[Reader-list] Mohsen Makhmalbaf : World's indifference to the Afghans (June 2001)

Harsh Kapoor aiindex at mnet.fr
Fri Oct 12 00:53:07 IST 2001

Heres the full text of a long paper by  on Afghanistan by the widely 
acclaimed  Iranian Film maker Mohsen Makhmalbaf. It might interest 
people on this list

o o o o

The Iranian
June 20, 2001


  By Mohsen Makhmalbaf

  If you read my article in full, It  will take about an hour of your 
time. In this hour, 14 more people will have died in Afghanistan of 
war  and hunger and 60 others will have become refugees in other 
countries. This article is intended to describe the reasons for this 
mortality and emigration. If this bitter subject is irrelevant to 
your  sweet life, please don't read it.

  Afghanistan in the eyes of the world

  Last year I attended the Pusan Film Festival in South Korea where I 
was asked about the subject of my next film. I would respond, 
Afghanistan. Immediately I would be asked, "What is Afghanistan?" 
Why is it so? Why should a country be so obsolete that the people of 
another Asian country such as South Korea have not even heard of it?

  The reason is clear. Afghanistan does not have a role in today's 
world.  It is neither a country remembered for a certain commodity 
nor for its  scientific advancement or as a nation that has achieved 
artistic honors.  In the United States, Europe and the Middle East, 
however, the  situation is different and Afghanistan is recognized as 
a peculiar  country.

  This strangeness, however, does not have a positive connotation. 
Those who recognize the name Afghanistan immediately associate it 
with smuggling, the Taliban, Islamic fundamentalism, war with Russia, 
a long-time civil war, famine and high mortality. In this subjective 
portrait there is no trace of peace and stability or development. 
Thus,  no desire is created for tourists to travel to or businessmen 
to invest in  Afghanistan.

  So why should it not be left to oblivion? The defamation is such 
that  one might soon write in dictionaries that Afghanistan can be 
described  as a drug producing country with rough, aggressive and 
fundamentalist  people who hide their women under veils with no 

  Add to all of that the destruction of the largest known statue of 
Buddha  that recently spurred the sympathy of the entire world and 
led all  supporters of art and culture to defend the doomed statue. 
But why  didn't anybody except UN High Commissioner Ogata express 
grief  over the pending death of one million Afghans as a result of 
severe  famine? Why doesn't anybody speak of the reasons for this 
mortality?  Why is everyone crying aloud over the demolition of the 
Buddha statue  while nothing is heard about preventing the death of 
hungry Afghans?  Are statues more cherished than humans in the 
modern-day world?

  I have traveled within Afghanistan and witnessed the reality of life 
in  that nation. As a filmmaker I produced two feature films on 
Afghanistan  with a 13-year interval ("The Cyclist", 1988 and 
"Kandahar", 2001). In  doing that I have studied about 10,000 pages 
of various books and  documents to collect data for the films. 
Consequently I know of a  different image of Afghanistan than that of 
the rest of the world. It is a  more complicated, different and 
tragic picture, yet sharper and more  positive. It is an image that 
needs attention rather than forgetfulness  and suppression.

  But where is Sa'di to see this tragedy-the Sa'di whose poem "All 
people are limbs of one body" is above the portal to the United 

  Afghanistan in the minds of the Iranian people

  The Iranian people's impression of Afghanistan is based on the same 
image as that of the American, European and Middle Eastern people. 
The only difference is that the focus is at a closer range. Iranian 
workers, people of southern Tehran and working class residents of 
Iranian towns do not look kindly on Afghans and view them as 
competitors for employment. By pressuring the Ministry of Labor, they 
demanded the Afghans be returned to their homeland. See photo  essay

  The Iranian middle class however, finds Afghans quite trustworthy at 
care-taking and janitorial jobs. Building contractors believe Afghans 
are  better workers than their Iranian counterparts and command lower 
wages. Anti-drug authorities recognize them as key elements in drug 
trafficking and suggest that crushing the smugglers and deporting all 
Afghans would put and end to drug problems once and for all. Doctors 
view them as the cause for some epidemic diseases such as the 
"Afghan flu" that was nonexistent in Iran. They offer immunization 
from  within Afghanistan and in so doing, have born the costs of 
polio  vaccination for the people of Afghanistan as well.

  The world's view of Afghanistan

  News headlines matching a country's name must always be checked. 
The image of a country depicted to the world through the media is a 
combination of facts about that country and an imaginary notion that 
the people of the world are supposed to have of that place. If some 
countries of the world are supposed to be covetous of a place, it is 
necessary that grounds be provided through the news.

  What I've perceived is that unfortunately in today's Afghanistan 
except  for poppy seeds, there is almost nothing to spark desire. 
Thus  Afghanistan has little or no share in world news, and the 
resolution of  its problems in the near future is far-fetched. If 
like Kuwait, Afghanistan  had oil and surplus oil income, it could 
also have been taken back in  three days by the Americans and the 
cost of the American army could  have been covered by that surplus 

  When the Soviet Union existed, Afghans received Western media 
attention for fighting against the Eastern Bloc and being witnesses 
to  communist oppression. With the Soviet retreat and later 
disintegration,  why is the United States, who supports human rights, 
not taking any  serious actions for 10 million women deprived of 
education and social  activities or for the eradication of poverty 
and famine that is taking the  lives of so many people?

  The answer is because Afghanistan offers nothing to long for. 
Afghanistan is not a beautiful girl who raises the heartbeat of her 
thousand lovers. Unfortunately, today she resembles an old woman. 
Whoever desires to get close to her will only be saddled with the 
expenses of a moribund and we know that our time is not the time of 
Sa'di when "All people are limbs of one body".

  The tragedy of Afghanistan in statistics

  There has been no rigorous collection of statistics in Afghanistan 
in the  past two decades. Hence, all data and numbers are relative 
and  approximate. According to these figures, Afghanistan had a 
population  of 20 million in 1992. During the past 20 years and since 
the Russian  occupation, about 2.5 million Afghans have died as a 
direct or indirect  result of the war-army assaults, famine or lack 
of medical attention.

  In other words, every year 125,000 or about 340 people a day or 14 
people every hour or one in about every five minutes have been either 
killed or died because of this tragedy. This is a world wherein the 
crew  of that unfortunate Russian submarine was facing death some 
months  ago and satellite news was reporting every minute of the 
incident. It is  a world that reported non-stop the demolition of the 
Buddha statue.

  Yet nobody speaks of the tragic death of Afghans every five minutes 
for the past 20 years. The number of Afghan refugees is even more 
tragic. According to more precise statistics the number of Afghan 
refugees outside of Afghanistan living in Iran and Pakistan is 6.3 
million. If this figure is divided by the year, day, hour and minute, 
in the  past 20 years, one person has become a refugee every minute. 
The  number does not include those who run from north to south and 
vice  versa to survive the civil war.

  I personally do not recollect any nation whose population was 
reduced  by 10 percent via mortality and 30 percent through migration 
and yet  faced so much indifference from the world. The total number 
of people  killed and refugees in Afghanistan equals the entire 
Palestinian  population but even us Iranians' share of sympathy for 
Afghanistan  does not reach 10 percent of that for Palestine or 
Bosnia, despite the  fact that we have a common language and border.

  When crossing the border at the Dogharoon customs to enter 
Afghanistan, I saw a sign that warned visitors of strange looking 
items.  These were mines. It read: "Every 24 hours seven people step 
on  mines in Afghanistan. Be careful not to be one of them today and 

  I came across more hard figures in one of the Red Cross camps. The 
Canadian group that had come to defuse mines found the tragedy 
simply too vast, lost hope and returned. Based on these same figures, 
over the next 50 years the people of Afghanistan must step on mines 
in groups to make their land safe and livable. The reason is because 
every group or sect has strewn mines against the other without a map 
or plan for later collection. The mines are not set in military 
fashion as  in war and collected in peace. This means that a nation 
has placed  mines against itself. And when it rains hard, surface 
waters reposition  these devices turning once safe remote roads into 
dangerous paths.

  These statistics reveal the extent of the unsafe living environment 
in  Afghanistan that leads to continuous emigration. Afghans perceive 
their situation as dangerous. There's constant fear of hunger and 

  Why shouldn't Afghans emigrate? A nation with an emigration rate of 
30 percent certainly feels hopeless about its future. Of the 70 
percent  remaining, 10 percent have been killed or died and the rest 
or 60  percent were not able to cross the borders or if they did, 
they were  sent back by the neighboring countries.

  This perilous situation has also been an impediment to any foreign 
presence in Afghanistan. A businessman would never risk investing 
there unless he is a drug dealer and political experts prefer to fly 
directly to Western countries. This makes it difficult to resolve the 
crisis  that Afghanistan is faced with. At present, due to UN 
sanctions and  safety concerns, with the exception of only three 
countries (officially)  and two others (unofficially), there are no 
political experts in  Afghanistan. There are only political 
suppositions offered from a  distance.

  This adds to the ambiguity of crisis in a country burdened with such 
an  enormous scope of tragedy and ignorance on the part of the world. 
I  witnessed about 20,000 men, women and children around the city of 
Herat starving to death. They couldn't walk and were scattered on the 
ground awaiting the inevitable. This was the result of the recent 
famine. That same day the then United Nations High Commissioner for 
Refugees, Japan's Sadako Ogato, also visited these same people and 
promised that the world would help them. Three months later, I heard 
on Iranian radio that Madame Ogata gave the number of Afghans  dying 
of hunger to be a million nationwide.

  I reached the conclusion that the statue of Buddha was not 
demolished  by anybody; it crumbled out of shame. Out of shame for 
the world's  ignorance towards Afghanistan. It broke down knowing its 
greatness  didn't do any good.

  In Dushanbeh in Tajikestan I saw a scene where 100,000 Afghans  were 
running from south to north, on foot. It looked like doomsday.  These 
scenes are never shown in the media anywhere in the world.  The 
war-stricken and hungry children had run for miles and miles 
barefoot. Later on the same fleeing crowd was attacked by internal 
enemies and was also refused asylum in Tajikestan. In the thousands, 
they died and died in a no-man's land between Afghanistan and 
Tajikestan and neither you found out nor anybody else.

  As Mrs. Golrokhsar, the renowned Tajik poet put it: "It is not 
strange if  someone in the world dies for so much sorrow that 
Afghanistan has.  What's strange is that why nobody dies of this 

  Afghanistan, a country with no images

  Afghanistan is a country with no images, for various reasons. Afghan 
women are faceless which means 10 million out of the 20 million 
population don't get a chance to be seen. A nation, half of which is 
not  even seen by its own women, is a nation without an image.

