Stalemate in Afghanistan



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.


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.


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.


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.


Red Cross Hospital, Kabul



Pul i Khumri


Victim of Kandahar air attack in Peshawar Hospital


Going to morgue, Kabul



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



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.






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.








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.




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.


Hazara Boy, Bamiyan Province


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58 Responses to “Stalemate in Afghanistan”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Very Bad incident…. the real pain…

    Good Photograpy.

  2. maithili video songs…

    […]Stalemate in Afghanistan « Steve McCurry's Blog[…]…

  3. Estas imagenes Steve son realmente impresionantes…

  4. fantastic images…very haunting

  5. Anonymous Says:

    thx.was great.was painful but its true…

  6. Love your photos, always…

  7. Interesting photos.

  8. These images are beautiful, yet haunting at the same time. Difficult to look, and even more difficult to look away…

    Especially the first one…

  9. When I saw your images of Inida and Tibet, I wanted to be like you. But after seeing these images of war I understood how difficult it is to be like you. It’s really scary. Thanks for sharing this great work.

  10. M Janssen Says:

    Good evening,

    Last year, I visited an exhibition in Kuala Lumpur and I was amazed by the great works of Steve McCurry.

    Now, I wonder how I could find out where – and when – I can admire it in my home country, the Netherlands.

    Any information would be very welcome!!

    Thanks in advance:-)

  11. I have no words to explain how they’re beatiful this pictures !!!!!!!!………………even sad sometimes

  12. Albert Says:

    Dear Steve
    I wish these pictures would not exist.
    Thank you for your courage.

  13. Never before have I been so moved by photographs. Although I could never imagine how one would feel living in a war zone, looking at these images makes me feel like I’m there. It’s not just story of a land far far away, it’s real. Thank you for sharing Steve!

  14. Yara Al-mohaimeed Says:

    I hate this war

  15. Thanks Steve. Moving images and wise words.

  16. My respects. Steve, You pictures are very confronting.

    Some of them are really hard to look at.

    The (I hope sleeping) kid on the hospital floor will stay with me for a lifetime.

    Compliments and kind regards,
    Corina (the Netherlands)

  17. Maciej Korbanski Says:


  18. Sometimes it seems so unfair to think of what Afghanistan was before and what it is now. I really hope some good will happen there soon, cause the more time we allow to pass, the easier we forget… and people, innocent people keep dying. I don’t really believe any political settlement will happen there soon, specially with Americans and Talibans around, but, Oh God! I wish it will!


    very powerful images.

  20. Thank you for higlighting those who are traumatised and held in asylums post conflict and disatster My sister works with men suffering from psychological trauma and hopes to go to help more…I’m totally grateful for your life and for your work. All these pictures show some injustice worth fighting for the liberty of people….you’re writing and pictures have had a huge impact on me.

  21. […] post:? Stalemate in Afghanistan « Steve McCurry's Blog Bookmark on DeliciousDigg this postRecommend on FacebookShare via MySpaceshare via RedditShare with […]

  22. I would like to believe in a negotiated, consensual and peaceful end in every armed conflict. Unfortunately in all of them only I can see economic interests of a few power people and a innocent victims from the majority. So in Afghanistan and here in the Basque Country and Navarra. In between are “media”. Thanks for your allways from the victims reflexive and transparent point of view, Steve.

  23. Caro sr Steve
    O Homem é o unico animal ( primata) que planeja e executa o exterminio de seus semelhantes, em nenhuma outra especie de animais que vive sobre nosso planeta pratica tal atrocidade.
    Quando inciamos uma guerra perdemos completamente a razao , a viololencia é o argumento dos fracos.

  24. wonderful and intense images that capture the soul…

  25. Thanks for showing the true cost of war. It’s painful to see, but very important. You work is very much-appreciated.

  26. Steve, your work is indeed inspirational. So much so that I’m using you as one of my influences for my University application!

    I would just like to say though, to those who decry the western participation in Afghanistan, that it’s not as you would think it to be. My husband is in the British military and has been to Afghanistan. He has seen how the Afghan people suffer but also how they don’t want the Taliban there. I became good friends with the family of an Afghan soldier who was studying in the UK. Their eight year old daughter told me that she didn’t want to go back to Afghanistan as she wouldn’t be able to go to school as girls aren’t allowed to go to school there and if she did, the ‘monsters’ (Taliban) would come and take her away.

    Whatever your thoughts on our participation, it’s certainly for no other reason than to make their world just a little bit better.

