It’s a funny little story: Blind king sires crazed kids, gifting himself a civil war, and a really long lecture we call the Gita. It’s also pretty funny, how people assume Afghanistan starts and ends with a little group whose name literally means ‘students’: the Taliban.
Gandhari, the Kaurava matriarch whose sons sparked the great war, was Afghan. Shakuni, a Machiavelli before Machiavelli, was Afghan. Afghanistan, or Gandhara, could’ve been the home of a tribe called the Gandharvas, the mythical celestial musicians. There is so much, of ‘Afghan’, ‘Pakistani’ influence in the ancient India narrative we simply do not care to understand!.
Gandhara, encompassing Pakistan, and Afghan Jalalabad.
The legends speak, of the siege of Gandhara, by the Grand-sire Bhishma.
The vanquished chieftain, Saubala is locked in with his hundred sons, each fed a grain of rice, and left to the cruelest of deaths. His brothers die, his father’s sanity snaps before he’s finally freed, and Shakuni’s left to avenge.
It’s important to understand myths do not classify. Each of the demigods worshipped are not ‘good’, or ‘evil’ rather are shaped by their circumstances. Who they are, really depends on your perspective. Pandavas, the heroes, sired with the gods, technically were bullies. Sita, from the Ramayana was really Ravana’s daughter, some interpret. Duryodhana, Shakuni, the traditional villains of the Mahabharata, are even worshipped in Kerala for their rejection of caste, and vedic elitist philosophy.
Tragic anti-hero, unless he’s in an indian soap opera.
It doesn’t end here. Ambhi Kumar, (his direct descendant) ruled over Taxila, Gandhara, home to the world’s first universities. Hearing, of Alexander’s conquests, he surrenders before any actual conflict, allies with him to take out Porus, his arch-rival. They both fall to drumroll, Chandragupta Maurya, who establishes an empire, which gave the world Buddhism, Jainism, seriously wicked metallurgy, Ashoka, and the modern Indian Republic.
The Mauryan Empire at its zenith. Daddy Maurya, the empire-builder.
The name ‘Afghanistan’ is, Jewish.
‘Afghan’ is a corruption, of Malak Avagana, son of Jeremiah, grandson to King Saul, raised by King David. He later commanded Solomon’s armies, and built the first Temple Mount, in Jerusalem. Malak Avagana’s grandson, Qais Rashid later converts to Islam, and proselytizing, engineers its spread through large swathes of Asia. The modern Afghan identity however, is complex, and consists descent from the Tribe of Joseph, Kushans, even Arabs.
Solomon’s blood in his veins. Wow.
The story of the Modern Afghan State really begins with the coming of the British.
The Anglo-Afghan wars are important here.
The British, and the Soviets played a little game over Afghanistan, continually meddling in her foreign affairs, trying to win influence. Following Dost Mohammed Barakzai’s seizure of power from Shuja Shah Durrani(a British puppet), the British fought, fearing Soviet influence, and re-installed the Shah. Dost Mohammed’s son Wazir Khan, waged guerilla war, draining the Company, of men, of resources, before finally declaring open revolt. Caught napping, they agreed to less-than-favourable terms and retreated, having been promised safe passage.
They were lied to.
As soon as the British had retreated, the aged, and the infirm left behind had their houses set on fire, and were burnt alive. Wazir Khan’s promised escort did not arrive, and the British commander, Sir Elphinstone was actually even persuaded by Wazir, to continue their wait for the promised escort, all while an ambush was being prepared. Hundreds deserted by the day, thousands murdered in days, as William Elphinstone even ceased giving orders. The Army, with 12,000 casualties was reduced to a hundred men, in five days. 16,499 lost their lives over the course of this march.
The lone survivor was asked what happened to the army, to which he replied,
‘I am, the army’.
Graphic. Afghanistan, the graveyard of empires.
Wazir Khan was eventually poisoned by his father, who feared his political machinations.
And so this nation, lumbered into the 21st century, with a Soviet-backed communist interlude which among other achievements, established equality of the sexes. The Pakistan and US backed Afghan militias opposed their ‘Un-Islamic’ overtures, and proceeded to bomb Kabul. The US would be drawn into a conflict spanning decades, with 90,000 war-related deaths in the past 15 years alone. And so, this ancient land would descend into chaos, madness, all her former glory forgotten.
History comes alive, in the strangest of places. I present to you, Philo-Sophos.
Next up: Susumu Ohno and the story of modern genetics, to Uma Thurman.