  During the last few years there has been no television broadcasting. 
There are only a few two-page newspapers by the names of Shariat, 
Heevad and Anise that have only text and no pictures. This is the 
sum total of the media in Afghanistan. Painting and photography have 
also been prohibited in the name of religion. In addition, no 
journalists  are allowed to enter Afghanistan, let alone take 

  In the dawn of the 21st century there are no film productions or 
movie  theatres in Afghanistan. Previously there were 14 cinemas that 
showed  Indian movies and film studios had small productions 
imitating Indian  movies but that too has vanished.

  In the world of cinema where thousands of films are made every year, 
nothing is forthcoming from Afghanistan. Hollywood, however, 
produced "Rambo" about war in Afghanistan. The whole movie was 
filmed in Hollywood and not one Afghan was included. The only 
authentic scene was Rambo's presence in Peshawar, Pakistan, thanks 
to the art of back projection! It was merely employed for action 
sequences and creating excitement. Is this Hollywood's image of a 
country where 10 percent of the people have been decimated and 30 
percent have become refugees and where currently one million are 
dying of hunger?

  The Russians produced two films concerning the memoirs of Russian 
soldiers during the occupation of Afghanistan. The Mujahedin made a 
few films after the Russian retreat, which are essentially propaganda 
movies and not a real image of the situation of the past or 
present-day  Afghanistan. They are basically a heroic picture of a 
few Afghans  fighting in the deserts.

  Two feature films have been produced in Iran on the situation of 
Afghan immigrants, "Friday" and "Rain". I made two films "The 
Cyclist"  and "Kandahar". This is the entire catalogue of images 
about Afghans  in the Iranian and world media. Even in TV productions 
worldwide  there are a limited number of documentaries. Perhaps, it 
is an external  and internal conspiracy or universal ignorance that 
maintains  Afghanistan as a country without an image.

  The historical image of an imageless country

  Afghanistan emerged when it separated from Iran. It used to be an 
Iranian province some 250 years ago and part of Greater Khorasan 
province in the era of Nadir Shah. Returning from India, one 
midnight,  Nadir Shah was murdered in Ghoochan. Ahmad Abdali, an 
Afghan  commander in Nadir Shah's army fled with a regiment of 4,000 
soldiers. He declared independence from Iran and thus Afghanistan 
was created.

  In those days it was comprised of farmers and overwhelmingly ruled 
by  tribes. Since Ahmad Abdali belonged to the Pashtoon tribe, 
naturally,  he could not have been accepted as the absolute authority 
by other  tribes such as the Tajik, Hazareh and Uzbek. Thus, it was 
agreed that  each tribe would be governed by its own leaders. The 
rulers  collectively formed a tribal federalism known as the "Loya 

  Since then until the present, a more just and appropriate form of 
governing has not emerged in Afghanistan. The Loya Jirga system 
reveals that not only has Afghanistan never evolved economically from 
an agricultural existence, it has never moved beyond tribal rule and 
failed to achieve a sense of nationalism.

  An Afghan does not regard himself an Afghan until he leaves his 
homeland. He is regarded with pity or suffers humiliation. In 
Afghanistan each Afghan is a Pashtoon, Hazareh, Uzbek or Tajik. In 
Iran, perhaps except in the province Kurdistan, we are all Iranians 
first.  Nationalism is the first aspect of our perception of a common 
identity.  But in Afghanistan all are primarily members of a tribe. 
Tribalism is the  first aspect of their identity.

  This is the most obvious difference between the spirit of an Iranian 
with  that of an Afghan. Even in presidential elections in Iran, the 
candidate's  ethnicity has no national significance and draws no 
special vote. In  Afghanistan since the era of Ahmad Abdali until 
today as the Taliban  rule over 95 percent of the country, the main 
leaders have always  been from the Pashtoon tribe. (Except for the 
nine months of  Habiballah Galehkani's rule known as Bacheh Sagha and 
the two  years of the Tajik Burhannuddin Rabbani respectively, Tajiks 
have not  otherwise held power.) The people of Afghanistan, however, 
since the  time of Ahmad Abdali, have always been content with tribal 

  What does this indicate in comparison to the situation in Iran? 
Under  Reza Shah, tribalism was weakened and replaced by nationalism. 
In  Afghanistan that did not happen. Even the Mujahedin of 
Afghanistan  never fought foreign enemies in a unified manner, rather 
each tribe  warred with foreign enemies in their own regions.
                 During the making of Kanadahar while I was in the 
refugee camps at  the border of Iran and Afghanistan, I realized that 
even those Afghan  refugees who have lived in difficult camp 
conditions, did not accept  their Afghan national identity. They 
still had conflicts over being Tajik,  Hazareh or Pashtoon. 
Inter-tribal marriages still do not take place  among Afghans neither 
is there any business conducted between  them. And with the most 
minor conflict, the danger of mass bloodshed  prevails. I once 
witnessed one tribal member killed by someone from  another in 
revenge for curring in a bread line.

  In the Niatak refugee camp (border of Iran-Afghanistan) that 
accommodates 5,000 residents, it is not easy for Pashtoon and 
Hazareh children to play with each other. This sometimes leads to 
mutual aggression. Tajiks and Hazarehs find Pashtoons their greatest 
enemy on earth and vice versa. None of them are even willing to 
attend each other's mosques for prayers. We had difficulty seating 
their children next to each other to watch a movie. They offered a 
compromise wherein Hazareh and Pashtoon children took turns  watching.

  Many diseases were prevalent in this camp and there were no doctors. 
When a doctor was brought in from the city, the camp residents didn't 
give priority to treating those who were most ill. Only a tribal 
order was  accepted. They appointed a day for Hazareh patients and 
another for  Pashtoons. In addition, class distinctions among the 
Pashtoons  prevented them from coming to the clinic on the same day.

  In shooting scenes that needed extras, we had to decide to choose 
from among either Hazarehs or Pashtoons, though all of them were 
refugees and both suffered the same misery. Yet, tribal disposition 
came first in any decisions. Of course, the majority were unfamiliar 
with  cinema. Like my grandmother, they thanked God for not having 
stepped foot inside a movie theatre.

  The reason for Afghanistan's perpetual tribalism rests with its 
agrarian  economics. Each Afghan tribe is trapped in a valley with 
geographical  walls and is a natural prisoner of a culture stemming 
from a  mountainous environment and farming economy. Cultural 
tribalism is  the product of farming conditions rooted in the deep 
valleys of  Afghanistan. Belief in tribalism is as deep as those 

  The topography of Afghanistan is 75 percent mountainous of which 
only 7 percent is suitable for farming. It lacks any semblance of 
industry. The country is solely dependent on farming, as grasslands 
(in  non-drought years) are the only resources for economic 
continuity.  Again, farming is the foundation of this tribalism that 
in turn is the basis  for deep internal conflicts. This not only 
stops Afghanistan from  becoming a modern country it also prevents 
this would-be nation from  achieving a national identity.

  There is no intrinsic popular belief in what is called Afghanistan 
and  Afghans. Afghans are not yet ready to be absorbed into a bigger 
collective identity called the people of Afghanistan. Contrary to the 
misnomer of religious war, the origin of disputes lies with tribal 
conflicts. The Tajiks who fight the Taliban today are both Muslim and 
Sunni-as are the Taliban. The intelligence of Ahmad Abdali is yet to 
be appreciated for having creating the notion of tribal federalism. 
He  was smarter than those who fancy the ruling of one tribe over all 
others  or one individual over a nation-when tribalism and the 
economic  infrastructure was still intact.

  Pashtoons with a population of about six million make up 
Afghanistan's  largest tribe. Next are Tajiks with about four million 
people and third  and fourth are Hazarehs and Uzbeks with populations 
of about four  million and one to two million respectively. The rest 
are small tribes  such as the Imagh, Fars, Balouch, Turkman and 

  The Pashtoons are mostly in the south, the Tajiks in the north and 
the  Hazarehs in the central regions. This geographical concentration 
in  different regions will lead either to complete and final 
disintegration or  the continued connection from the head of the 
tribe through the Loya  Jirga system. The only alternative to these 
two scenarios necessitates  changes in the economic infrastructure 
and the replacement of a tribal  idenity with a national one.

  If we can elect a president in Iran today, free from issues of 
ethnicity, it  is because of the economic transformation resulting 
from oil, at least in  the last century. The question is not the 
quality or quantity of oil in the  Iranian economy. The point is that 
when oil enters the economy of a  country such as Iran that was 
basically agricultural, it changes the  economic infrastructure and 
the role of Iran becomes significant in  political interactions. It 
becomes an exporter of a valued raw material  and in return receives 
the surplus productions of industrial countries.

  This transformation changes the socio-economic infrastructure that 
in  turn breaks the traditional culture and creates a more modern 
one,  exporting oil and consuming the products of industrialized 
countries. If  we omit money as the symbolic medium, then we have 
given oil in  exchange for consumer products. But Afghanistan has 
nothing but  drugs to exchange in the world market. Therefore, it has 
turned back  on itself and become isolated. Perhaps, if Afghanistan 
had not  separated from Iran 250 years ago, it would have had a 
different fate  based on its share of oil revenues.

  The amount of opium that I will elaborate on later is far too 
insignificant  to be compared to Iranian oil. In 2000 Iran's surplus 
income from the  oil price windfall went over $10 billion. Total 
sales of opium in  Afghanistan remained at $500 million.

  We have played our role in the world economy and by consuming the 
products of others, have understood that we have choices and have 
thus become somewhat more modern. But for the Afghan farmer his 
world is his valleys and his profession is farming when drought 
spares  him. Meanwhile a tribal system resolves his social problems. 
Given  that, he cannot have a share in the world economy. How are 
grounds  for his economic and cultural transition to be provided to 
let him have a  share? In addition, $80 billion in the global drug 
turnover depends on  Afghanistan remaining in its present situation 
without change because  if change prevails, that $80 billion is the 
first thing to be threatened.  Hence, Afghanistan is not supposed to 
realize a considerable profit  since that itself may yield change for 

  Although Iran and Afghanistan shared the same history some 250 
years ago due to oil, the history of Iran took a turn that is 
impossible for  Afghanistan to take for a very long time. Opium is 
the only product that  Afghanistan offers to the world. Yet both 
because of the nature of this  product and the insignificant amount 
of this tainted national wealth, it  cannot be compared to oil. If we 
add the $500 million income from the  sale of opium to the $300 
million from the sale of northern  Afghanistan's gas, and divide the 
total by the 20 million population, the  result is $40 per capita 
annual income. If we further divide that figure  by 365 days each 
Afghan would earn about 10 cents a day or the  equivalent of the 
price a loaf of bread on normal days.

