Archive for Bamiyan

Stalemate in Afghanistan

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 26, 2011 by stevemccurry

 

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Insane asylum, Kabul, Afghanistan, 1992

The pain of war has become too much for these men. Wrapped in blankets, they  have retreated into themselves.  Vulnerable and
haunted by demons, they are the uncounted casualties of decades of war.

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Hospital, Jalalabad

 

I was covering the war that erupted between the militias after the Russians withdrew from Afghanistan, photographing the aftermath of an attack on Kabul when, without warning another rocket attack began. I took cover in what turned out to be a hospital for the insane. Its residents were the victims of decades of war  – both civilians and soldiers. There were no doctors or nurses, no electricity, no running water. The smoke from the fire of a makeshift kitchen blackened the ceilings and walls. The men and women there wandered around, or sat in a catatonic stupor.

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Red Cross Hospital, Kabul

Photographers work in metaphors, trying to distill experience in pictures.  The scenes inside these hospitals get closer to showing the tragedy of the war than those of  destroyed cities.

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Hospital in Herat

The rationale for the mission has lurched from one thing to another.  Officials in Washington and in Kabul all try to explain what we are trying to accomplish.   We have been told it is to keep the streets safe in America from Al Qaeda.  It has been said that we are there to give breathing room to the Afghan government to build up their own forces.  We hear that we are there to help build Afghan institutions so that the country can have a civil society with good governance.

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Red Cross Hospital, Kabul

 

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Pul i Khumri

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Victim of Kandahar air attack in Peshawar Hospital

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Going to morgue, Kabul

 

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Terence White, AFP reporter, took this wounded Afghan fighter
to the hospital in Kabul

 

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Rocket attack in Kabul

 

The Century Foundation, a non-partisan research institute, has called on all sides of the conflict to enter into peace talks.  Lakhdar Brahimi, former UN Special representative for Afghanistan, has co-chaired a special task force with former undersecretary for political affairs Thomas Pickering.  Their recommendations are clear and blunt: it is time to stop deluding ourselves that there will be a clear victory in this war.  The report,  Negotiating Peace, was published this week.

 

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Kabul

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Kabul

Executive Summary Chapter One

Afghanistan has been at war for more than thirty years, and for nearly a decade, the international community has supported the country’s political, social, and economic reconstruction—and opposed the return to power of the Taliban. Afghans have seen many improvements over that decade, yet the resurgence of the Taliban across much of the country underscores that they are undeniably a force in Afghan society whose exclusion entails a very high cost. A majority of the Afghan people seem anxious for the contending factions to achieve a negotiated end to the war.

 

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Kabul

 

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Herat

 

 
Rahimullah Yusufzai,  senior analyst with the Pakistani TV channel, Geo TV, and the Resident Editor of the News International in Peshawar, an English newspaper in Pakistan, makes the point that the Taliban can keep fighting forever because they are fighting for their country and for their religion.  He believes that there is no military solution and that negotiations are the only way to stop the endless cycle of killing.

 

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Jalalabad

There will never be a time when we can achieve an historic battlefield victory and declare that the war is won.  Tribal groups will always vie for power.  Religious groups will always believe that the right way is only “their” way.  Women will always have to fight for their rights.

Wars end with political settlements, and it seems clear to many, if not most, that this war will have no winner.  Decades of war have been tragic for the Afghan people and the generations of children who have lost their childhoods, their limbs, and their lives.  It’s time to see if negotiations can do what shooting could not.

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Hazara Boy, Bamiyan Province

  

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Proverbs and Poems from Afghanistan

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 29, 2011 by stevemccurry

AFGHN-10225 Jalalabad 

If literacy rates were measured by a nation’s proverbs and poetry, Afghanistan would be one of the most literate countries on earth.  These two forms of the oral tradition have been embraced for centuries and reveal the heart and soul of the Afghan people.

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Proverbs are part of every culture and have been for thousands of years.  Francis Bacon said that the wit, genius, and spirit of a nation are discovered in its proverbs.  Here are some common Afghan proverbs which provide unique insights into the ancient culture.

