Wednesday, April 22, 2015
Afghanistan:Graveyard or genesis of empires?
I often wonder if the myth of indomnitable Afghans/Pathans had been fostered by the British to make up for their own lackluster performance in that region. And this had in time turned into some sort of self fulfilling prophecy especially involving super powers such as Russia and now U.S where the opponents use this powerful piece of propaganda to undermine their opponents. But how true is the narrative of the tough and unconquered Afghans?
The earliest ethnic group associated with Afghanistan are the Kambojas who were defeated by Sagara and were forced to maintain short hair and beards as a sign of submission.
They were thus excluded as mlecchas or barbarians to whom Vedic rites and rituals were to be denied.
However that region was deemed strategic enough to maintain a presence of Kshatriyas from the heartland and the location of Taxila university suggests that it was firmly under Indian political and cultural influence.
Alexander invaded and conquered this area with minimal fuss and discusses with horror at the practices of Bactria (then roughly corresponding to the region of Afghanistan and Uzbekistan) at how they would murder their elderly and the cities would look presentable on the outside but were full of decomposing bodies and bones lying in the city streets.
He had their number with regard to their fighting abilities. He described them as possessing ferocity which imbued them with courage but it was ultimately ephemeral and they would collapse like a house of cards upon just a little counter resistance.
It reminds me of my high school days in Dubai when a Maharashtrian Brahmin boy 5'6" beat the living hell out of his loudmouth Pushtun classmate-6'4"
Hsuien Tsang had the same opinion of them . He also described the proto Kashmirs and Punjabi (ethnic groups related to Kambojas) as being timid and having pretensions of learning but no real knowledge.
There wasn't really an independent Afghan identity which fought foreign invaders until the Shahi kings who despite their valiant struggles ultimately succumbed to Muslim depradations with the final scion jumping into his own pyre.
In the awful film Bose: A forgotten hero we hear a Pathan tribesman singing about his ancestors had defeated the Sakas, Hunas and the Yavanas(Greeks). Sorry old man, none of those claims hold any water. Indeed Afghanistan was so thoroughly defeated that it provided a very cushy bases for those foreigners to invade and hold onto India.
It was the plains people of Indian river cultures, Guptas,Mauryas and Satavahanas which forcefully evicted these barbarians.
"The Greek sword broken, Greek shield shattered, the Greek army scattered to dust" Savarkar poetically described the trouncing of the hitherto undefeated Macedonian army under Chandragupta Maurya
Those later Kabul based dynasties which came to rule a good chunk of India such as Khiljis, Thuglaks, Ghazni and Mughals themselves were not native to Afghanistan but of Turk or Mongol ethnicities who looked down on the Pushtuns(already an amalgalm of Hindu Kambhoj ,Hunnic and Turkic Muslims). So much so that Pushtuns adopted a foreign title("Khan" from the Mongols) as a symbol of their cultural and military degradation.
Afghans, whether Pushtun or Turkic, were not synonymous so much for courage and valor but as a byword for cruelty, treachery and dirty tricks in warfare such as ambushing unarmed kings during negotiations(Vira Balla), posing as horse traders in order to capture the capital with minimal resistance(Lakshmana Sena) or attacking Indian soldiers during undesignated fighting hours during the night or early morning to take them by surprise.
Later Maharaja Ranjit Singh upon his conquest of Kabul would impose on the Afghans, the clothing of the women of West Punjab as a humiliation. It is a clothing they wear to this day.
To be sure quite a few Afghans managed to carve out fiefdoms for themselves in small chunks of India during the decline of the Mughal empire particularly in Madurai, Bhopal , Haryana and Bengal . Once again using the time honored dirty tricks and broken treaties rather than honorable methods of war.
When Afghans acquired a reputation for courage, steadfastness ,honesty and loyalty is an interesting question. Much of it is to do with Victorian propaganda which craved a face saving measure when their expeditions to Afghanistan were thoroughly defeated.