  But, the country's annual earnings belong to the government and the 
domestic mafia and it doesn't get divided fairly. This revenue, 
therefore, is both insufficient to meet the needs of people and too 
low  to bring about significant change in the economic, social, 
political and  cultural infrastructure.

  Why have 30 percent of the population emigrated?

  Livestock breeders habitually move to resolve their living problems. 
Urban residents and agricultural farmers are less likely to move 
often.  The main reason for the Afghan livestock breeders' mobility 
is related  to the farming seasons. They constantly move to green and 
warm  areas to avoid dry lands and cold weather. Movement is a 
natural  reflex for livestock farmers. The second reason is lack of a 
fixed  occupation. Afghans migrate to avoid death from unemployment.

  The Afghans' daily earnings depend on working in other countries. 
Upon waking up each day, an Afghan has four burdens to consider. 
First is his livestock and this depends on drought not being an 
obstacle. Fighting for a group or sect is his second concern and 
generally because of employment he enters the army. Earning a living 
to support his family is another reason why he moves and if all else 
fails, he enters the drug business.

  The extent of this last option is limited and the labor options of a 
nation  of 20 million people cannot really be measured with a $500 
million  account accrued from cultivating poppy seeds. Thus, 
characterizing  the people of Afghanistan as opium smugglers is 
unreal and applies  only to a very limited number.

  Afghan culture immunized against modernism

  Amanullah Khan who ruled in Afghanistan from 1919-1928, was a 
contemporary of Reza Shah and Kemal Ataturk. On a personal level he 
was inclined towards modernism. In 1924, Amanullah traveled to 
Europe, returned with a Rolls Royce and made known his reform 
program. The plan included a change in attire. He told his wife to 
unveil  herself and asked men to forego their Afghan costumes for 
Western  suits. Contrary to Afghan male custom, he prohibited 
polygamy.  Traditionalists immediately begin opposing Amanullah's 
modernising.  None of the agrarian tribes submitted to these changes 
and rioting  ensued against him.

  Here, clearly modernism without a socio-economic basis, is but a 
non-homogeneous imposition of culture on a tribal society 
economically dependent on farming; lacking any industry, agriculture 
or even preliminary means of exploiting its resources, not to mention 
prohibition of inter-tribal marriages. This superficial, formalistic 
and  petty modernism served only as an antibody to stimulate 
traditional  Afghan culture, making Afghanistan so immune to it that 
even in the  following decades, modernism could not penetrate the 
culture in a  more rational form.

  Even today, the premis for modernism that includes exploiting 
resources and presenting cheap raw materials in exchange for goods, 
have not been created. The most advanced people in Afghanistan still 
believe that Afghan society is not yet ready for female suffrage. 
When  the most progressive sect involved in the civil war, finds it 
too early for  women to vote, it is obvious that the most 
conservative will prohibit  schooling and social activities to them. 
It follows naturally that 10  million women are held captive under 
their burqas (veil).

  This is Afghan society 70 years after Amanullah's modernism that 
aimed to impose monogamy on a male dominated Afghanistan, whose  only 
perception of family is the harem. In 2001, polygamy is still an 
accepted fact by women even in refugee camps on the border of 
Iran/Afghanistan. I attended two weddings among the Pashtoon and 
Hazareh tribes and heard them wishing for more prosperous weddings 
for the groom. At first I thought it was a joke. In another case the 
bride's family said: "If the groom can afford it, up to four wives is 
indeed very good and it is a religious tradition as well as helping a 
bunch of hungry people."

  When I went to the camp in Saveh to record the wedding music for 
"Kandahar", I saw a two-year-old girl being wedded to a 
seven-year-old boy. I never understood the meaning of this. Neither 
could that boy or that little girl, who was sucking on a pacifier, 
have  made the choice. Given this portrait of traditional society, 
Amanullah's  modernism seemed an overwhelming imitation of another 

  Of course, some people believe if a woman changes her burgha into a 
less concealing veil, she may be struck by God's wrath and turned 
into  a black stone. Perhaps, someone has to forcibly rid her of the 
burgha  so she'll realize that the assumption is untrue and she can 
choose for  herself.

  There is another biased viewpoint to Amanullah's modernism. In 
traditional societies, the culture of hypocricy is a form of class 
camouflage. In Iranian society wealthy traditional families decorate 
the  interior of their home like a castle but keep the exterior 
looking like a  shack, out of fear from the poor. In other words, 
that aristocratic  nucleus needs to have a poor rustic shell.

  Opposition to modernism is not necessarily expressed by traditional 
organizations. Sometimes it is a reaction by the poor against the 
rich.  For the poor society in Amanullah's time, while having horses 
as  opposed to mules was a symbol of honor and nobility, a Rolls 
Royce  was an insult to the poor. The war between tradition and 
modernism is  primarily the same as the battle of the Rolls Royce and 
the mule. It is a  war between poverty and wealth.

  Today, in Afghanistan the only modern objects are weapons. The 
ubiquitous civil war that has created jobs in addition to being a 
political/military action has also become a market for modern 
weapons.  Afghanistan can no longer fight with knives and daggers 
even though it  lags behind the contemporary age. The consumption of 
weapons is a  serious matter. Stinger missiles next to long beards 
and burghas are  still symbols of profound modernism that are 
proportionate to  consumption and modern culture.

  For the Afghan Mujahed, weapons have an economic basis that  creates 
jobs. If all weapons are removed from Afghanistan, the war  ends and 
all accept that there will be no more assaults on anyone,  given the 
sub zero economic conditions all of today's mujahedin will  join the 
refugees in other countries. The issue of tradition and  modernism, 
war and peace, tribalism and nationalism in Afghanistan  must be 
analyzed with an eye to the economic situation and  employment 
crisis. It has to be understood that there is no immediate  solution 
for the economic crisis in Afghanistan.

  A long-term resolution is contingent on an economic miracle and not 
on a nationwide military attack from north to south or vice versa. 
Have  these miracles not happened time and again? Was the Soviet 
retreat  not a miracle? Was the sovereignty of the Mujahedin not a 
miracle on  their part? Was the sudden conquest of the Taliban not a 
miracle of its  kind? Then why do problems remain? Modernism under 
discussion  here faces two fundamental problems. One is rooted in 
economics and  the second is immunization of Afghan traditional 
culture against  premature modernism.

  Geographical situation and its consequences

  Afghanistan has an area of 700,000 square kilometers. Mountains 
account for 75 percent of the land. People live in cavernous valleys 
surrounded by towering mountains. These elevations not only attest to 
a rough nature, difficult passage and impediments to business, but 
are  also viewed as cultural and spiritual fortresses among Afghan 
tribes. It  is obvious why Afghanistan lacks inter-state routes. The 
shortage of  roads not only creates obstacles for the fighters who 
seek to occupy  Afghanistan, it stops businessmen whose prosperity 
may become a  means of economic growth.

  To the same degree that these mountains obstruct foreign intrusion, 
they block interference of other cultures and commercial activities. 
A  country that is 75 percent mountains has problems creating 
consumer  markets in its potential industrial cities and in exporting 
agriculture  products to the cities. Despite the use of modern 
weapons, wars take  longer and find no conclusion.

  In the past Afghanistan was a passageway for caravans on the Silk 
Road traversing China through Balkh and India through Kandahar. The 
discovery of waterways and then airways in the last century, changed 
Afghanistan from being an ancient commercial route into a dead-end. 
The old Silk Road was a passage of camels and horses and didn't  have 
the characteristics of a modern road. Through the same winding  roads 
Nadir Shah, Alexander, Timur and Mahmmod Ghaznavi went to  India. 
Given the mountainous character of these roads, there used to  be 
primitive wooden bridges that have been badly damaged in the past  20 
years of war.

  Perhaps today, after two decades of foreign and civil war the people 
want the strongest party to win and give a single direction to 
Afghanistan's historical fate, no matter what. These same mountains, 
however, are a hindrance. Perhaps, the true fighters of Afghanistan 
are not its hungry people but the high mountains that don't 
surrender.  The Tajik resistance led by Ahmad Shah Massoud owes its 
survival to  the Panjshir valley. Conceivably, if Afghanistan was not 
mountainous,  the Soviets could have easily conquered it; or it could 
have been prey  for the Americans to hunt down like the plains of 
Kuwait, and bring it  closer to the Central Asian markets.

  Being mountainous increases both the cost of war and reconstruction 
after peace. If Afghanistan was not so rugged it would have had a 
different economical, military, political and cultural fate. Is this 
a  geographical misfortune? Imagine a fighter who has to constantly 
climb  up and down mountains. Suppose he conquered all of 
Afghanistan. He  then has to constantly conquer the peaks to provide 
for his army.  These mountains have been sufficient to save 
Afghanistan from  foreign enemies and domestic friends.

  When you look at the Soviet-Afghan war, you see a nation's 
resistance  but when on the inside, you realize that each tribe has 
defended the  valley it was trapped in. When the enemy left, again, 
everyone saw  their valley as the center of the world. And again, the 
same mountains  have made agriculture very difficult. Only 15 percent 
of the land is  suited for agriculture and practically just half of 
this is actually  cultivated. The reason for livestock farming is 
that the grasslands are  on the mountainsides or its environs.

  It can be said that Afghanistan is a victim of her own topography. 
There are no routes in the mountains and road construction is 
expensive. The roads if any, are either military or narrow paths for 
smugglers. The only trunk road passes around the borders. How can a 
border road function like a primary artery in the body of Afghanistan 
to  resolve problems of social, cultural and economic communications? 
The few interstate roads that existed were destroyed in the war. To 
whose advantage is it to pay for the costs of drilling these tough 
and  elevated mountains? For which potential profit should this 
exorbitant  cost be borne?

  It is said that Afghanistan is full of unexplored mines. From what 
route  are these possibly exploitable resources supposed to reach 
their  destinations? Who will be the first to invest in mines that 
will generate  profits in an uncertain future? Has the lack of roads 
been a sufficient  disincentive for the Soviets and Afghans not to 
think of excavating the  mines?

  On the other hand, Afghanistan is a land of eternal hidden paths 
that  are quite efficient for smuggling drugs. There are as many 
winding  roads as you want for smuggling but for crushing the 
smugglers, you  need straight ones that don't exist. You can't know 
the infinite number  of paths and you can't attack a path every day. 
At the most, you can  await a caravan at a junction. A smuggler was 
arrested around the city  of Semnan in Iran who had walked barefoot 
from Kandahar carrying a  sack of drugs. He had no skin on his soles 
when arrested, but kept on  walking.

  In the mountains of Afghanistan water is more of a calamity than a 
blessing. In winter it is freezing. It floods in spring and in the 
summer  its shortage yields drought. This is the property of 
mountains without  dams. Uncontrolled waters and hard soil reduce 
agricultural possibility.  This is the geographical picture of 
Afghanistan: Arduous to cross,  incapable of cultivation and mines 
impossible to exploit due to  transport costs.

