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Author: Jaffar Hazara (USA)


Afghanistan's landscape can be defined as high, rough mountains, fertile valleys, and desert like plains. Afghanistan is located in south central Asia. It is this strategic location on both north-south and east-west trade routes that has always attracted outsiders. From Alexander the Great in the fourth century B.C. to the Soviet Union in the late 70's Afghanistan has been attacked repeatedly. Although the Russians are long gone the fighting among different Afghan factions continue.  Foreign interference by countries such as Pakistan who hope to benefit from the oil riches of former Soviet Republics are supporting, at all costs, the radical Talibans who are in control of the majority of Afghanistan.  The country consists of thirty provinces. Afghanistan occupies an area of 251,773 to 264,000 square miles.  With the exception of its high mountains Afghanistan can be best compared with Taxes because of its size, latitude and climate.

Afghanistan because of its location has no direct access to the sea.  It is surrounded by land on all four sides.  The nearest coast is about 300 miles to the South along the Arabian Sea.  Pakistan with which the country has the longest boundary, about 1,125 miles long, located both to the East and to the South.  At the Northeast it touches the People's Republic of China and it is also the shortest border about 50 miles long.  Iran is located to the West and to the North it touches newly formed republics of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan.   It is important to remember that in the mid-eighteenth century some of the major cities of then Persia and India were part of Ahmad Shah Durrani's empire.  Ahmad Shah Durrani is considered to be the founder of Afghan State.  He ruled Afghanistan from 1747 until his death in 1773.


As mentioned earlier Afghanistan is a landlocked mountainous country. Much of the country is covered by the mountain ranges of the Hindu Kush.  Hindu Kush is also considered the heart of Afghanistan. The highest peak in the Hindu Kush is more than 20,000 feet above sea level.  Since Afghanistan is a mountainous country and all its 30 provinces are similar in size and thinly populated, these great mountain ranges can be used to divide the country into three distinctive areas.

1) THE NORTHERN PLAINS: The northern plains cover about 40,000 square miles.  Although rainfall averages no more than 12 inches a year throughout the country, some of the most fertile land can be found in this region. Before the 13th century the outsiders repeatedly overran the region and they destroyed much of the farmland and irrigation system that existed in the area.  In 1930's, however, efforts were made to reclaim the farmland but unfortunately the Soviet occupation in the late 70's and the civil war that followed the Soviet departure in 1989 all but have ruined that ambitious plan.  Still from the 1930's to the late 70's when the Russians invaded the region irrigation systems were built along some rivers. With the help of simple canals farmers can easily direct water from the rivers to where it is most needed.   Fed by the melting winter snows of the Hindu Kush,  the Amu Darya River as well as its two most important tributaries, the Kokcha and the Kunduz, enable farmers to cultivate rice and cotton.   Amu Darya also forms about 700 miles of Afghanistan border with the newly formed republics of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.  The majority of people who live in the northern Afghanistan are also of same ethnic background as of those Central Asian republics.   In addition to being heavily populated and agricultural region of the country the Northern Plains are also rich in mineral resources and natural gas.  One of the Major cities of this region is Mezar-e-Sharif.  Last summer Mezar also became one of the most gruesome sites of the mass killings of civilians by Talibans in the recent memories.

 2) THE CENTRAL MOUNTAIN RANGES:  Home to the Hazaras, the area covers about two-thirds of the country and about 160,000 square miles in area.   The major language spoken in this area is called Hazaragi. Despite it's rugged mountains and narrow valleys the Hazaras lived here for centuries.  The inhospitable terrain of course has had a very big impact on its inhabitants.  Yet to Hazaras mountains have very special meaning. Following are a few Hazaragi expressions indicating the importance of mountains in Hazara society:

" 'Aga qaum-o khish dari, pusht-o da koya' meaning if you have relatives and family, you are as secure as a mountain and,  'koh-o mardomon moya' meaning the mountains are our people" (The Hazaras of Afghanistan, 1997: 59-60)

Tall peaks and deep, narrow valleys are the main features of the central mountain ranges. The backbone of these central mountains is called the Hindu Kush, the main mountain range in Afghanistan.  Hindu Kush and for that matter the entire region of the Central Mountain Ranges, Hazarajat, are considered to be the heart of the country.  The southwestern branch of the Hindu Kush is called Kuh-e-Baba Mountains.  It is in these high mountains that Afghanistan's most rivers rise and empty into inland lakes or dry up in desert sands.  For example Helmand, the longest inland river in the country, originates in the Kohi-Baba Mountains.  The Kabul River as well as the 700-mile long Hari Rud also originates in the Kohi-Baba Mountains. The winter snows of the Hindu Kush also feed Amu Darya River, formerly known as the Oxus River.  Although not the highest mountain in the country Shah Fuladi is considered to be the highest mountain in this region and it rises to almost 17,000 feet.

As mentioned earlier the central mountain ranges are home to millions of Hazaras and they call their beloved country HAZARAJAT.  Since the 19th century the area of Hazarajat has been reduced drastically.  A good description of the geography of the Hazarajat can be found in Mr. S. A. Mousavi's book, THE HAZARAS OF AFGANISTAN.

