Archive for Taliban

Where the World Meets

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 31, 2014 by stevemccurry

Buying and Selling in the World’s Bazaars, Souks, and Markets

Street scene, Calcutta, India, 1996Kolkata, India

In The Bazaars of Hyderabad
What do you sell, Oh ye merchants?
Richly your wares are displayed,
Turbans of crimson and silver,
Tunics of purple brocade,
Mirrors with panels of amber,
Daggers with handles of jade.

AFGHN-12834Quissa Khawani Bazaar, Peshawar, Pakistan

What do you weigh, Oh ye vendors?
Saffron, lentil and rice.

AFGHN-12348Pul–i-Khumri, Afghanistan

What do you cry, Oh fruitmen?
Citron, pomegranate and plum.


What do you call, Oh ye pedlars?
Chessmen and ivory dice.

653692_esSanaa, Yemen

What do you make, Oh ye goldsmiths?
Wristlet and anklet and ring,
Bells for the feet of blue pigeons,
Frail as a dragon-fly’s wing,
Girdles of gold for the dancers,
Scabbards of gold for the king.
Sarojini Naidu (1879-1949)
Known as The Nightingale of India

00116_03, Hong Kong, China, 1985. CHINA-10041. Women in a market in China.Hong Kong, China

UZBEKISTAN-10009_esSamarkand, Uzbekistan

YEMEN-10033NFSanaa, Yemen

TURKEY-10056, Istanbul, Turkey, 07/1997Istanbul, Turkey

LondonMarketLondon, United Kingdom

_DSC6417; India; 2007, INDIA-11631NFIndia

I will open thee a merchant’s store, furnished with the costliest stuffs,
and thou shalt become famous amongst the folk, and take and give,
and buy and sell, and be well known in the city.
The Arabian Nights

00416_17, Istanbul, Turkey, 07/1997, TURKEY-10116Istanbul, Turkey

CAMBODIA-10309 (1)Cambodia

AFGHN-13899Kabul, Afghanistan

PHILIPPINES-10007NFZamboanga, Philippines

AFGHN-10033Part of the old Bamiyan bazaar, Afghanistan

Carved into the mountainside by Buddhist monks between the second and fifth centuries, the
Buddhas of Bamiyan were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. 



The Most Dangerous Place to be Born

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 4, 2011 by stevemccurry


  Afghanistan is the worst place to be a child.


As politicians, pundits, and diplomats endlessly debate the future of the world’s involvement in Afghanistan, it seems wise to reflect on the  innocents of Afghanistan over the decades of invasions, insurgencies, civil wars, and abject poverty. 


 “Afghanistan today is without doubt the most dangerous place on earth to be born.”
– Daniel Toole, UNICEF, Regional Director for South Asia


 The burden of wars, poverty, instability, and insurgencies has always been borne disproportionately by children.  They are killed and maimed by landmines and other explosives.   Schools are being destroyed by the Taliban, and girls who seek an education are often threatened and attacked.   Children are recruited by the Taliban to be suicide bombers and smugglers.



 No one growing up in Afghanistan has ever known what it is like to live in a country at peace.




These pictures are hard to look at, but much harder for the parents
to look at their children who are severely injured physically, emotionally, and psychologically.



 A UNICEF-supported study found that the majority of children under 16 years in Kabul suffer from psychological trauma. 


During the ten years the Soviets were in Afghanistan, they killed one million Afghans.  Five million became refugees.


UNICEF, the UN children’s agency, says that Afghanistan is the worst place in the world to be a child. One in five children do not live past the age of five.  Most of those deaths are caused by curable childhood diseases and malnutrition, compounded by the security situation, which means that parents are unable to access proper health care.


It is estimated that at least 30% of children from five to fourteen work to help their families survive.  Many weave rugs and work at factories making bricks.



00299_01, Kabul, Afghanistan, 2002, AFGHN-12432. A water vendor poses.

“It is very difficult to put a hard and fast figure to the number of children dying from hypothermia alone on Kabul’s streets as there would undoubtedly be other reasons that would make them sick or vulnerable in the first place,” UNICEF regional communications chief Sarah Crowe wrote.


 “Extreme poverty, having lost a parent, being trafficked or displaced, or many other reasons may have forced them on to the streets where they would be deprived of their most basic needs (decent food, health, immunization, protection) and exposed to the extreme cold of Afghan winters.”


