On 11 September 2001 – known worldwide as ‘9/11’ – the world’s worst terrorist atrocity shook the United States of America. Orchestrated by Osama bin Laden from his training camps in a remote corner of Afghanistan, the attacks in New York and Washington, DC, were preceded by the assassination of Afghan resistance leader, Ahmad Shah Masood on 9 September. These events changed the course of history: the destinies of two wounded countries – the United States and Afghanistan – became inextricably linked. The hunt for Osama bin Laden and a war against his Taliban hosts and the Al Qaeda terrorist network began, the objective being to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for terrorist activity and a launching pad for future attacks. I mention this history to remind readers of what led to the current conflict in Afghanistan and why the United States and a coalition of NATO and Non-NATO countries still maintain both a military and humanitarian presence.

Afghanistan Revealed has taken years to gestate. As its producer, my motivation was to do more than raise funds for the Afghan Appeal Fund, although this was its genesis. Those of us who care about Afghanistan are keen to present a more balanced and positive view of the country and its people, set in the context of its history and the complex forces that have shaped its development over the centuries. We penetrate beyond the media sound bites and political propaganda which confront us today. Looking at the country from a broad perspective, distinguished writers and photographers share their insights. The book contributes to a greater understanding and empathy for Afghanistan, re-examining assumptions and stripping back prejudices, revealing the complexities that lie beneath. Afghanistan has been subjected to forces outside its control for centuries. Britain’s rivalry with Tsarist Russia in ‘The Great Game’ during the 19th century, the Soviet invasion of 1979 and the events following 9/11 are just some of the more recent challenges its people have faced.

All too often history is seen through too narrow a prism: the Anglo-Afghan wars of 1839–1842 and 1878–1880 have been used to illustrate the inadvisability of our current mission in Afghanistan. Such comparisons are misleading while later lessons are selectively ignored. When the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan, the country collapsed into civil war. As western countries were assailed by donor fatigue, the people of Afghanistan felt abandoned. The consequences are still evident today.

Afghanistan Revealed explores these issues, all of which have direct relevance on the country’s future stability. Afghanistan cannot be viewed in isolation. Its relationship with Pakistan and its other neighbours are key. It is important to transmit the message that the United States, the United Kingdom and the international community as a whole are not deserting Afghanistan following the withdrawal of combat troops in 2014.The Afghan people must be reassured that they will not be abandoned again. Aiding in reconstruction, development and governance, along with a long-term commitment to security, remain central planks of Western policy. It would be a tragedy to fail Afghanistan; to allow our economic problems, war weariness and conflicts elsewhere in the world to distract us at this important juncture in the country’s political, social and economic development. If the Afghan people lose confidence in the West the consequences could be serious for us and potentially devastating for them.

In producing this book, I am indebted to the extraordinary generosity of all our contributors who have donated their work pro bono; I had no idea quite what an enormous task I was asking of them. This is testament to the collective will amongst people who know and love Afghanistan to help the country progress. The following pages are the result of many hours of work and years of accumulated knowledge and research. I would like to mention in particular Bijam Omrani and Helen Crisp who have helped drive this project forward. Lisa Choegyal has performed a highly professional service as Editor from her home in Nepal. I am also very grateful to Allyson Jones and Mel Bradley who have helped with the final proof reading.

If there is an underlying message to Afghanistan Revealed, it is the desire for peace, prosperity and education in Afghanistan for a deserving people who have endured so much. We should also remember the huge debt we owe to the very fine members of our armed forces, and to those of the fifty-one allied nations and their 350,000 Afghan comrades in arms, many of whom have been injured or have lost their lives in in the service of their country and for the people of Afghanistan. Finally, we should recognise the loss endured by their families and friends who continue to mourn and live life without them.

Caroline Richards


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