The hazards of imagining countries

By Jeffrey the Barak

Nomadic tribes move independently of each other and occasionally come together to interact through trade, war, sport, cultural exchange, intermarriage, murder etc.

In the dense jungles of South America and Africa and Asia, the boundaries formed by geographical features such as ridges and valleys are all it takes to keep two nomadic cultures apart in language and traditions, until they either form non-nomadic civilizations or continue to roam independently of their neighbors. Then there is fate. One tribe may come into contact with, and survive contact with, outsiders and end up with new lifestyles and technology such as outboard motors and clothing, whereas their immediate neighbors may escape detection for decades afterwards.

Tribes evolve into societies and eventually countries. We have seen it in today’s Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and surrounding areas and due to the fact that so many people have been exposed to the Old Testament of the Bible, and therefore have some awareness of nations and ethnic groups of the last two or three thousand years, it is easy to see how more modern politics and assumed differences can evolve into borders drawn on the map.

If just one or two things had happened differently in history, the map of the Middle-East might be totally different, because in all that famous history, recorded in the world’s best selling loosely-historical book, there were only a few hundred or a couple of thousand people involved in most of those old conflicts.

If you have a chance to find a map of the region that is now Afghanistan and Pakistan, a map made in the early or mid 19th century, you will see numerous regions defined by the make-up of the nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes and their leaders of those days.

Today in the United Nations, you will never see little signs naming Tribes of the Turkmens, Buhara, Pamir, Darwaz, Roshan, Shignan, Badakhshan, Kunduz, Khulm. Chitral, Maimana, Herat, Kafiristan, Dir, Kohistan, Svat, Buner, Shinaki, Punjab and more.

But these were names of regions, if not countries, on the maps of the day. Most are now either part of Pakistan or Afghanistan. The people of these regions are not necessarily Afghanis or Pakistanis, but the modern map tells them that’s what they are.

There are seven main ethnic groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and many more obscure groups, some extremely small and hardly known to this day.

And a failure to understand who these people are, who they were, where they came from and where they live now, means that occupying armies really do not have any clear idea who they are defending or who they are trying to kill.

Add the complication of different religions, most of which are opposing or slightly differing views from within the Islamic umbrella, and the complications deepen.

Shift West a few miles and look at Iraq. Like Pakistan, it is a modern country created not very long ago by outsiders. (The British, if you want to name names). Until the start of the current war, it held it’s violence and hate simmering below the surface, united by the common fear of their evil national dictator. But how many of those who voted to approve the invasion of Iraq had even a glimmer of understanding about the basic differences between the various peoples in the region? How many even knew anything about Sunni’s Shi’ites and Kurds, as they stood on the floor of the House and painted a picture of Iraqis cheering for parading American liberators marching triumphantly into Baghdad a few weeks after the Air Force blew it to bits for the good of the people.

Perhaps it is too late to swap the Iraq on the map for numerous ethnic regions, and too late to swap the Pakistan and Afghanistan of today into the little countries and regions that existed before. But on the other hand, perhaps these people can never be unified into countries. The very model of a country may not be applicable to people such as these. They remain tribal and separate, in culture and language.

Israel, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, all examples of relatively new countries, each with their own set of problems. Without ever understanding much about the people within, outside military forces jump in to help, and end up killing or displacing thousands and thousands of people either directly or indirectly

Surely a little research would be advisable?

1 Comment

  1. Very interesting..give us more about Middle-East, in some future chapters, and include some info. relating to the major cities, and who live there and who runs these cities.

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