  The fact that some find Afghanistan as a museum of tribes, races and 
languages is because of its geography and sheer difficulty. Every 
tradition in this country has remained intact because of isolation 
and  lack of interference. It is only natural for this rough and dry 
country  (with only 7 percent of its land being used for agriculture 
of which half  is threatened by drought) to turn to cultivation of 
poppy seeds to  support its people. If the conditions are normal and 
the price of bread  does not increase, from all this poppy wealth, a 
single loaf of bread is  what every Afghan receives.

  In its present state the economy of Afghanistan can keep its people 
half full without any economic development. Wealth though, rests with 
the domestic mafia or gets spent on unstable Afghan regimes and the 
people don't get a share of it.

  The basic question then comes to mind as to how the Afghan people 
are supported? It is either through construction work in Iran, 
participation in political wars or becoming theology students in the 
Taliban schools. According to statistics over 2,500 schools of the 
Taliban with a capacity between 300 to 1,000 students, attract hungry 
orphans. In these schools anybody can have a piece of bread and a 
bowl of soup, read the Quran and memorize prayers and later join the 
Taliban forces. This is the only remaining option for employment.

  It is the result of this geography that emigration, smuggling and 
war  remain as occupations and I'm wondering how Massoud is going to 
meet the needs of the people after possible victory over the Taliban? 
Will it be through continued war or development of poppy seeds or 
prayer for rain?

  On the Iranian border the UN pays 20 dollars to any Afghan 
volunteering to return to Afghanistan. They are taken by bus to the 
first  cities inside Afghanistan or dropped around the borders. 
Interestingly,  due to lack of jobs in Afghanistan, the Afghans 
quickly come back and  if not recognized, go in line again to get 
another 20 dollars. The jobless  Afghans turn every solution into an 
occupation. And as much as war  may be a profession, few Afghan 
leaders have died pursuing it.

  Continued war provides opportunity for the U.S., the Soviets and the 
six neighboring countries to give aid to forces loyal to them. This 
largness is normally aimed at continuing a war or balancing power but 
in the case of Afghanistan it merely creates jobs. Let's not forget 
that  there's been a two-year drought and livestock have died as a 
result.  The mortality as announced by the UN is predicted at one 
million within  the next few months. The war has nothing to do with 
this. It is poverty  and famine. Whenever farming has been threatened 
by shortage of  water, emigration has increased and wars have 

The average life expectancy of an Afghan has been calculated at 41.5 
years and the mortality rate for children under two years of age was 
between 182 to 200 deaths per 1,000 kids. The average longevity was 
34 years in 1960 and in 2000 was pegged at 41. The reality however is 
that in recent years it has gone down to even lower than what it was 
in  1960.

  I never forget those nights of filming Kanadahar. While our team 
searched the deserts with flashlights, we would see dying refuges 
like  herds of sheep left in the desert. When we took those that we 
thought  were dying of cholera to hospitals in Zabol, we realized 
that they were  dying of hunger. Since those days and nights of 
seeing so many  people starving to death, I haven't been able to 
forgive myself for  eating any meals.

  The Afghans between 1986 to 1989 had about 22 million sheep. That 
is one sheep per person. This has traditionally been the main wealth 
of  a farming nation such as Afghanistan. This wealth was lost in the 
recent famine. Imagine the situation of a farming nation without 
livestock. The original tragedy of Afghanistan today is poverty and 
the  only way to resolve the problems is through economic 

  If I had gone to support the mujahedin instead of the true freedom 
fighters who are ordinary people struggling to stay alive, I would 
have  come back. If I were president of a neighboring country, I 
would  encourage economic relations with Afghanistan in lieu of 
political-military interventions. God forbid if I was in the place of 
God, I  would bless Afghanistan with something else that would 
benefit this  forgotten nation. And I write this without believing it 
will have any  impact in this era very different than that of Sa'di's 
time when, "all men  are limbs of one body".

  Dr. Kamal Hossein, the UN Humanitarian Adviser for Afghanistan 
affairs from Bangladesh, visited our office in the summer of 2000 and 
told us that he had been reporting quite futilely to the UN for 10 
years.  He had come to assist me in making a movie that perhaps would 
awaken the world. I said: "I'm looking for that which will affect."

  It must be added that Afghanistan has not so much suffered from 
foreign interference as it has from indifference. Again if 
Afghanistan  were Kuwait with a surplus of oil income, the story 
would have been  different. But Afghanistan has no oil and the 
neighboring countries  deport its underpaid laborers. It's only 
natural when options of  occupation fail-as explained earlier in the 
text-the only remaining  choices are smuggling, joining the Taliban 
or falling down in a corner in  Herat, Bamian, Kabul or Kanadahar and 
dying for the world's  ignorance.

  Once, I happened to be in a camp around Zabol that was filled with 
illegal immigrants. I wasn't sure if it was a camp or a prison. The 
Afghans who had fled home because of famine or Taliban assaults  were 
refused asylum and waiting to be returned to Afghanistan. It all 
seemed legal and rational to that point. People, who for any reason 
enter a country illegally and are afterward refused, get deported. 
But  these particular people were dying of hunger. We had ended up 
there  to choose extras for my film. I asked the authorities and 
found out that  the camp could not afford to feed so many people and 
they hadn't  eaten for a week. They had only water to drink. We 
offered to provide  meals. They wished we'd go there every day.

  We brought food for 400 Afghans ranging from one-month old babies 
to 80-year old men. Most of them were little kids who had fainted of 
hunger in their mothers' arms. For an hour, we were crying and 
distributing bread and fruits. The authorities expressed grief and 
regret  and said that it took a long time for budget approvals and 
kept saying  that the flow of hungry refugees was far greater than 
what they could  manage. This is the story of a country that's been 
ravaged by its own  nature, history, economy, politics and the 
unkindness of its neighbors.

  An Afghan poet who was being deported from Iran back to Afghanistan 
expressed his feelings in a poem and left:

  I came on foot, I'll leave on foot.  The stranger who had no piggy 
bank, will leave.  And the child who had no dolls, will leave.  The 
spell on my exile will be broken tonight.  And the table that had 
been empty will be folded.  In suffering, I wandered around the 
horizons.  It is me who everyone has seen in wandering.  What I do 
not have I'll lay down and leave.  I came on foot, I'll leave on foot.

  The ratio of drug consumption in the world to its production in  Afghanistan

  In modern day economy, every supply is based on a demand. The 
production of drugs everywhere meets the need for its consumption. 
This universal market includes both poor and advanced countries such 
as India, the Netherlands, the U.S., etc. According to UN reporting 
in  2000, in the late 90's about 180 million people worldwide were 
using  drugs. Based on the same report 90% of illegal opium is 
produced in  two countries of which one is Afghanistan as well as 80 
% of heroin.  Again, 50 % of all narcotic drugs is produced in 
Afghanistan. You may  think if that 50 % equals half a billion 
dollars then the total value of  drugs reaches one billion globally 
but that's not the case. Why?

  Although Afghanistan earns half a billion from drug production the 
actual turnover is only 80 billion dollars. In transit to the rest of 
the  world, the mark-up stretches 160 times. Who gets the 80 billion 

  For example, heroin enters Tajikistan at one price and exits at 
twice  that much. The same goes for Uzbekistan. By the time drugs 
reach  consumers in the Netherlands, they cost 160 to 200 times the 
original  price. The money ends up with the various mafias who also 
manipulate  the politics of those countries en route.

  The secret budget of many Central Asian countries is supplied 
through  drug traffic, otherwise, how can smugglers who walk all the 
way from  Kandahar for example, be the prime beneficiaries of this 
wealth? How  can we at all consider them the true smugglers of drugs?

  If it weren't for the extremely high drug profits, Iran for example, 
could  have ordered a half a billion-dollars worth of wheat to 
Afghanistan as  an incentive to stop planting poppy seeds. Yet the 
79.5 billion-dollar  profit is far too valuable for the mob and its 
allied forces to dispose of  poppy seeds. Ironically, the Afghan drug 
producer is not himself a  consumer. Drug use is prohibited but its 
production is legitimate. Its  religious justification is sending 
deadly poisons to the enemies of Islam  in Europe and America. This 
reasoning is nicely paradoxical given the  economic significance of 
drugs on the governmental budget of  Afghanistan.

  The total drug turnover in the world is 400 billion dollars and 
Afghans  are the victims of this market. Why is Afghanistan's share 
only  1/800th? Whatever the answer, the market needs a place with 
little to  contribute civilly but which is a cornucopia of drug 
production.. If there  were roads in Afghanistan instead of obscure 
paths, or the war ceased  and the economy flourished and other 
incentives replaced the half a  billion dollars, then what would 
happen to the 400 billion dollar market?

  In September of 2000 when I was returning from Kandahar, I saw the 
governor of Khorasan on the way to Tehran. He said that when opium 
cost 50 dollars in Herat, it was 250 dollars in Mashad. And when the 
fight against smugglers intensified, instead of getting more 
expensive,  opium got cheaper. For example, if in Mashad it reached 
500 dollars, it  cost 75 dollars in Herat. The reason was due to 
extreme poverty and  famine. The Afghan sheep that used to cost 20 
dollars a head is now  sold at one dollar at the border but since 
they are sick, there is no  market and the borders are controlled for 
sheep smuggling into Iran.

  Although poppy seed does not have the fundamental importance of oil 
as a source of Afghanistan's wealth it is somehow the equivalent of 
oil.  More importantly, the secret budget of Central Asian countries 
is  supplied through drugs. That explains the strong incentive for 
the world  to remain indifferent towards Afghanistan's chronic 
economic condition.  Why should Afghanistan become stable? How could 
it possibly  compensate for the 80 billion dollars directly generated 
from its soil?

  Drugs are an interesting business for many. Just a few months ago 
when I was in Afghanistan, it was said that every day an airplane 
full of  drugs flies directly from Afghanistan to the Persian Gulf 
states. In 1986,  when I was doing research for the making of The 
Cyclist, I took a road  trip from Mirjaveh in Pakistan to Quetta and 
Peshawar in Pakistan. It  took me a few days. When I entered 
Mirjaveh, I got on a colorful bus of  the same kind that you might 
have seen in The Cyclist. The bus was  filled with all kinds of 
strange people. People with long thin beards,  turbans on the head 
and long dresses.

