In the vast war zones of Afghanistan, it is surprising to note that there were people who lived unaffected by the events and sometimes blissfully ignorant of the great causes that prompted the Taliban and the West to fight in the rugged mountain topography of the impoverished country. It is this march of life in the village, unperturbed by the pounding of bombers and thundering of anti-aircraft guns that lure the reader in Rory Stewart's The Places in Between.
Stewart's travels in the mountainous Afghanistan were a fragment of his larger trek across Iran, Pakistan, India and Nepal. The journey is made in winter soon after the fall of Taliban through a war zone strewn with tricky landmines. Armed with a wooden staff and in the company of newly picked canine companion whom he christens Babur he makes his arduous hike from Heart to Kabul for the sheer joy of trekking. Apart from his tenacity to weather the inclement whether and challenging landscape, he is armed with Dari, the dialect of Afghan villagers and insight into Islamic culture. He was not eccentric orientalist with romantic notions about Asia. This has resulted in an unsentimental and penetrating vision of the country that is admired at the same time feared by west with no real insight into the nature of the land.
As Stewart progressed through the country he glimpsed vengeance, i...
is unconcerned about politics but as a former diplomat he is aware of the shallowness of the judgment of the western armchair policy makers in Afghan affairs. He finds it ludicrous that the diplomats that sat in judgment of the vast and traditional country were secular, postmodern, liberal and urban elite who thought that their way of perception is universal law. As Stewart puts it: The villagers I had met were mostly illiterate, lived far from electricity or television, and know very little about the outside word.
The fierce resistance of Taliban did bend to the superior technology of the occupying forces and Stewart predicts that the culture and traditions of Afghan cannot long withstand the siege of technology, as it has been the most exploited tool of the occupying forces and the warlords. But the installation of western style of democracy is likely to be a pipe dream. Though the country is termed Islamic the version of Islam is unique in each region. Stewart feels that the ideas of village democracy, gender issues, and centralization would be hard-to-sell concepts in some areas.
In the most western minds there is a scholastics interest in the past and preservation of places of archeological interest is part and parcel of the agenda of the western governments. However, many Afghan villagers were totally ignorant of the glorious history of their country especially of the varieties of cultures that passed through their territory. They more or less lived in the present. So, when the Taliban destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas, the international ripple and the worldwide contempt that act evoked was hardly felt in the villages. It was not because of the repressive Taliban regime, but as Stewart speculates the local Bamiyan inhabitants actually have no