Add to that the mystique of the Roussean noble savage which had gained prominence amongst all the elites in Europe to which as disparate people as Scots, Turks, Ethiopian highlanders, Native Amerians,Chechens and Pushtuns were (somewhat) unflatteringly cast.
And into this mixture add a dash of martial race and Aryan race theory (due to the fair skinned and light eyed appearance of Pushtuns) and the mythology is complete.
This was propagated not just by the Muslim mafia dominated Bollywood(best typified by the exploitative but delirious Feroz Khan) but also the emasculated and cuckolded Hindus producers such as Kapoors(who had to flee their native Peshawar due to Pathan threats to their life) and the usual Benegal,Nihalani kabal.
The " indomitable Pustun" narrative received another shot in the arm during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan where the CIA found it useful to dust off this colonial era anachronism as valuable psy ops against the enemy.
All in all, the Pushtuns couldn't make much of a dent against the mighty Soviet army and neither could their occasionally daring but tactically useless Arab volunteers and tourists, Osama's hyperbolic boasts to the contrary.
Ultimately the Soviets withdrew due to the economy faltering and discontent due to an aggressive arms race started by Reagan which undid their entire rotten socio political edifice.
Even so they left behind a pro communist figure head which the Afghans didn't dare remove.
Whatever little honor, courage and nobility was remaining in Afghanistan was gone, dead and crushed under the Soviet jackboot. 1/5th of Afghanistan lived in Pakistan with a good chunk of women making a living as prostitutes and the men as heroin smugglers.
The subsequent brutalities of the Taliban and the trauma of the American invasion and occupation only exposed further defects in the Afghan psyche-treachery, corruption, greed and cowardice. The reviews of the Afghan National Army are far from glowing. And neither is anyone particularly struck by Taliban battlefield mettle. The only reason Americans falter is due to a combination of mission creep and fighting under strict rules of engagement enforced by the former general Stanley McChrystal.
However their mythology still lives on in Bollywood where we have as recently a remake of Deewar with Sunjay Dutt filling in for the noble Pathan character Sher Khan, played in the original by Pran ( a character originally based on the Mumbai gangster Karim Lala).
The only challenge to this narrative came for the Mumbai Malayalee Samajam upon the airing of the TV serial Tipu Sultan in 1989 who objected to the glorification of this cruel tyrant and his atrocities. Some Malayalee Kshatriya authors also tore open old wounds and injured Pushtun pride by stating how Tipu Sultan was critically injured by Nair troops in a pitched battle and left for dead by his paniced retreating army but as capturing and executed an injured king was against their Kshatriya dharma, he was returned safely back to his camp.
Seeing how the Mumbai film industry is really a Pushtun and mercenary Punjabi establishment since 1948, I suppose it shouldn't be surprising.
What is surprising is that we root for characters like Badshah Khan in bizarre works such as Khuda Gawah and the dimwitted Hindu audience is manipulated into admiring his Muslim highland bravado by the uber dhimmi director Mukul Anand(may he rot in hell).
It was once said by a wise man that nothing dies in India. Hence we have communist ruled states, patronize religions like Zoroastrianism which is the rough equivalent of breeding pandas only because they are exotic , revived political Islam long before it was in the Middle East , not to mention an aggressive and assertive Christianity which even a hundred years ago were extinct in the Arab world and Europe respectively.
Indeed the Egyptian Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfooz relates how the Egyptian peasant of the early 1900s considered the Islamic faith to be something a bygone era with the Quran and mosques to be relegated with the Pharoahs,pyramids and Sphinxes).
India seems generous to those even who wish to do it harm. It reminds me of a Buddhist proverb which says the sandalwood tree even scents the axe which tries to fell it.But ultimately cruel ideologies are self destructive and will collapse on the self confidence of Vedic civilization under whose hegemony the Kambojs and Vahlikas were little more than a fringe third rate frontier state. It is only a matter of a time when we are back to that dynamic.