  At first, I wasn't aware that the bus roof was filled with drugs. 
The bus  drove across dirt expanses without roads. Everywhere was 
filled with  dust and the wheels would sink into the soft soil. We 
arrived at a  surreal gate like the ones in Dali's paintings. It was 
a gate that neither  separated nor connected anything from or to 
anything. It was just an  imaginary gate erected in the middle of the 
desert. The bus stopped at  the gate. There then appeared a group of 
bikers who asked our driver  to step down. They talked a little and 
then brought a sack of money  and counted it with the driver. Two of 
the bikers came and took our  bus. Our driver and his assistant took 
the money and left on the bikes.  The new driver announced that he 
was now the owner of the bus and  everything in it. We then found out 
that together with the bus we had  been sold.

  This transaction was repeated every few hours and we were sold to 
several smugglers. We found out that a particular party controlled 
each  leg of the route and every time the bus was sold, the price 
increased.  First it was one sack of money then it went up to two and 
three towards  the end. There were also caravans that carried Dushka 
heavy  machineguns on the back of their camels. If you eliminated our 
bus  and the arms on camel back, you were in the primitive depths of 
history. Again we would arrive in places where they sold arms. 
Bullets  were sold in bags as if they were beans. Kilos of bullets 
were weighed  on scales and exchanged. Well, how would the world's 
drug trade take  place if such premises didn't exist?

  I had gone to Khorasan and along the border was looking for a site 
for  filming. By sunset the villages near the border would be 
evacuated.  The villagers would flee to other cities for fear of 
smugglers. They also  encouraged us to take flight. Rumors of 
insecurity were so widespread  that few cars passed after sundown. In 
the darkness of the night, the  roads were ready for the passage of 
smuggling caravans. The  caravans according to witnesses are 
comprised of groups of five to a  100 people. Their ages range from 
12 to 30 years. Each carries a sack  of drugs on their backs and some 
carry hand-held rocket launchers  and Kalashnikovs to protect the 

  If drugs are not flown by airplane, they go in containers and if 
otherwise, they are carried by human mules. Imagine the enormity of 
events these caravans pass through from one country to another until 
for example, they reach Amsterdam. Again, imagine what fear and 
horror they create among the people in different regions to maintain 
that 80 billion-dollar trade.

  I asked an official in Taibad about the number of killings committed 
by  the smugglers. The figures say 105 were either killed or 
kidnapped in  two years. Over 80 have been returned. I quickly 
divided 105 by the  104 weeks of the two years. It equals one person 
per week. I reckoned  that if these numbers render a region so unsafe 
that people prefer not  to stay in their own villages and flee to 
other cities by night, how do we  expect the people of Afghanistan to 
stay put? In the past 20 years,  they have had one killing every five 
minutes. Should they stay in  Afghanistan and not migrate to our 
country? How can we think that if  we deport them, the lack of safety 
in Afghanistan will not bring them  back?

  I inquired of the officials stationed on the roads about the causes 
for  kidnappings and killings. Apparently, the caravans on the 
Iranian side  of the border deal with the villagers. When an Iranian 
smuggler does  not pay money on time, he or one of his family members 
is kidnapped  and they are returned once the money is exchanged. 
Again, I realize  that this aggression also has an economic basis. 
Near the Dogharoon  border the customs agents were saying that the 
region had been  unsafe for eight years but the papers had been 
reporting about it for  only two years. The reason for the relative 
wave of openness is related  to the new situation of newspapers in 

  Emigration and its consequences

  Except for seasonal movement with his livestock, the emigrant Afghan 
farmer never traveled abroad until about two decades ago. For this 
reason, every trip, even a limited one, has left serious marks on the 
fate of Afghans. For example, Amanullah Khan and a group of  students 
that had traveled to the West for studying, became the  pioneers of 
Afghanistan's unsuccessful experiment with modernism.  The few 
officers who went to Russia, later provided the grist for a 
communist coup d'etat. The emigration of 30% of Afghanistan's 
population in the recent decades however, has not been for academic 
pursuits. War and poverty forced them to leave and now, their large 
population has exhausted their hosts. The emigration of 2.5 million 
Afghans to Iran and 3 million to Pakistan has created grave concerns 
for both countries. When I objected to officials in charge of 
deporting  Afghans that they were our guests, the reply I heard was 
that this  20-year party had gone on too long. If it continued in 
Khorasan and  Sistan & Baluchestan provinces, our national identity 
would be  threatened in the said regions and we would face even more 
intense  crises such as demands for independence of those areas or 
even  increased insecurity at the borders.

  Unlike Pakistan that prepared schools to train Islamic mujaheds 
(Taliban), Iranian society did not anticipate any schools to train 
Afghans. During the making of The Cyclist, I used to go to Afghan 
neighborhoods to find actors. At that time, one of the Afghan 
officials  told me that they expected the Iranian universities to 
accept Afghan  students so that if Russia left Afghanistan, they 
would have ministers  with at least bachelor degrees. Otherwise, with 
a bunch of fighters you  can wage war but not govern the country.

  Later on, a few Afghans were accepted in Iranian universities but 
none  of them are willing to return home today. They state their 
reasons as  being insecurity and hunger. One of them mentioned that 
the highest  level of living in Afghanistan is lower than the lowest 
level in Iran. I  heard in Herat that the monthly salary of Herat's 
governor (in 2000)  was $15 per month. That's 50 cents a day or 4,000 
Iranian rials.  Because of widespread Afghan emigration, human 
smuggling has  become a new occupation for Iranian smugglers. Afghan 
families that  reach the borders have to go a long way to arrive in 
Tehran and since  their arrest is likely in Zabol, Zahedan, Kerman or 
any other city en  route, they leave their fate in the hands of 
pickup-driving smugglers.  The smugglers request 1,000,000 rials for 
every refugee hauled to  Tehran.

  Since in 99% of the cases, the Afghan family lacks this much money, 
a  couple of 13-14 year old girls are taken hostage and the rest of 
the  family is secreted into Tehran through back roads. The girls are 
kept  until their family finds jobs and pays the debt. In most cases 
the money  is never provided. A ten-member family with a 10,000,000 
rial debt has  to pay the interest as well after three months. 
Consequently, a great  many Afghan girls are either kept as hostages 
around the borders or  become the personal belonging of the 
smugglers. An official in the  region related secretly related that 
the number of girl hostages in just  one of those cities has been 
approximated at 24,000.

  A friend of mine who was building a house in Tehran told me about 
his  Afghan workers. He had noticed that two Iranian men showed up 
once  in while and got most of their money. When asked, the Afghans 
said  that they were brought for free on the condition that they pay 
the  smugglers later. They also saved a part of their money to take 
back to  their families in Afghanistan in case they were deported. 
The situation  is a bit different for refugees in Pakistan.

  Those who come to Iran are Hazarehs. These people are Farsi 
speaking Shiites. The common language and religion inclines them 
towards Iran. Their misfortune is their distinctive appearance. Their 
Mongol features subject them to quick recognition among Iranians. 
The Pashtoon who goes to Pakistan, however, blends in with 
Pakistanis because of common language, religion and ethnicity. 
Although the Shiite Hazarehs find Pakistan more liberal than Iran, 
job  opportunities in Iran are more appealing to them than the 
freedom in  Pakistan. It means that bread has priority over freedom. 
You must first  have food in order to search for freedom. Have the 
Iranians who are  seeking liberty today, passed a hunger crisis?

  As a result of not finding a suitable occupation, a hungry 
Sunni/Pashtoon Afghan is immediately attracted to the theological 
schools ready to offer food and shelter. In fact, contrary to Iran 
that  never dealt with Afghan refugees in an organized manner, 
Pakistan  promoted, organized and put into play the Taliban 
government for a  variety of reasons. The first is the Durand line.

  Before Pakistani independence from India, Afghanistan shared borders 
with India and serious disputes ensued between the two over the 
Pashtoonestan region. The British drew the Durand line and divided 
the region between the two countries, on the condition that after 100 
years, Afghanistan regain control over the Indian part of 
Pashtoonestan as well. Later on, when Pakistan declared  independence 
from India that Indian half of Pashtoonestan became  half of 
Pakistan. Since some six years ago, Pakistan, according to 
international law was supposed to cede Pashtoonestan back to 
Afghanistan. How would Pakistan that still has claims over Kashmir 
agree to give half of its land area to Afghanistan?

  The best solution was to raise hungry Afghan mujaheds to control 
Afghanistan. The Pakistan trained Taliban would naturally no longer 
harbor ambitions of recovering Pashtoonestan from their patron. No 
wonder the Taliban appeared just as the 100-year deadline drew to a 
close. From a distance, Taliban appear to be irrational and dangerous 
fundamentalists. When you look at them closely, you see hungry 
Pashtoon orphans whose occupation is that of a theology student and 
whose impetus for attending school is hunger. When you review the 
appearance of the Taliban you see the national political interests of 

  If fundamentalism was the reason for the independence of Pakistan 
from Gandhi's democratic India, the same applies for Pakistan's 
survival and expansion at the expense of Afghanistan. At the same 
time, Pakistan's significance for the world prior to disintegration 
of the  Soviet Union was based on its being the first defensive 
stronghold of  the West against the communist East. With Soviet 
disintegration, to the  same degree that the Afghan fighter lost his 
heroic position in the  western media, Pakistan also lost its 
strategic importance and came  face-to-face with an employment crisis.

  According to the rules of sociology, every organization buys and 
sells  something. Given this definition, armies sell their military 
services to  their own or other nations and governments. What was 
Pakistan's  national occupation in the world in relation to the West? 
Playing the  role of an apparently eastern army but being possessed 
of a western  internal conviction and selling military services to 
the United States.  With Soviet disintegration, the demand for 
Pakistan's military services  for the West also diminished.

  To which market then was Pakistan to present its military services 
and  maintain this vital national occupation? That is why Pakistan 
created  the Taliban: to have covert control of Afghanistan and stop 
the Afghans  from demanding the cession of Pashtoonestan. The fact 
that Pakistan,  first and foremost, faces an employment crisis, is 
rooted in this  reasoning. If as a filmmaker I cannot make my films 
in my homeland,  I'll go elsewhere for my occupation. Armies are the 
same way. For any  big war effort, enormous reserves of a nation's 
energy are directed  towards forming military organizations that 
dispense military services.  Once the war is over, these units look 
for other markets to maintain  their services. If they can't find a 
market, they become discouraged  and either stage a coup d'etat or 
transform into economic foundations.  Examples of the latter are 
found in countries that have used their  military organizations to 
control traffic or help with agriculture or road  construction.

  In the broader world, every once in a while, wars are fomented to 
create demands for military materiel and take government purchase 
orders. Let's go back to the issue of emigration. Unlike Iran, 
Pakistan  used Afghan refugees as religio-political students and 
founded the  Taliban army.