Until the 1880s, the Hazaras were completely autonomous and in full control of all areas in Hazarajat.  The Pashtuns had not yet found their way into these areas and the central  Government in Kabul had not yet succeeded in bringing the Hazaras under its rule.  Hazarajat, which lies mostly to the west and northwest of Kabul, included, before 1880, Ghazin, Qallat-e Ghalzayi, areas of Balkh, Andarab and the border regions of Herat. The north-eastern most boundary of Hazarajat lay at a Pass situated 20 kms south of Mazar-e Sharif, continued southwards along the river of Dar Gaz past the forests of Boyna Qara, and onwards to Aq Kaprak, Qarah Kashan and Danda Shikan Passes, where it joined the Shorkhab and Siah Khah. From there it stretched eastwards towards Hajar and lurak villages, passing the Ghorband river  and joining the Doab; then south again towards the Qotandar Pass and the village of Zay Mooni,  where it turned westwards towards Sia Khar, and onwards Jalriz, Surkh Sang, Jau Qol and Gardan-e Divar-e Nia villages.  And finally, in a southeasterly direction past the village of  Nanagai Shanba, Shorkh Sang, Sar-e Khavat, Bal Qara, Shamulto and Bonan Passes reaching  the village of Allah-o Akbar.  From there it stretched 26 kms west of Ghazni along the foot of the mountains running along the Ghazni-Qandahar road, to the proximity of Qandahar.

 The southern boundary of the Hazarajat began at Maidan, passing Qalla-e Asiah and Moqor and continuing along the Nakhorb river to Shah-e Mashhad.  Then westwards through Badan Mazar,  Band-e Kotal-e Tahiry, Morgahabi Charmistan, Mian Joy, Ay Kalan, Tan-e Morgh, Chakaloo, Lokorma, Band-e zarb, Bagram and Paya Koh, passing the village of Ziarat-e Jaji and continuing  along the maountain ranges on the way down to Tagab Khor, through a Pass in the proximity of  Zard Bed, where it turned northwards.

On the west the boundary began at Band Barmah, near Sia Lur village, stretching westwards past  Tulok, Mah Gol, Polaristan, Sia Lak, Qalla, Tekman Koh, Shahinak, Janoor, Chil Chava villages  up to Khair Khanak. From there, it stretched along the Morghab river to a point 20 kms short of  Bala Morghab, then through Band-e Turkistan Pass and alon to the village of Bookan.

In the north, the Hazarajat included Qalla-e Wali, Char Shinia, Qalla-e Nau Dara, Tukal, Dahan Dara and Bol Chiragh, turning up northwesterly through Kawolian and Dor Day villages and up  to a point 20 kms south of Sari Pol, and along to the neighbourhood of Khaja Qoroom, Bal  Qorom and Tanga-e Koh (Temirkhanov, 1980: 37-9).

The following maps can be a good description of how much of the Hazara land has been lost since the late 1800's: Although both maps are courtesy of Mr. Mousavi's book, Hazaras of Afghanistan, map 1, however, is reproduced from Mr. Khoda Nazar Qambari's 'A Brief Note on Hazarajat of Afghanistan, Quetta, 1987: 18. 

This is a fact that most productive lands belonging to Hazaras were taken from them by force.  They were confined in the rugged and inhospitable terrain. This forced many Hazaras to abandon their homeland in search of jobs, mostly menial, and move to either other Afghan cities or to neighboring countries such as Pakistan, Iran, India and Russia.

Quoting from Temirkhanov's book Mr. Mousavi in his book provides a good example of how the Afghan governments with the help of Pashtun nomads implemented their policy to displace Hazaras from their land:

The area of Hazarajat has been increasingly reduced since the 19th century. According to our calculations based on various foreign sources, it has been reduced to 100-150,000 sq. km.  For example, during the 1920s, Hazaras and Tajiks inhabited both Maidan valleys; since the 1970s, as a result of migration, no more Hazaras remain in this part. (1980: 39)

 Hazarajat not as rich in agriculture as it once was before the genocide committed against them in 1890's and their most productive lands were taken from them is still considered to be very rich in natural resources such as iron, copper, sulfur and coal.   Contrary to common perception of the area as a remote and extremely barren, the areas of Hazarajat have some of the most beautiful and breathtaking scenery in the country.  The beautiful province of Bamiyan whose ancient capital is also called Bamiyan has some of the most awesome lakes in the country: Band-e Panir, Band-e Barbar, Band-e Amir, Band-e Chalma and Band-e Haibat.  The valley of Bamiyan is also most famous for it's historical statue of two massive sandstone Buddha, 180 and 125 feet high, both the highest in the world. Built during the 1st and 2nd century these sites attracted thousands of Buddhists from all over the world who paid homage to this sacred place. Despite the fall of Bamiyan to Islamic conquerors in the 9th century it has remained one of the most attractive tourist sites in the country. The Buddhas were one of the greatest attractions in Central Asia before the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1978.  In recent years however the fighting in the country has made it very difficult for the tourists to visit the site.  In the summer of 1998 when the radical Taliban forces took control of the area there was a fear that this historic site will be destroyed.  Due to great pressure from the international community however only few isolated incidents of Taliban soldiers firing at the statue of Buddha was reported.

 3) SOUTHERN PLATEAU OR SOUTHERN LOWLANDS: Although several major rivers cross the southwestern plateau and the Helmund river bisects the entire region, most of the landscapes of this region can be classified as either desert or semidesert.  Covering an area of about 50,000 square miles the average elevation of the region is no more than 3,000 feet. The majority of people occupying this area are of Pashtun ethnicity. The southwest corner of the region that borders with Iran has some Baluch population.  Some of the major cities in this region are Kandahar, Ghazni, Helmand, Nimroz etc.  Kandahar province, the capital of the province has a same name, was once the capital of Ahmad Shah's empire and is considered to be the richest city in the country.  The region is famous for its delicious fruits, melons, and grapes.  It also produces large quantities of wool.  The largest desert in the region lies to the southeast of the Helmand River.  Two smaller deserts, Dasht-I-Margo and Dasht-I-Kash, lies north of the Helmund.   The marshland of Gaud-I-Zirreh is located in the extreme southwest near the border of Iran and Pakistan. Covering about one million square miles the PLATEAU OF IRAN, which consists mostly, deserts and some marshland are all shared by Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan.






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