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There is a path to even the tallest mountain.

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The mountains are our people.

AFGHN-12819 The harsh land is integral to this nomadic herder culture with deep roots in high pastures. “Koh-o mar-domon moya,” a saying goes: “The mountains are our people.” Qala-e Sabzi.

A warm fire is better than a delicious meal.

AFGHN-10124-(1)Refugees return to their bombed out neighborhood in Herat

If there is only bread and onions, still have a happy face.

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In a ditch where water has flowed, it will flow again.

AFGHN-12258Irrigation channel, Kandahar 

Many drops make a river.

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A real friend is one who takes the hand of his friend in times of distress and helplessness.

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Not even the five fingers of our hands are alike.

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There is blessing in action.

AFGHN-10146Bakery run by Afghan widows

AFGHN-12998Brick Workers, Bamiyan Province

First a friend then a brother.

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POETRY

In Afghanistan, the tradition of poetry writing and recitation dates back a thousand years.  To lend credibility to an argument, the preface,  “The poet says…”   denies the listener the opportunity to disagree.  Although many do not read or write, they can recite long passages of both classic and modern poetry.

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If leadership rests inside the lion’s jaw,
So be it. Go snatch it from his jaws.
Your lot shall be greatness, prestige, honor and glory.
If all fails, face death like a man.

Hanzala of Badghis – 9th century poet


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Wounded Afghan fighter outside of Jalalabad

Kabul

Ah! How beautiful is Kabul encircled by her arid mountains
And Rose, of the trails of thorns she envies
Her gusts of powdered soil, slightly sting my eyes
But I love her,  for knowing and loving are born of this same dust

My song exhalts her dazzling tulips
And at the beauty of her trees, I blush
How sparkling the water flows from Pul-I-Mastaan!
May Allah protect such beauty from the evil eye of man!

Khizr chose the path to Kabul in order to reach Paradise
For her mountains brought him close to the delights of heaven
From the fort with sprawling walls, A Dragon of protection
Each stone is there more precious than the treasure of Shayagan

Every street of Kabul is enthralling to the eye
Through the bazaars, caravans of Egypt pass
One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs

And the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls …

 – Saib-e-Tabrizi, 17th century poet 

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AFGHN-10130 Nomads at prayer at sunrise

Earth

The earth opens her warm arms
to embrace me
The earth is my mother
She understands the sorrow
of my wandering

My wandering
is an old crow
that conquers
the very top of an aspen
a thousand times a day

Perhaps life is a crow
that each dawn
dips its blackened beak
in the holy well of the sun

Perhaps life is the grief-stricken earth
who has opened up her bloodied arms to me

And here I give thanks
on the brink of ‘victory’

-  Partaw Naderi

July, 2002 

Only the Educated are Free

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on January 23, 2011 by stevemccurry
I’ve been working in Afghanistan for thirty years.  I covered the Russian invasion and withdrawal, the civil wars, the rise and fall of the Taliban.
AFGHN-10260-(1)  Mujahadeen Fighters, Nuristan, 1979
 
It seems that each time I return, control of a province or a city  has changed hands.  It was working in Afghanistan which taught me a lot about being a photographer.
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War and turmoil are a way of life in Afghanistan. One thing that is guaranteed, Afghanistan will endure anything and everything. The people who murmur Inshallah (God willing) don’t bet on tomorrow, but strive each day to survive and take care of their families.
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Bamiyan, Afghanistan, 2007
 A Hazara boy has transformed old car tires into buckets.
 After working in the Bamiyan province and seeing the dire stuation of the Hazara people,  I founded ImagineAsia to work in partnership with local community leaders and regional NGO’s to help provide educational resources for students at all levels, from elementary schools to high schools and universities.
We are happy and proud to welcome Freshta, a  young Afghan student from Bamiyan, Afghanistan, who has received a full scholarship from Goucher College in Maryland.  ImagineAsia worked with the Afghan Girls Financial Assistance Fund.  Our joint efforts were successful in  bringing her here to study pre-med.
Freshta, Dulles Airport, Washington, D.C.
January, 2011
 
