By Clare Lockhart

Afghan commentators, analysts and activists constantly remind their foreign visitors that the vast majority of Afghan citizens are no different from citizens anywhere: their aspirations are to live in peace and dignity, and to try and make the prospects of their children at least as good as their own. With the media spotlight focused on the pinnacles of politics and war, the lives of this 95 percent of Afghan citizens are often obscured. Afghanistan Revealed makes a significant step towards uncovering the lives of the Afghan people and the history that has shaped and continues to shape their individual and collective fate. This book is therefore essential reading for both the decision makers inside and outside Afghanistan who are deliberating the way forward, and for the public inside and outside the country who are struggling to understand why peace and stability in the region has been so elusive. Importantly, the book helps to debunk a series of myths that often prevail in the media and the sound bites of politicians and pundits. 

First, it helps us question the assertion that “we” have been at war in Afghanistan for ten years. US and allied forces were at war in Afghanistan for just three short weeks in November 2001. By the time the world’s diplomats and heads of state met in Bonn in late November 2001, the war was over. In December 2001, the UN and later NATO committed to what was in effect a peace-keeping mission to maintain stability and assist Afghans in rebuilding their war-torn society. 

For the UN, NGOs and diplomats, the main challenges were to set up a government that citizens could accept, to deliver humanitarian assistance and to build tolerance between Afghanistan and its neighbours. It was only some years later – around 2006 – that this fragile peace unravelled, conflict broke out again and the international peace-keepers were forced into first a defensive and then an offensive position. But from an Afghan perspective, their country has been at war for more than 30 years, since the coup of 1978 and invasion of the USSR in 1979. Over the last centuries the territory has been subject to conflict after conflict as the shape of empires and nations have ebbed and flowed. Understanding the current conflicts in the context of this history will be essential to the urgent search to bring stability and peace to the region. 

Second, Afghanistan Revealed encourages us to move beyond the binary notion that any such war will be won or lost. Instead of seeing Afghanistan as subject to a war between its government, or the international presence, and the insurgents, the book’s chapters help us understand the range of conflicts that are underway. There are conflicts between political and ethnic groups within the society, between the interests of neighbouring countries, and over notions of identity, over contracts, mineral rights, water and land. There is no “winning” of any of these conflicts – unless the winners will be the Afghan people. Tragically, ending the conflict altogether may be out of reach, but finding a way to manage these conflicts so that they no longer culminate in violence but rather stay within the realm of politics, could bring a greater degree of stability and peace and is a more attainable objective. 

Third, it challenges the oft-repeated and short-sighted notion that Afghan society is backward and broken. Traditions of history, culture and religion have persisted in Afghanistan through millennia, yet have continually adapted to the forces of a fast-changing world. This land was central to trade on the Silk Route, and created some of the world’s marvels of art, poetry and architecture, from the Shahnameh of Firdousi to the Mosque of Herat and the Minaret of Jam constructed under the Ghorid rule. It functioned as a meeting place for peoples from across three continents. This country has much to teach us. Reclaiming this history with pride is a project that many young Afghans are taking up today. With 70 percent of the country currently under 25, most Afghans alive today were not alive during the Soviet war. The changes of the last decade, not least the education of millions and their experiences through technology, media and ideas from other parts of the country and other countries, have equipped this new generation with new expectations and aspirations of what future they want to create. 

Afghanistan Revealed points – albeit tentatively – towards some ideas for getting policies right for Afghanistan’s future. Conferences in 2012 set the date of 2014 for the withdrawal of the majority of ISAF forces and the change in its mandate. Troops are leaving in large numbers, and a process of transition is firmly underway. It is clear that the primary burden of building a stable and peaceful future now lies on the shoulders of the Afghan people, and in the type of diplomacy they and their government will craft with those countries that can commit to engage with Afghans in a search for stability in the region. Clearly, it is not only the US and Europe, but – given both their economic weight and their proximity – the rising regional powers of China, India and Russia which will be critical in developing the diplomatic formulas that could help underwrite peace and stability and thus attempt to turn the dynamics of a potentially destructive new Great Game into more constructive scenarios. 

Above all, the book reminds us of the importance of a balanced view – that there are both vast challenges but also significant opportunities for Afghanistan to craft its own way forward. Focusing only on the opportunities leads to naïve and dangerous optimism – but focusing only on the failures leads to a dangerous disengagement and pessimism that quickly becomes self-fulfilling. 


We hope you enjoyed reading this book. We would love a review on Amazon, as reviews help sales and we are trying to sell as many copies as possible in order to raise money to build schools in Afghanistan. 

Hardback version

Please note that Afghanistan Revealed is also available as a hardback from FRONTLINE BOOKS The iPad-only version available from the Apple iBookstore is accompanied by 90 fabulous photos, of which we were only able to show a small selection in this book. 

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