Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
On a hilltop in central Kabul, the relics of Soviet armoured vehicles sit in the shadow of an incongruously vast and empty swimming pool. A tower of diving boards looks down into the concrete carcass built by the Russians. Boys play football there and on Fridays the basin is used for dog fights; combat is the only option for the canine gladiators, as they cannot climb up the sheer, steep sides. From the vantage point you can see the city’s graveyards, its bright new mosques, the narco-palaces of drug-funded business potentates and the spread of modest brick homes where most Kabulis live. It’s a favourite spot for reporters when they need to escape the press of urgent events and get cleaner air in their lungs.
For years journalists have sought to tell stories that go beyond the conflict in Afghanistan. We’ve tried to portray this country – the crossroads of central Asia, the summer home of Moghul emperors, the cockpit of clashing empires – as more than a place of blood, deprivation and extremism. Amid the dust and the heat it has its oases of tranquility, its laughter and its charms. From the market stalls of sweet pomengranates that line the road in autumn to the rose gardens newly planted in central Kabul, Afghanistan is a place of thorny history, cultural complexity and spartan beauty.
Alas, we cannot ignore the warfare. Great journalistic energy has to go into counting the casualties, explaining the violence and charting the shifting strategies of the combatants. It’s a conflict whose outcome is uncertain. The bullets and bombs tear through the flesh of ordinary Afghans, fanatical insurgents and Western soldiers with equal awfulness. A blast takes the life of a child, deprives a wife of a husband and faintly furthers some cause. The impact is immediate and local, but it reverberates harshly in Washington, Delhi, London or Paris.
Can we weave together the warp of war and the weft of daily life in Afghanistan? Yes, in this blog, we hope is the answer. In the tradition of the region’s richly patterned carpets, it will be both intricate and stoutly structured, minutely detailed and expansive in scale.