  
 
Ali Aqa lives in Bamiyan Province near Band-e-Amir. His family is poor, his clothes used, but this 15-year-old  isn’t deterred:  He plans to be a lawyer. Childhood memories include Taliban occupation of his village in Bamiyan.
“They burned everything, even my school,” he says. “I pray to God no regime comes like that again.  After seeing my picture of him in the National Geographic article on the Hazaras, many people wrote to me who would like to help him.  ImagineAsia is working to ensure that he also receives a college education.
AFGHN-12818Ali Aqa, Bamiyan Province
“The Hazaras are producing the most enthusiastic, educated, forward-looking youth, who are seizing the opportunities provided by the new situation.”
- Michael Semple, Deputy to the European Union special representative to Afghanistan in 2004 – 2007.
 
http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2008/02/afghanistan-hazara/mccurry-photography.html
“We must not believe the many, who say that only free people ought to be educated, but we should rather believe the philosophers who say that only the educated are free.”  –  Epictetus

The Power of Two

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 13, 2010 by stevemccurry

I have always been interested in the ways that people around the world share things in common.  All of those things remind us of what the human condition is really about.  In the blogs that I wrote about reading, we saw that there is a strong connection between people and their books which is the same in Yemen as it is in China as it is in France as it is in Thailand as any other place on the planet.  The relationship between people and their books goes all the way back to the invention of the printing press.

The subject of this blog goes back millennia.  Here are some pictures of couples who have a relationship that is evident in their gestures of caring, their body language, in their eyes.

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Thai Nguyen Province, Vietnam

 

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Bamiyan Province, Afghanistan

 

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Tagong, Kham, Tibet

 

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Gostivar, Macedonia

 

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Agra, India

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Nouakchott, Mauritania

 

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Lourdes, France

 

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Kampala, Uganda

 

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Sanaa, Yemen

 

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After the ball, Dublin, Ireland

 

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Ljubljana, Slovenia

 

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Belgrade, Serbia

 

Unpublished, Unseen 3

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 28, 2010 by stevemccurry
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Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Burma, 2010

 

So many of you have told me that you enjoy seeing the unpublished work, that I will try to put up previously unseen material more often. Thanks for looking at my blog.

Best,
Steve

The Great Game Changer

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 15, 2010 by stevemccurry

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Bamiyan province, Afghanistan, 2006

The “Great Game” a term popularized by Rudyard Kipling in his novel, Kim, to characterize the intense rivalry between the British Empire and the Russian Empire over dominance in Afghanistan and Central Asia,  seems particularly appropriate now that it has been revealed by the Pentagon that a trillion dollars worth of rare and valuable minerals deposits are in Afghanistan. But, this has not been a secret to many.  

 

Hindu Kush Mountains, Afghanistan

Miners search for emeralds Hindu Kush Mountains, Afghanistan, 1992

In January 1984 a report was published by the chief engineer of the Afghan Geological Survey Department about Soviet uranium mining in Afghanistan. It revealed that uranium production had begun after the discovery of deposits in 1983.

Soviet engineers were also said to be mining uranium  between Herat and Shindand, and also in  Kandahar province. The uranium projects were restricted to Soviet personnel in order to maintain secrecy and security. It is believed that all production was sent to the Soviet Union.

By 1985 Soviet surveys had also revealed potentially useful deposits of asbestos, nickel, mercury, lead, zinc, bauxite, lithium, and rubies. The Afghan government in the mid-1980’s was preparing to develop a number of these resources on a large scale with Soviet technical assistance. These efforts were directed primarily at the country’s large iron and copper reserves.

The iron ore deposits contained an estimated 1.7 billion tons of mixed hematite and magnetite, averaging 62 percent iron. These reserves, among the world’s largest, are located almost 4,000 meters up in the Hindu Kush,  in Bamiyan Province.

