The Kite Runner: An Introduction

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The Kite Runner: An Introduction

Afghanistan has had a long history of internal and external conflicts, including two wars with the United Kingdom in the 1800s and an invasion by the Soviet Union in 1979. Since the Soviets left in 1989, Afghanistan has experienced many internal conflicts over control of the country, leading to infighting and civil war. As a result of its fractured and unstable history, Afghan culture and identity has been inextricably linked with the global powers influencing it. Such identification has only stratified the Afghan people and influenced their heterogeneous demographics. This complex internal identity combined with this externally imbalanced one are both reflected in The Kite Runner.

Afghanistan: Overview

An ethnically diverse country.As of July 2007, there are approximately 32 million people estimated to live in Afghanistan.Pashtu and Dari are considered the official languages of Afghanistan and are spoken by 85% of the people.30 other minor languages are also spoken in Afghanistan.About 99% of the population is Muslim, and of these Muslims, 84% belong to the Sunni sect.

Afghanistan is a landlocked country. It is very dry and has extremely warm summers and very cold winters. The mountains are rugged, although there are some plains used for farming. Most of the population work as subsistence farmers, yet the yield is very poor. This contributes to the poverty of certain demographics of the Afghan people.

A Land of Ethnic Diversity

There has been a long history of an ethnic hierarchy within Afghanistan. It has created imbalances in wealth, influence and education within its society.Traditionally, the Pashtun ethnic group has dominated the country because they are the presumed majority of the population.As a result, many of the other ethnic groups have not had a strong voice within the society, and bias and prejudice have flourished.

Pashtuns:Majority ethnic group at 42%Highest ethnicity on the social ladder and dominate governmental bodiesPashtu is their native languageConsist mainly of Sunni Muslims

Hazaras9% of Afghanistans populationReside mainly in the central Afghanistan mountain region called HazarajatHistorically, the Hazara seem to have Mongolian origins.Most Hazara are Shiite Muslims. The 1% which are not Muslim are either Hindu, Sikh or Jewish.Hazaras are considered to be on the lower end of the socio-economic scale.

TribalismTribalism is the most important traditional institution.Tribes provide a sense of solidarity, security, and political power to their members.For most ethnic groups, especially Pashtuns, tribal identity and loyalty precede national identity and national consciousness.

A Complex History

Historically, for Western powers, Afghanistan has been both a crossroads and buffer state for Imperial abuse.

As a landlocked country, Afghanistan is caught between many neighboring states, making it:Crossroads on ancient trade routes: The Silk/Spice RoadBuffer between major powers: Great Britain vs. Russia, the United States vs. USSRA crucible for a varied people striving to establish and maintain a homogenous identity

These complex factors have led to a very distinct Afghan identity that has had both a unifying and stratifying effect on the Afghan people.

Afghan Disunity: The Great GameThe Great Game was an intense rivalry between the British and Russian Empires in Central Asia, beginning in the nineteenth century and continuing through 1907. Britain sought influence or control in much of Central Asia, to buffer the "crown jewel" of its empire - British India.

Tsarist Russia, meanwhile, sought to expand its territory and sphere of influence, in order to create one of history's largest land-based empires. The Russians would have been quite happy to wrest control of India away from Britain, as well.

Britain invaded Afghanistan because of its proximity to Russian occupied territories. After fighting two Anglo-Afghan wars, Afghanistan would become a British protectorate, eventually gaining its independence from the UK in 1919 when Afghanistan aligned itself with Communist Russia.

After Afghanistan lost its status as a British protectorate, Muhammad Zahir Shah would rule Afghanistan for the next forty years, from 1933-1973. He would be the last king of Afghanistan.

Zahir Shahs rule, like the kings before him, was one of almost total autocratic power. The word of the king was the word of law. Advisory councils and assemblies were sometimes called to advise the king, but these bodies had no power, and in no way represented the people of Afghanistan.Afghan Disunity: Zahir Shah and the Modern Golden Age of Afghanistan

History books refer to this time of Afghanistans history as one where attempts were made to modernize the country; however, under Shahs rule political parties were outlawed and many were shot and killed when they protested the negligence of his regime.

