather than with Pakistan at the time of partition (The NW Provincial Government was the only Moslem-majority province in all India to include Hindus as Government Ministers as a matter of course).

The leaders of the province at the time were an extraordinary bunch who took on board Ghandi’s non-violent approach and persuaded the famously belligerent Pathans to support this. The dominant political force was the Khudai Khidmatgar (Servants of God) which raised an army of a 100,000 Pathan men equipped without guns or other weapons to carry out non-violent opposition to the British. KK leaders spent many years in British prisons before independence and many spent even longer in Pakistani prisons after independence. Their writings from exile are full of wistful references to the orchards of their homes…

Peace I suspect will have the symbolism of orchards for the peoples on both sides of the line drawn through the Pathan lands in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Somehow I don’t feel that fighting more wars over these fields will bring back the irrigation and the fruit. But only by rebuilding such peaceful infrastructure will there be a measure of peace in this area.

It would I suppose lead to TESCO generating massive air-miles to fly this fruit to Milton Keynes and that would have an impact on global warming… but I do wish that this was the problem we faced today …

The point of this musing is that we (ordinary Britons and the Government alike) seem to know nothing about the peoples we so confidently wish to influence through military means. Perhaps we should learn more before we are surprised at what happens next.

See this book for some background on the extraordinary Pathan non-violence movement which has so sadly been betrayed:

A Man to Match His Mountains; Badhsah Khan, Nonviolent Soldier of Islam.
Eknath Easwaram (1984) Nilgiri Press

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