Source:  Illinois Institute of Technology

Charikar, Afghanistan, 2002, NYC65502, MCS2002002 K296final print_milan

Charikar, Afghaistan, 2002

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Pul i Khumri, Afghanistan, 2002

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Pul i Khumri, Afghanistan, 2002

A 2007  report by the USGS said most of the data on Afghanistan’s mineral resources was produced between the early 1950’s and 1985. The timing of the Pentagon’s announcement is interesting because  the findings on which the story was based are online and have been since 2007.

 

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Pul I Khumri, Afghanistan, 2002

 

Afghanistan’s Ministry of Mines has information on this website about mineral deposits in the country  . http://www.bgs.ac.uk/afghanminerals/raremetal.htm

 

Coal Miner, Pul-i-Kumri, Afghanistan, 2002

Pul i Khumri, Afghanistan, 2002

There is little doubt that the new version of the Great Game will include all the players during Kipling’s time, plus the U.S., China, India, and any other country who seeks an advantage in obtaining a slice of the Afghan pie.  There will be “invaders” waiting to pounce on any opportunity that presents itself.

We can only hope that the Afghan people who have suffered for decades, will get the benefits they so richly deserve.

 

Steve  McCurry with Coal Miners, Pul I Khumri, Afghanistan, 2002Pul i Khumri, Afghanistan, 2002

 

Boy Found After Three-Year Search

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on April 12, 2010 by stevemccurry

In 2006 and 2007  I was on assignment for the National Geographic Magazine for a story on the Hazaras of Afghanistan.   I traveled west of Bamiyan City to a small village near the lakes at Band-e-Amir, Afghanistan’s first national park.

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Lake at Band-e-Amir 2002

I was visiting a school when I photographed this boy, Ali Aqa, who wants to grow up and be a lawyer.  When the story was published, many people around the world wanted to help him achieve his dream, but it has taken years to find him.

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Ali Aqa, 2007

His family is poor, his clothes used, but 15-year-old Ali Aqa isn’t deterred: He plans to be a lawyer. Childhood memories include Taliban occupation of his village in Bamiyan. “They burned everything, even my school,” he says. “I pray to God no regime comes like that again.” We have now located him with the help of the UNAMA (United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan) and school officials.  We are in the process of working with local educators to help him prepare to start his college education when he graduates from high school next year.

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Qala-e Sabzi, Bamiyan Province, Afghanistan, 2007.

There is nothing more gratifying than helping people whom I have photographed because most often, it is impossible to locate them again.

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Bamiyan City, Afghanistan 2002

 

Blood and Smoke in Hazarajat

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on January 25, 2010 by stevemccurry

Danger for the Taliban’s Favorite Victims

As the Taliban fights to make a comeback in Afghanistan, no group is in more danger than the Hazaras.  The Taliban’s favorite victims, hundreds of Hazara families froze to death while fleeing  their villages during winter attacks by the Taliban.

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Hazaras work in a candy factory in Kabul, 2006

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Farmers work in front of empty Buddha niches where the Taliban destroyed the Buddhas that had stood for over a thousand years in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, 2002

During its reign, the Taliban wreaked destruction and  on as many Hazara communities as they could. Scores of Hazara villages were totally destroyed and their people killed or left to search for shelter from the harsh environment of the Hindu Kush Mountains.

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Bamiyan, Afghanistan, 2006

Persecuted for centuries, the Hazaras, Shiite Muslims, and protectors of the Buddhist treasures in Bamiyan for a thousand years, have been persecuted, tortured, and slaughtered, but the ravages of the Taliban are only one chapter in the long history of discrimination and abuse.

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Hazara Girl, Kabul, 2002

A local official commented that their history has been characterized by “blood and smoke.”   He said that the pain is still in his heart because of the thousands that were slaughtered or died trying to escape.

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Hazara School Boys, Bamiyan, 2002

Although most Hazaras live in central Afghanistan, the land they refer to as Hazarajat, the Hazaras who migrated to Kabul looking for work make up a large underclass, which takes jobs that other groups refuse – as bearers, street sweepers and other common laborers, the jobs that are referred to as “Hazara occupations.”  They are seen and insulted as “donkeys.”