In 1973, the king was overthrown and a republic was declared. But this in reality represented very little, for the king had simply been overthrown by a prominent member of his own family, Daoud, who decided to title himself president instead of king.

Under Daoud, a certain liberalization took place, meaning that some of the most drastic realities of the monarchy were rolled back, but by and large whatever hopes and expectations arose among the people little was done to satisfy them.

Daoud had seized power with the help of an underground party named the Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan a pro- communist party. The PDPA had aided and collaborated with Daoud in exchange for government posts. Once he had consolidated power though and felt he no longer needed these controversial allies, he cut ties with them and ordered a crack down upon the party.

In 1978 the PDPA seized power from Daoud in a military coup. After seizing power they began a series of limited reforms, such as declaring, more or less, a secular state, and that women were deserving of equal treatment of men. They sought to curtail the practice of purchasing brides, and tried to implement a land reform program. They quickly met with fierce opposition from many sections of the deeply religious population though. The PDPAs response to this was very heavy-handed, aggravating the situation. Soon several rural areas rose in open armed rebellion against the new government.

Immediately following the PDPA coup, the Soviet Union took an active interest in the so-called socialist revolution unfolding in its backyard. Dismayed by the clumsiness of the radical faction of the PDPA, the Soviet Union invaded in 1979 to set up a puppet government in Afghanistan.

The Soviet Union and United States became the dominant powers after World War II.

Both sought influence around the world, including Afghanistan, thus Afghanistan regained its status as a pawn of superpowers.

Afghan government needed to modernize its armed forces to:Maintain internal securityGain control of independent tribesStrengthen central government to foster political and economic development

When the U.S. government rejected Afghan request for arms, Afghans turned to the Soviet Union.

The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan with 80,000 men in December, 1979, in an attempt to impose control for its puppet Afghan government.

After losing tens-of- thousands of soldiers, the defeated Soviets retreated in 1988. 1,000,000 Afghans lost their lives in the fight against the Soviet Union.Afghan Disunity: A New Game & The Cold War

Once inside Afghanistan, Soviets found themselves forced to commit more and more troops and material to prop up the unpopular PDPA government. Several Islamic fundamentalist groups sprang up and began waging guerilla warfare, many of them operating from camps set up by Pakistani Intelligence within Pakistan, from which they could strike into Afghanistan, and then beat a hasty retreat over a guarded border.

At that point the United States took an active interest in the Islamic fundamentalists waging war on the PDPA and the Soviets. The CIA began providing military training to the Mujahideen the name the Islamic guerillas came to be called. They provided what in the end amounted to billions of dollars worth of weapons, including sophisticated anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles that allowed the guerillas to take out modern Soviet tanks and jet planes.

Afghan Disunity: MujahideenThe Mujahideen would officially take over Afghanistan control in 1992; however, radical groups could not agree amongst themselves as to who would take over power.

As a result, civil war started amongst the Afghan people and independently occupied zones were established within the country, each with its own warlord.

The TalibanSeeking to end the civil war which threatened the stability of their own country itself a prison house of many nationalities Pakistani Intelligence aided in the creation of a new Islamic fundamentalist movement, the Taliban. The Taliban was born in the Islamic schools that had sprung up inside the Afghan refugee camps inside Pakistan, a direct result of political unrest in Afghanistan at this time. Its leadership and the bulk of its initial ranks were made up of young religious students, primarily Pashtuns, motivated by the zeal of religion and the belief that they were ordained to bring stability and the ways of Allah back to their war torn land. They railed against the corruption, greed and factionalism of the contending Mujahideen factions inside Afghanistan, and when they mounted a military push to conquer the country, they were initially well received by certain sections of the weary population. Their ranks were filled by rank and file Mujahadeen fighters