Christian Caryl has a terrific column in Foreign Policy expounding a point I’ve made in passing in the past: Afghanistan is not really the “graveyard of empires.” He cites the work of Boston University anthropologist Thomas Barfield, who has been studying the country since the early 1970s and has a new history of Afghanistan out:
“Until 1840 Afghanistan was better known as a ‘highway of conquest’ rather than the ‘graveyard of empires,'” Barfield points out. “For 2,500 years it was always part of somebody’s empire, beginning with the Persian Empire in the fifth century B.C.”
Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Tamerlane, Babur: all had little problem conquering Afghanistan. The British fared worse in the First Afghan War (1839-42) but, as Caryl reminds us, they made a comeback in the Second Afghan War (1878-80), which gave them control of Afghan foreign policy — all that they really needed or wanted.
Read the whole article. It’s a welcome corrective to what Caryl calls the “fake version” of Afghan history, which seems to have become accepted wisdom among those (sadly, the great majority) who know little of the actual history.