  Before the Soviet invasion, an Afghan was a farmer. With the Soviet 
attack, each Afghan turned into a mujahed to defend his valley. 
Organizations and parties were formed. With the Soviet retreat, the 
Afghans didn't go back to farming. The new occupation seemed more 
appealing and prosperous. Every sect or group began fighting another. 
Six neighboring countries, the U.S. and Russia each sought their own 
mercenaries among the military groups. As a result, a new wave of 
employment came into existence. The civil war intensified so much 
that  in two years, the damages were greater than in the longer 
period of  the Russian presence. People were fed up with civil war 
and when  Pakistan dispatched the army of the Taliban holding white 
flags with  the motto of public disarmament and peace, people 
welcomed them. In  a short time, the Taliban had control over most of 
Afghanistan. It was  then that the Taliban's Pakistani roots went on 

  The Taliban have always been criticized for their fundamentalism but 
little has been said about the reasons for their appearance. Although 
the Herati poet who had come to Iran on foot, returned to Afghanistan 
on foot, the orphan who had walked to Peshawar in Pakistan, returned 
to conquer Afghanistan driving Toyotas offered by the Arab countries.

  How could Pakistan, who had subsistence problems with its own 
people, afford to feed, train and equip the Taliban? With the help of 
Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates-who 
as Iran's competitors had previously created tensions in Mecca-looked 
for a religious power compatible with Iran. Saudi Arabia and the 
Emirates who once felt their modern interests were threatened by the 
motto of return to Islam, thought that if there is to be any return 
to  Islam, why not return to a more regressive Islam like that of the 
Taliban. If there's a contest for returning and the winner is one who 
regresses the most, why not go back to the most primitive state 
namely  Talibanism!.

  In modern times, emigration is a measurable issue in cultural, 
political  and economic planning. For example, Turks migrated to 
Germany and  worked in professions refused by the Germans. Unlike the 
Germans  who had no incentive for reproduction, the Turks went on 
producing  children and now it is predicted that in the next few 
decades the Turks  will make up the majority of Germany's population.

  Based on this premise, Germany will soon have a Turkish identity and 
considering the role of elections, we can imagine that perhaps in 30 
years, a Turk will become the German chancellor. This means that the 
need for Turk workers will gradually change the national identity of 
Germany. This is history's satire.

  The same applies to Asian and African emigration to the United 
States.  At first European emigrants marked the national identity of 
America.  Asian and Africans, however, migrated to America because of 
revolutions or in pursuit of intellectual and financial achievements. 
Unlike the European emigrants to America, Asians and Africans 
increased their population through reproduction. Gradually the 
semi-European American identity will change to an Asian-African 
identity. Inter-racial conflicts are then likely to arise as a result.

  If the American society welcomes the `Dialogue of Civilizations' 
paradigm, it is because of concerns over future racial conflicts in 
American society. Unlike what Iranians think, in the American 
context, it  is not a proposal for exchange between cultures rather 
dialogue is a  domestic American issue among its own cultures.

  But why can't the Iranian intellect that suggests strategic 
solutions for  other continents, find ways to utilize the emigration 
of Afghans to its  own advantage? The reason is that Iranians, unlike 
the Pakistanis who  regard Afghanistan as an opportunity, have always 
considered it more  of a threat than an opportunity. Iranians have 
always perceived  Afghans as smugglers or fundamentalists. Iranian 
investors have never  considered the large number of hungry Afghan 
workers to be  potentially profitable in situ. The have never mulled 
over the sort of  investment that would make Afghanistan a consumer 
of their goods or  use cheap Afghan labor and perhaps export the 
surplus production.

  Afghans have been unfortunate both with the geographical situation 
of  their country and in political relations with their neighbors. 
Years ago,  there was a big question about Franco, the Spanish 
dictator. Although  Spain's neighbors had democratic governments, 
Franco operated a  dictatorship. Influenced by its neighbors, Spain 
later also became more  democratic, to the extent that today, it is a 
vital member of the EEC.  The meaning of the fate of Spain is that 
better living is possible if one is  destined to have neighbors.

  Afghanistan is stuck with neighbors who see it as threat or find it 
an  opportunity for resolution of their own political-military 
problems. If  Afghanistan had more democratic neighbors who viewed it 
as an  economical-cultural opportunity it would have been in better 
shape by  now. Fascist Spain became democratic due to the fortunate 
adjacency  to democratic European countries while Afghanistan of the 
would-be  progressive Amanullah Khan, because of unfortunate 
circumstances of  neighborhood, turned into the redoubt of the 
Taliban. An Arabic  proverb well describes the situation: "First the 
neighbor, then the  house".

  Who are the Taliban?

  According to sociologists, the nations' demand for security from 
their  governments is greater than any other consideration. Welfare, 
development and freedom come next. After the Soviet retreat, the 
outbreak of intense civil war created nationwide insecurity and the 
country was placed in extremely perilous straits. Each group aimed at 
providing its own security through continuous fighting. None of them 
however were able to provide safety for the nation. The mocking irony 
of this period was that every one tried to insure security by making 
the  country unsafe.

  The strategy of disarmament and dispatch of the religious Taliban 
claiming to be harbingers of peace quickly succeeded in winning 
popular consent. The unsuccessful efforts of other groups were 
centered on offering war and insecurity. Although the people of Herat 
speak Farsi and the Taliban speak Pashtoon, when in Herat, I inquired 
about the Taliban, the reply I heard from the shopkeepers was that 
prior to the Taliban, their shops were robbed daily by armed and 
hungry men. Even those who opposed the Taliban were happy with the 
security they brought.

  Security was established for two reasons. One was the disarmament of 
the public and the other the severe punishments such as cutting the 
hands of thieves. These punishments are so harsh, intolerable and 
quick that if the 20,000 hungry Afghans in Herat saw a piece of bread 
before them, nobody would dare take it.

  I saw truck drivers who had traveled to and from Afghanistan for two 
years and had never locked their vehicles. Nothing was ever stolen 
from them either. Not only were the Afghans in need of financial 
security but practical safety and freedom from harassment have 
always been a concern. I heard different stories about how prior to 
the  Taliban people's lives and chastity were violated by other 
tribes and  sects. Disarmament and execution by stoning, however, 
have reduced  the number of such violations.

  So we have 20 million hungry people before us 30% of who have 
emigrated, 10% of who have died and the remaining 60% who are 
starving to death. According to UN reports, one million Afghans will 
die  of hunger within the next few months. Today, when you enter 
Afghanistan, you see people lying around on street corners. Nobody 
has energy to move and no arms to fight with. Fear of punishment 
stops them from committing crimes. The only remedy is to stay and die 
while humanity is overtaken by indifference. This is not Sa'di's time 
of  "all men are limbs of one body".

  The only one whose heart had not turned to stone yet, was the Buddha 
statue of Bamian. With all his grandeur, he felt humiliated by the 
enormity of this tragedy and broke down. Buddha's state of 
needlessness and calmness became ashamed before a nation in need  of 
bread and it fell. Buddha shattered to inform the world of all this 
poverty, ignorance, oppression and mortality. But negligent humanity 
only heard about the demolition of the Buddha statue. A Chinese 
proverb says: "You point your finger at the moon, the fool stares at 
your finger."

  Nobody saw the dying nation that Buddha was pointing to. Are we 
supposed to stare at all the different means of communication rather 
than at what they are intended to convey? Is the ignorance of the 
Taliban or their fundamentalism deeper than the earth's ignorance 
towards the ominous fate of a nation such as Afghanistan?

  For filming the starving Afghans, I called Dr. Kamal Hussein, the UN 
representative from Bangladesh. I told him I wanted to get permission 
to go to north Afghanistan (controlled by Ahmad Shah Massoud) and 
Kandahar (controlled by the Taliban). It was decided that a small 
group  would go and eventually just two of us (my son and I) received 
approval to travel with only a small video camera. We were to be 
permitted to go to Islamabad (Pakistan) and take a small 10-passenger 
UN airplane that flew once a week to the north and once a week to the 

  It took two weeks for the UN office to call and inquire when it was 
convenient for us to depart. We were ready but they said that it 
would  take another month. "Since it will get colder in a month and 
more  people will be dying, it would make your film more 
interesting", they  said. They recommended February. I asked, "More 
interesting?" They  replied that perhaps it would provoke the 
conscience of the world. I  didn't know what to say.

  We were silent for a while. Then I asked whether or not we could go 
to  both north and south. The Taliban didn't agree. They are not too 
fond  of journalists. I made a promise to only film those dying of 
hunger.  Again the Taliban do not approve. I told them I need another 
invitation  from the UN to re-enter Pakistan. Later, I received a 
facsimile stating  that I had to go to the Embassy of Pakistan in 
Tehran. I was happy  because before I had gotten a visa to Pakistan 
from the embassy to  bring costumes for Kandahar from Peshawar.

  I referred to the Embassy of Pakistan. At first, I am not received 
warmly. A little while passes and I'm called. A very respectable lady 
and a gentleman direct me to a room. Of the 20 minutes that I am in 
that room, for 15 minutes they talk about my daughter Samira and her 
international success in cinema. They avoid the main issue and in 
between words, I am asked why I applied through the UN to get a visa 
and informed that it would have been better if I referred directly to 
them. In addition they don't favor a film that misrepresents the 
Taliban  government. They prefer I go to Pakistan not Afghanistan. I 
feel like I  am in the embassy of the Taliban.

  I ask if they have seen The Cyclist and tell them I made a part of 
it in  Peshawar and that it is not a political film. I tell them that 
my intentions  are humanitarian and I want to help the Afghans 
especially with  regards to hunger. I tell them that my film is about 
the crisis of  employment and hunger. They say that we have 2.5 
million Afghans in  Iran. Why not film them? It is useless to 
continue the discussion. They  keep my passport and I am kindly asked 
to leave. A few days later, I  receive my passport with a statement 
saying that if I want to go to  Pakistan as a tourist, the visa can 
be issued but not for filming or going  to Afghanistan. When I leave 
the embassy, all of what I have read or  heard about the Taliban 
passes before my eyes.

  I remember a Taliban school in Peshawar where I was escorted out as 
soon as my Iranian identity became known. And I remember a day  when 
in Peshawar for filming The Cyclist, I was arrested and  handcuffed. 
I don't know why every time I intend to make a film about 
Afghanistan I end up in Pakistan!

  People tell me to be careful. There is always the threat of 
kidnapping  or terrorism at the borders. The Taliban are reputed to 
assassinate  suspected opponents en route between Zahedan and Zabol. 
I keep  saying my subject is humanitarian not political. Eventually, 
one day  when we are finished filming near the border, as I am 
walking around, I  come across a group that have come to either kill 
or kidnap me. They  ask me about Makhmalbaf. I am sporting a long 
thin beard and  wearing Afghan dress. A Massoudi hat with a shawl 
covering it and half  of my face makes me look like an Afghan. I send 
them the other way  and begin running while I cannot figure out 
whether they have been  dispatched by a political group or smugglers 
have sent them to extort  money.