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Hazara man pulling cart past a burning house, Kabul, Afghanistan, 1985

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Bamiyan, Afghanistan. 2007

His family is poor, his clothes used. But 15-year-old Ali Aqa isn’t deterred: He plans to be a lawyer. Childhood memories include Taliban occupation of his village in Bamiyan. “They burned everything, even my school,” he says. “I pray to God no regime comes like that again.

This fascinating and resilient people hopes to have a place at the table of Afghanistan’s government, but whatever happens in the central government in Kabul, these brave and independent people will continue to struggle for survival and dignity.

The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2009 by stevemccurry
The Afghanistan Dilemma – Redux
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Dead Afghan Soldier, Jalalabad, Afghanistan, 1992

Maybe one definition of hell is that it is the place where more effort produces fewer results. Five years ago, I could drive from Kabul over mountain passes in safety to the central highlands town of Bamiyan. Today, the only recommended way is to fly – if you can get a UN flight. Today we have many more soldiers, contractors, and NGO’S than we did five years ago, yet it is far more dangerous today than it was then. We are getting fewer results with more boots on the ground. That tells me that many do not understand the country, the history, the people, the terrain, the language, the religion, the culture.

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As hard as outsiders have tried to “re-create” the country in their own image, Afghanistan  has been able to absorb the blows of superpowers, and remain essentially the same. The interesting thing to me is that the people trying to change it,  change more than the country does even after Herculean efforts of well-meaning governments, NGO’s, and coalitions. Look at the Soviet misadventure for evidence.

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Kabul, Afghanistan, 1992

The Congressional Research Service recently said the United States has spent nearly $230 billion on the war in Afghanistan. That amount will jump to $300 billion once Congress has approved a military spending bill for fiscal 2010.  The question for all of us to ask is on what we are spending the money, and is it making a difference?  Do our leaders have any idea what they are trying to accomplish?  How many books have they read on Afghan history? How many officials based in Washington have stayed there more than a couple of days?

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Mujahadeen fighter takes a looter to jail. Kabul, 1992

Everyone wants Afghans to live their lives in a peaceful country where families can thrive, but our ideas to achieve that goal are often built on faulty assumptions. President Obama may be a one-term president if the war goes badly, and who will decide if and when we “win.”  The concept of winning is dangerous. Do we win, or do the Afghans win, and do they even want that victory as we define it?

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Kabul, Afghanistan, 1992

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. The problem is that intentions which are based on faulty assumptions are doomed to failure.

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Red Cross Hospital, Kabul, Afghanistan, 1992

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Kabul, Afghanistan, 1992

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Kabul, Afghanistan, 1992

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Insane Asylum, Kabul, Afghanistan, 1992

In the Shadow of Mountains

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on December 16, 2009 by stevemccurry

A Portfolio of Images from Afghanistan

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Classroom in Kunduz, Afghanistan, 2002

Allah is the mountain above the mountain, and it is He who entertains the idea — or not — of our next hour on the earth.

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Girls High School, Bamiyan, 2006

This is why Afghans are reluctant to bet on tomorrow. Tomorrow is not ours to presume upon. Tomorrow is the pleasure of Allah alone.

Hazara Women at Grave in Bamiyan

Hazara women at grave in Bamiyan, 2007

Insha’Allah.  The pervasive, overpowering feeling that is difficult to describe about Afghanistan.

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Bread Vendor, Kabul, 1992

It is the stubborn and unassailable conviction – the ability to endure almost anything – that defines the Afghan soul and my fascination with it.

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Father and daughter at home with folk art on the wall, Kamdesh, Nuristan, Afghanistan, 1992

It is this powerful feeling that draws me there again and again.

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Herat Ruins, 1992

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Kabul, Afghanistan, 1992

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Former soldier in facility for mentally ill patients, Kabul, 1992

The Afghanistan Dilemma  – http://stevemccurry.wordpress.com/2009/10/04/393/

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