“There are a lot of children in Afghanistan, but little childhood.”
– Khaled Hosseini,  The Kite Runner

Rationale, Rationalization, and Illogic

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 5, 2010 by stevemccurry

World Trade Center Collapse, September 11, 2001

Immediately after the atrocity at the World Trade Center on 9/11, we went into Afghanistan to find Osama Bin Laden, to root out Al Qaeda and  the Taliban which was protecting it, and to fight the “war on terror”.


Nine years later, we are not only still there, but by almost anyone’s calculation, we are losing.  The Taliban has been able to strike in the capital numerous times, the general in charge of the troops has been relieved of his duty for intemperate comments about his superiors and the situation in general, and the signs of improvement are few and far between.


The rationale for the mission has lurched from one rationale to another,  and 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.  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.  How does that square with the facts now?


According to the AP and ABC, CIA Director Leon Panetta said on Sunday there may be fewer than 50 al-Qaida fighters in Afghanistan. Panetta said, “I think the estimate on the number of Al Qaeda is actually relatively small. At most, we’re looking at 50 to 100, maybe less. It’s in that vicinity.”

President Barack Obama wants U.S. forces in Afghanistan to “disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda.” About U.S. 98,000 troops will be in Afghanistan by fall.


“It’s a curious thing about Afghanistan: every time a politician makes the case for why we need to stay, he or she ends up making the case for why we should leave.  And he thinks he’s making a case for staying! It’s truly bizarre how many in Washington are describing the situation in Afghanistan accurately, but then fail to draw the most obvious conclusion based on what they’ve just said.” (Ariana Huffington)


Panetta said less than a week ago:Our purpose, our whole mission there, is to make sure that Al Qaeda never finds another safehaven from which to attack this country. That’s the fundamental goal of why the United States is there.”


If there are fewer than one hundred members of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and if eliminating Al Qaeda is truly the main objective, the costs are staggering in human lives and in scarce dollars that we can not afford.  The U.S. has paid more than 300 billion dollars and the costs keep skyrocketing.


General Petreus says that we will win this war, but what does winning mean?  Kandahar is still a Taliban stronghold nine years after the start of the war.  Unfortunately, there are too many questions and too few answers.


The “Q” word – quagmire – has been mentioned a lot recently.  How much time has to elapse before we know if we are in a quagmire?  If the definition is “a difficult, precarious, or entrapping position, a predicament”  we are already in one.


We all want Afghans to live in a peaceful society, and to be able to raise their families in security and safety.  We want Afghan children to get a proper education which will give them a future.  We want women to live without the fear which they suffered under during the Taliban years.


The problem is, that it is difficult to see how adding more troops will achieve that goal.  It seems to be doing the opposite since in the last nine years more boots on the ground have not produced security for Afghans.


More is Less in Afghanistan

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on June 2, 2010 by stevemccurry

The Law of Diminishing Returns


West Kabul, Afghanistan, 1995


Recently General McChrystal was quoted as saying that Marjah in Helmand Province is a bleeding ulcer.  McChrystal is under pressure from every side to produce better, faster, and more effective results.  We have more troops in Afghanistan than we have ever had, and yet the security situation continues to deteriorate.  Many don’t know what the mission is and wonder how they will know when the mission is “accomplished.”


Nangahar, Afghanistan 1989



Kabul, Afghanistan, 1995


As much as outsiders have tried to 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  is that the people trying to change it often change more than the country does even after Herculean efforts of well-meaning governments, NGO’s, and coalitions.


Uzbek fighters, Kabul, Afghanistan, 1992



Afghan Mujahadeen with surface to air stinger missile, near Jalalabad 1989

Over the years, I have been back  dozens of times on assignment for National Geographic, Time Magazine, ABC News, and other news outlets.  I have spent time in Afghanistan during invasions, retreats, truces, and relative peace. Almost every time I returned, the power centers had shifted.


Kabul, Afghanistan, 2002, U.S. soldier with an interpreter punishing an Afghan recruit by making him crawl in the mud.


Kabul, 2002

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 we do not understand the country, the people, the history, the terrain, the language, the religion, the culture.

Everyone wants Afghans to live in a peaceful country where families and communities can thrive, but our strategy to achieve that goal is often built on misunderstandings, faulty assumptions, and a stunning ignorance of the lessons of history.

No one knows how long the bleeding ulcer will keep bleeding, but if history teaches us anything, it is that Afghanistan has been the graveyard of empires from Alexander the Great to the Soviet Union.


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