  Let me go back to the issue of security. The Taliban, under the 
auspices of public disarmament and implementation of punishments 
such as amputation of the hands of thieves, stoning adulterers and 
execution of opponents have brought an apparent security to 
Afghanistan. When you listen to Shariat radio (Voice of Taliban) that 
only has a two-hour program daily, even if there is fighting 
somewhere,  they don't announce it just to maintain a sense of 
national security.  They say for example, that the people of Takhar, 
welcomed the  Taliban and you know it means that the Taliban attacked 
and  conquered Takhar. The rest is just news about Friday prayer or 
the  amputation of the hand of some bandit in Bamian, the stoning to 
death  of a young adulterer in Kandahar or punishment of some barbers 
who've cut a few teenagers' hair in the western style of infidels. 
Whatever it is, with all the punishments and propaganda, a sense of 
national security suffuses Afghanistan.

  Afghanistan, however, lacks the economic strength for the Taliban to 
create public welfare, yet the Taliban are the only government that 
can  bring security to the country. Those who fight the Taliban bring 
threats  to security and those who support them reason that Afghans 
must rule  in Afghanistan. Whoever is to become the ruler of 
Afghanistan must  first bring security to the nation. Any kind of war 
gives way to insecurity  and because Afghanistan is inclined towards 
tribalism, with the coming  of anybody to power, security is again 
threatened. It is better to first  recognize whoever aims to rule 
Afghanistan, so that he can save  Afghanistan from its hunger crisis 
and then move on. The same group  finds criticism of the Taliban 
irrelevant to the lack of freedom in  Afghanistan, because an 
insecure and famished nation seeks welfare  more than freedom and 

  In reply to the question of what the Taliban are, it must be said 
that  politically, the Taliban are an instrument for government 
supported by  Pakistan. Individually, they are starving youth turned 
students and  trained in crusader-breeding schools in Pakistan. They 
first entered the  premises for a loaf of bread and later exited to 
occupy political-military  positions in Afghanistan. The Taliban as 
viewed by one political group,  are protagonists of fundamentalism in 
the region and from the  viewpoint of another political group, are 
the same Pashtoons who have  been the only rulers of Afghanistan 
since the time of Ahmad Abdali.

  Today, they have reasserted 250-years of their power after an era of 
internal chaos. They claim that in the past quarter millennium, 
except  for a 9-month period that the Tajiks ruled and another 
two-years that  the Tajik Rabbani governed, the Pashtoons have always 
had control  and Afghanistan needs their experience in governing.

  I hardly understand these issues. My job is to make films and if I 
have  delved into these matters, it is because I want to write my 
script based  on a more precise analysis. The further I go though I 
find the case  more complicated. I keep asking people that when the 
U.S. found it  necessary, it retook Kuwait from Iraq in three days. 
Why, however, with  all its touting of modernism, does it not 
initiate an action to save the 10  million women who have no schools 
or social presence and are  trapped under the burqa? Why doesn't it 
stop this primitiveness that  has emerged in modern times? Does it 
not have the power or does it  lack the incentive? I have already 
found the answer.

  Afghanistan has no precious resources such as oil and it does not 
have a surplus oil income like Kuwait. I hear another answer too. If 
the  United States supports the Taliban for a few more years, the 
ugly  image that will be portrayed to the world of an eastern 
ideology, will  make everyone immune to it like modernism in 
Afghanistan. If the  revolutionary and reformative interpretations of 
Islam are equated with  Taliban's regressive interpretation, then the 
world will become forever  immune to the expansion of Islam. Some 
people find this analysis too  shabby a cliché. They tell me to let 
go and I will.

  Who is Molla Omar?

  In my seemingly endless trip to Kandahar, everywhere there is talk 
of  Molla Omar. His title is Amir-al-M'omenin (Commander of the 
Faithful).  Some Iranian politicians believe that he was created to 
compete with  the Iranian government but nobody really knows much 
about his  background. Some say he is 40 years old and blind in one 
eye but  there's no photograph of him to prove or disprove this. How 
does a  nation choose a half-blind man overnight to lead them, 
whereas not  even a picture has been seen of him? I get tempted to 
make a film  about Molla Omar. For political reasons I avoid it but 
my curiosity isn't  satisfied.

  If Pakistan prepares a precise script for the war-stricken people of 
Afghanistan under the title of disarmament, and receives a positive 
welcome by what analysis do they plan for a leader called Molla Omar 
who has no prior image? Someone who's nobody or has not been  seen by 
anybody, becomes the leader of a country in which each tribe  or sect 
has its own leader. Perhaps this is where the secret lies. If a 
known person were appointed leader to Afghanistan, then every one 
would have an excuse to oppose him.

  I hear a joke near the border about a teahouse. "A teahouse hosted 
Afghan customers on a regular basis. There was a TV set in this 
teahouse equipped with a windshield wiper so if necessary, the owner 
could spray some water on the screen and wipe clean any stains. The 
owner was asked about this feature and he said that whenever there 
was a TV program about the mujahedin that was visible in the border 
areas, their opponents spit on the TV and since the customers used 
snuff their secretions were colored. After a while the TV screen 
became unusable so he invented the wiper."

  When the image of Afghan leaders is so deeply criticized and 
satirized,  yet they are needed to rule Afghanistan, the best way is 
to design an  imageless leadership that can't be criticized for its 
form or background  and yet be able to free near-the-border 
television sets from wipers!

  If I weren't ashamed of Buddha's shamefulness, I would title this 
article  "Afghanistan, a country without an image". Every one I ask 
about Molla  Omar says he is a representative of God on earth who 
instead of  human laws brought the Qur'an as the country's 
constitution. He is  extremely devout, as are his followers. His 
wages are as paltry as the  Herat's governor's $15 and he lives like 
the poor people that are dying  in the streets.

  I realize that the image of this imageless man is complete and 
appealing because in the East, nobody expects leaders to be updated 
and specialized or possess a national and universal insight. If only 
the  leaders seem a little like the ordinary, it's enough to satisfy 
the people.  An Afghan expressed the idea that if he was starving, he 
was happy  that Molla Omar was always fasting too and that they were 
like each  other. He thanked God for such a leader.

  In Herat I am speaking to a medical student. He is hesitant to be 
seen  talking to me. I ask him if he knows the total number of 
college  students in Afghanistan. While he keeps walking and looking 
directly  ahead, he says: "A thousand". "In what major?" I ask. He 
says: "Only  medicine and engineering." "Which one are you studying", 
I ask and he  says: "Theoretical medicine." I asked what it meant and 
he said that  Molla Omar thinks human dissection is a sin. I asked if 
he had ever  seen Molla Omar's picture. He said no and left.

  Among the Pashtoo speaking refugees, I ran across some whom 
although they hadn't seen Molla Omar knew of people who did. I even 
met Iranian politicians who believe Molla Omar does really exist and 
that he is also handsome. A group of Afghans who sleep in Iran at 
night and cross the border in the day to sell dates in Afghanistan 
happen to be fascinated by Molla Omar. They tell me that he is an 
ordinary monk who dreamed of Mohammad, the prophet one night and  the 
prophet commissioned him to save Afghanistan. Since God was  with 
him, he was able to conquer Afghanistan in one month.

The role of international organizations in Afghanistan

  It is believed that some 180 international organizations are active 
in  Afghanistan. They too avoid my non-political questions. Finally, 
I find  out that they are in charge of a few tasks. One job is to 
distribute bread  among the starving. A second is the struggle for 
exchanging of  north-south prisoners and a third is to make 
artificial hands and legs  for land mine victims.

  Forgetting the insignificant role of the international 
organizations, I  become fascinated by the young people who have come 
here through  the Red Cross. I meet a 19-year old British girl who 
says the reason  she has come "is to be useful". It is in Afghanistan 
that she can make  several artificial hands and legs for people each 
day. She says that she  can't get a job in England that offers so 
much satisfaction. Since she  came, a few hundred people have been 
able to walk with the artificial  limbs she has made.

  I have a feeling that the role of international organizations is to 
remedy  the deep and extensive wounds of this nation in a limited way 
and  nothing more. Dr. Kamal Hossein, who is probably embarrassed 
about  the visa to Pakistan, isn't calling me anymore.

  I remember his words the day he came to our office expressing how he 
felt his job and efforts were in vain and he wanted to become my 
assistant. And even now that I've finished making Kandahar, I feel 
vain  about my profession. I don't believe that the little flame of 
knowledge  kindled by a report or a film can part the deep ocean of 
human  ignorance. And I don't believe that a country whose people in 
the next  50 years will loose their hands and legs to anti-personnel 
devices will  be saved by a 19-year old British girl. Why does she go 
to  Afghanistan? Why does Dr. Kamal Hossein with all his despair, 
still  report to the UN? Why did I make that film or write this note? 
I don't  know, but as Pascal put it: "The heart has reasons that the 
mind is  unaware of."

  The Afghan woman, the most imprisoned woman in the world

  Afghan society is a male-dominant society. It can even be claimed 
that  the rights of 10 million Afghan women who make up half of the 
populution in Afghanistan, are less than the weakest unknown Afghan 
tribe. No tribe is an exception in this regard. The fact that Afghan 
women even as viewed by the Tajiks, don't have the right to vote in 
elections is the least that can be said about them.

  With the coming of the Taliban girls' schools were closed and for a 
long  time, women were not allowed in the streets. More tragically, 
even  before the Taliban one out of every 20 women were able to read 
and  write. This statistic indicates that the Afghan culture had 
practically  deprived 95% of women from schooling and the Taliban 
deprived the  remaining 5%. Then why shouldn't we more realistically 
ask whether  the culture of Afghanistan is affected by the Taliban or 
was it the cause  for the Taliban's appearance?

  When I was in Afghanistan, I saw women with burqas on their head 
begging in the streets or shopping in second hand stores. What caught 
my attention were the ladies who brought out their hands from under 
the burqas and asked little peddler boys to polish their nails. For a 
long  time, I wondered why they didn't buy nail polish to use at 
home? Later I  found out it was the cheapest way to do it. Buying 
nail polish was more  expensive than a one-time use. I told myself 
again that this is a good  sign that women under burqas still like 
living and despite their poverty,  care about their beauty to that 
extent. Later on, however, I reached the  conclusion that it is not 
fair to isolate and imprison a woman in an  environment or a certain 
costume and be content that she still puts on  make up.