  27. Steve, thanks for the tears.

  28. Sir,
    From the history,Most of the ‘award winning photos’ are on the negative side of Life like war, death ,painful face of life on Earth.. , but the Same time God made this World as a Heaven , but unfortunately we are all hilighting the sad part of Life

  29. Paola Gareri Says:

    YOu are a great photographer, great sensibiliy and empaty, thanks

  30. Paul Presnail Says:

    Steve, your photos never fail to take my breath away either with their remarkable beauty or unbearable sadness. Often times, both at once. Thank you for sharing your vision.

  31. Steve, thank you for dedicating yourself at great personal risk to your craft of capturing images that are both beautiful in composition and yet unafraid to show the horror of inhumanity. There are no easy answers to these questions. As long as men have greed, selfishness and self interest in their hearts, they will continue to oppress one another. Your images remind us of the urgency we need to have in putting our best efforts toward fostering peace.

  32. Lose of core member of family leave remaining disoriented for rest of their lives. We never try to look into lives of those marooned in suffering, we never realize those “uncounted casualties” … great point…

  33. Burris Ray Says:

    Why are we really there ? How does that mission get measured ?
    I can not imagine the scars this leaves inside and out – and I guess no one has a solution and if that is so why are we there ?

    Maybe we have no answers – I think someone should find out.

  34. Great images,I really can’t imagine how that people and country looked before!

  35. Thank you for your great photos. They send a message that, we hope, sooner or later will reach the heart of those who, in every part of the world, continue to prefer war to negotiation

  36. are pictures that leave me very strong emotions…

  37. The images moved me to the core. I cried at the horror these people are going through . Lets hope this stops , I say hope because I can’t really see it ever going away, people hurting each other the way we do .

  38. “To change the conditions that allow war, oppression and mass suffering, we must change the thinking that has allowed the conditions to be present!” from the book “The Isaiah Effect” by Gregg Braden

  39. Steve, thanks for these images, giving witness for all the terrible things that we, too, originated. And thanks for expressing clearly in words the sad truth that none of our western governments wants to listen to.

  40. leaving trackback to your post on my blog with my plea for peace

  41. Whaou … pas beau la guerre !

  42. I was having a pleasant day Steve. Your images has shocked the hell out of me. I feel sad, angry and delusion ed. What the hell are the leaders doing and what the hell is media doing. We see stories galore on natural disasters but why none of this tragedy – completely man made. I feel wretched being part of this society which is causing so much anguish.

    I cant even imagine the stomach and grit you have to be able to photograph and live with such pain around you. It would have driven me mad – i know.

  43. Very powerful piece. Thanks for posting here. When will the powers wake up to reality? Let us all pray to our God that it is soon.

  44. preeti gupta Says:

    I wish these pictures cld effect to the people who are in power, and make them realise what are they doing with the human society.

  45. Sudipta Says:

    Shocking, really Shocking.

  46. I can’t think of a war that didn’t end otherwise (negotiation). But why do we keep fighting? Irrational. Stupid. Insane.
    Is the USA prepared to negotiate?
    I do not know what the Taliban want. I’m only told that they want to kill me and my way of life. I doubt this is true.
    We are currently very far from negotiations and the war will go on for years and years.

  47. Anonymous Says:

    this photos shows the reality of war.. no one wins in war every one loose something..

  48. Really no words to say anything ! Shocking photos ! Photos like ‘Pul i Khumri’ and ‘Herat’ should think twice to the politicians who are so fond of war !!!

    Steve, thank you very much for sharing !

  49. Photojournalism at its best. I learned so much just by looking at these photos.

    Thank you so much, Steve!

  50. Photojurnalime a great achievement, high level, but filled with sadness and heart wrenching. Lucky us-we, whose country is not hit by the war.

  51. woh.. pathetic .. no word is enough.. i am so lucky to live in a country where i enjoyed my childhood .. enjoying my life without a fear of war . plz stop all these nonsense and make a better world for everyone. a world of love ,prosperity , peace and happiness .hope

    Steve’s images will create a ripple in the minds of those people who made this heaven into a hell and forced them to rethink what they are doing.

    • Says:

      I agree that one can never really fathom the depth of these lives and that is up to us who witness it to tell the world this not acceptable for anyone on this planet not now, or ever.

  52. una realidad en la que necesitamos un cambio interior como humanidad amor y paz.

  53. Shocking photos !!!!

  54. Wow.. Your images are just so amazing. They send me shivers! I have no idea how you can do it!

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