  An Afghan woman has to maintain herself so that she won't be 
forgotten in the competition with her rivals. Polygamy is quite 
common  among young men too, and has turned many Afghan homes into 
harems. Although the marriage allowance is so high that getting 
married means buying a woman, I saw old men, while filming, give 
away 10-year old girls and with the marriage price that they 
received,  considered marrying other 10-year old girls for them 
selves. It seems  that limited capital is exchanged from one hand to 
the other to replace  girls from one house to the other. Among them 
there are women who  have an age difference of 30 to 50 years with 
their husbands.

  These women mostly live in the same house or even the same room  and 
not only have they surrendered but they have also gotten used to 
these customs. I had brought a lot of dresses and burqas from 
Afghanistan and Pakistan for my film. Many of the women who agreed 
to be in the film as extras after strenuous and lengthy persuasion, 
requested that we gave them burqas instead of money. One of them 
wanted a burqa for her daughter's wedding, and I, fearing that burqas 
may become popular in Iran, didn't give any to anyone.

  Once when we had asked some Afghan women to be in the film, their 
husband told us that he was too chaste to show his women. I told him 
that we would film his women with their burqas on but he said that 
the  viewers watching the movie know that it is a woman under the 
burqa  and that would contradict chastity.

  Time and again I asked myself, did the Taliban bring the burqas or 
did  the burqas bring the Taliban? Do politics affect change in 
culture or  does culture bring politics?

  In Niatak camp in Iran, the Aghans themselves closed down the public 
bathhouse reasoning that anyone who passes along the walls knowing 
that the opposite sex is naked behind those walls, is engaged in a 

  At present there are no woman doctors in Afghanistan and if a woman 
wants to refer to a doctor she has to bring her son or husband or 
father and through them talk to the doctor. As far as marriage, the 
father or the brother, not the bride, say yes.

  Afghan aggression

  According to Freud human aggression stems from human animalism  and 
civilizations only cover this animalism with a thin veneer. This thin 
skin splits at the snap of a finger. Violence exists in both East and 
West  what is different is the style not the reality of its existence.

  What's the difference between death by decapitation using knives, 
daggers or swords or dying by bullets, grenades, mines and missiles? 
In most cases, criticism of aggression is really the disapproval of 
the  means of aggression. The death of one million Afghans as a 
result of  injustice in the world is not regarded by the world as 
aggression. The  death of 10% of the Afghan population by civil war 
and war with Russia  is not perceived as aggression but the 
decapitation of someone with a  sword will long be the main headline 
of satellite TV news.

  It is naturally fearsome and horrible to see a person being 
decapitated  but why doesn't the death of people every day by land 
mines give us  the same feeling? Why are knives aggressive but not 
mines? What's  criticized in the modern West of Afghan aggression, is 
form and not  substance. The West can create a tragic story for a 
statue but for  death by millions, it suffices with statistics. As 
Stalin put it: "The death  of one person is tragedy, but the death of 
one million is only a statistic."

  Afghanistan is a country inclined to tribalism and a tribal order 
dominates it. These tribes aggressively resisted against foreign 
dominance, yet benefited from the conflict of interest among its 
tribes.  Although Afghanistan is called the museum of races and 
clans, tourists  have never visited this museum. If anyone passed 
through  Afghanistan, it was either Nadir Shah intending to conquer 
India or the  Soviets seeking to reach warm waters. Thus, the rough 
Afghan  besides what he has learned from the harshness of nature, has 
always  been faced with foreign aggression as well.

  The consequences of war in Afghanistan

  Afghanistan became independent from Iran about 250 years ago and 
about 150 or according to other sources about 82 years ago, its 
borders were determined by the Durand line. It encountered a 
premature modernism about 77 years ago. Some 20 years ago it was 
invaded by the Soviets and it has been involved in a civil war for 
the  past 10 years. About 40% of Afghanistan's population have been 
tragically killed or become refugees.

  Nevertheless, this country and its people have either been neglected 
or considered as threats or they have been used as a means of threat 
against others. When I was crossing the border, I saw Iranian cannons 
pointed towards Afghanistan and when I entered Afghanistan, I saw 
cannons pointing to Iran. These cannon indicated that both countries 
regard each other as threats.

  On the other side of the border I heard the region's military 
commander had called the Iranian consul and told him that their 
homes were made of clay so what did the Iranian cannons aim to 
target? He had said, "The worst is that you bombard our houses and 
when it rains well take the wet mud and build our homes anew again. 
Don't you find it a pity if our cannons destroy your beautiful homes? 
You can't make glass and iron and ceramics with rain. Why don't you 
come and build the road to Herat for us?"

  When I ride to Herat from Dogharoon, I feel like I'm sailing on a 
turbulent sea. I remember a time when I got trapped in a storm in the 
Persian Gulf while filming. The waves would take our small boat up 
for  several meters and bang us back on the water's surface. The 
boatman  told us if the craft turned over, it was goodbye. And now I 
see those  waves again, but they are waves of dirt. At the beginning 
of the road  the car goes downhill and comes back up the hill and in 
the middle of  the trip the car beats against the dirt waves. 
Although this area is flat  and includes the non-mountainous part of 
Afghanistan, the road is  worse than the winding roads of Iran.

  Above the height of each wave, shovel-holding men and boys stand for 
eternity. As far as the eye can see, these shovel-holding men are 
visible. As soon as our car gets close to them, they start filling up 
the  ditches with dirt and while throwing worthless Afghan paper 
currency to  them, we see them in the dust the same way that we saw 
the dance of  leaves in Once Upon A Time Cinema. It is a scene of 
shovel-holding  men who disappear in the dust and have created an 
occupation for  themselves out of nothing. This is the most surreal 
scene that I see in  Afghanistan.

  I ask the driver how many cars pass this road every day. He says: 
"About 30." I ask if these thousands of shovel-holding men gather for 
only 30 cars, but the driver is paying attention to driving and he is 
not  in the mood to answer me. Slowly, I turn on the radio. It's been 
years  since I quit listening to the radio or watching TV and I 
haven't read any  papers for months. It is September 23rd of 2001 the 
2:00 o'clock  Iranian news is on. It makes me cry to hear that two 
million Iranian kids  have gone to first grade today. I don't know if 
it is out of joy for the  children who are going to school or out of 
sorrow for those who don't  go to school in Afghanistan.

  I look at the road and I feel like I'm watching a movie. The driver 
tells  me that in some of these houses girls schools are established 
secretly  and some girls study at home. I keep thinking here is a 
subject for a  film. I arrive in Herat and see women polishing their 
nails from under  the burqas. I tell myself here is another film 
subject. I see the 19-year  old British girl who has come to 
dangerous Afghanistan to be useful. I  tell myself again, here is 
another subject. I see loads of lame men  who've lost their legs to 
mines. One of them, instead of an artificial leg,  has tied a shovel 
to the left side of his body and walks with it. I tell  myself, here 
is yet another subject.

  I arrive in Herat and see dying people covering the streets like 
carpets.  I no longer see it as another subject. I feel like quitting 
cinema and  seeking another occupation. When Massoud, Afghanistan's 
top military  chief was asked what he wished for his children to 
become, he replied,  "politicians". It means that war as a solution 
has reached a dead-end in  the mind of the commander. He thinks that 
the solution to  Afghanistan's salvation is more political than 
military. In my opinion, the  only solution for Afghanistan is a 
rigorous scientific identification of its  problems and presentation 
of a real image of a nation that has  remained obscure and imageless 
both for itself and for others.

  Resolution of employment crisis

  Once the industrial countries saturated their internal markets with 
their  products, they went after international markets. In paying the 
price for  their consumption, the non-industrial countries each 
offered a product  and others, cheap labor. In this game, 
Afghanistan, due to  mountainous geography and lack of roads was 
unable to exploit its raw  materials cost-effectively.

  Due to mismanagement, dispersion of population-arisen from the 
farming period-and disunion which is a quality of the tribes, 
Afghanistan did not have the potential to offer its labor force to 
the  world in exchange for other goods or services. Thus, Afghanistan 
stayed away from the global game of subsistence and lived on by its 
insignificant wealth from the grasslands. The entrance of the Soviet 
Union resulted in a nationwide reaction and the farmers turned to 
fighters. With the Soviet retreat, these fighters would not consent 
to  going back to farming.

  On one hand the civil war spread because of a power struggle. Since 
then insecurity and emigration increased. The 30% of Afghan 
emigrants probably experienced better living in other cities and did 
not  want to be dependent on grasslands for a living, especially, 
since they  would be threatened by periodic drought. Afghans desired 
a more civil  share of life. This means that Afghanistan with all its 
historical tardiness  has announced its need to enter world trade.

  What is the most immediate wealth, however, that can be offered to 
enter the world of production-consumption or vice versa? Doubtlessly, 
the answer is Afghanistan's cheap labor. Labor is more obtainable 
than  exploiting raw materials in the roadless mountainous 
Afghanistan. The  dominant outlook on Afghanistan should cast aside 
its military-political  prism. It should be replaced with an economic 
direction perspective. If  employment is taken both as the root and 
final solution for the present  crisis, through national management, 
Afghanistan can also enter world  trade and the circle of 
international subsistence. It can achieve its real  share and pay for 
its cost which is to offer labor, consumer products  and take 
advantage of present-day civilization and modernism. This  was well 
experienced in Mao's China, Gandhi's India and quite  successfully 
accomplished in diligent Japan.

  Viewed from this the point of vantage the illness of Afghans is not 
a  disaster. It is a market for Afghan doctors. The lack of 
specialist  physicians is not a disaster, It is a market to teach 
medical assistants  with a few months of education. Hunger is not a 
disaster. It is a market  for consumption of bread. Lack of bread is 
not a disaster. It is a market  for wheat. Lack of wheat is not a 
disaster. It is a market for harnessing  wasted waters.

  Waters harnessed by labor mean dams. Dams built by labor mean 
wheat. Wheat is bread. Bread is satiation. Beyond satiation, it is 
surplus. Surplus satiation is development. Development is 
civilization.  Stalin had said, "The death of one person is a 
tragedy, but the death of  one million is a mere statistic."

  Since the day I saw a little Afghan girl 12 years of age, the same 
age  as my own daughter Hanna-fluttering in my arms of hunger-I've 
tried  to bring forth the tragedy of this hunger, but I always ended 
up giving  statistics. Oh God! Why have I become so powerless, like 
Afghanistan?  I feel like going to that same poem, to that same 
vagrancy and like that  Herati poet, get lost somewhere, or collapse 
out of shame like the  Buddha of Bamian.

  I came on foot, I'll leave on foot  The same stranger who had no 
piggy bank, will leave.  And the child who had no dolls, will leave. 
The spell on my exile will be broken tonight.  And the table that had 
been empty, will be folded.  In suffering, I wandered around the 
horizons.  It is me, who everyone has seen in wandering.  what I do 
not have, I'll lay and leave.  I came on foot, I'll leave on foot.

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