Friday, August 27, 2004

Afghanistan

Afghanistan. Frederick Engels' view of the country in 1857. Includes a map and commentary. This is an interesting read.

From the site:

Afghanistan, an extensive country of Asia, north-west of India. It lies between Persia and the Indies, and in the other direction between the Hindu Kush and the Indian Ocean. It formerly included the Persian provinces of Khorassan and Kohistan, together with Herat, Beluchistan, Cashmere, and Sinde, and a considerable part of the Punjab. In its present limits there are probably not more than 4,000,000 inhabitants. The surface of Afghanistan is very irregular, — lofty table lands, vast mountains, deep valleys, and ravines. Like all mountainous tropical countries it presents every variety of climate. In the Hindu Kush, the snow lies all the year on the lofty summits, while in the valleys the thermometer ranges up to 130°. The heat is greater in the eastern than in the western parts, but the climate is generally cooler than that of India; and although the alternations of temperature between summer and winter, or day and night, are very great, the country is generally healthy. The principal diseases are fevers, catarrhs, and ophthalmia. Occasionally the small-pox is destructive. The soil is of exuberant fertility. Date palms flourish in the oases of the sandy wastes; the sugar cane and cotton in the warm valleys; and European fruits and vegetables grow luxuriantly on the hill-side terraces up to a level of 6,000 or 7,000 feet. The mountains are clothed with noble forests, which are frequented by bears, wolves, and foxes, while the lion, the leopard, and the tiger, are found in districts congenial to their habits. The animals useful to mankind are not wanting. There is a fine variety of sheep of the Persian or large-tailed breed. The horses are of good size and blood. The camel and ass are used as beasts of burthen, and goats, dogs, and cats, are to be found in great numbers. Beside the Hindu Kush, which is a continuation of the Himalayas, there is a mountain chain called the Solyman mountain, on the south-west; and between Afghanistan and Balkh, there is a chain known as the Paropamisan range, very little information concerning which has, however, reached Europe. The rivers are few in number; the Helmund and the Kabul are the most important. These take their rise in the Hindu Kush, the Kabul flowing cast and falling into the Indus near Attock; the Helmund flowing west through the district of Seiestan and falling into the lake of Zurrah. The Helmund has the peculiarity of overflowing its banks annually like the Nile, bringing fertility to the soil, which, beyond the limit of the inundation, is sandy desert. The principal cities of Afghanistan are Kabul, the capital, Ghuznee, Peshawer, and Kandahar. Kabul is a fine town, lat. 34° 10’ N. long. 60° 43’ E., on the river of the same name. The buildings are of wood, neat and commodious, and the town being surrounded with fine gardens, has a very pleasing aspect. It is environed with villages, and is in the midst of a large plain encircled with low hills. The tomb of the emperor Baber is its chief monument. Peshawer is a large city, with a population estimated at 100,000. Ghuznee, a city of ancient renown, once the capital of the great sultan Mahmoud, has fallen from its great estate and is now a poor place. Near it is Mahmoud’s tomb. Kandahar was founded as recently as 1754. It is on the site of an ancient city. It was for a few years the -capital; but in 1774 the seat of government was removed to Kabul. It is believed to contain 100,000 inhabitants. Near the city is the tomb of Shah Ahmed, the founder of the city, an asylum so sacred that even the king may not remove a criminal who has taken refuge within its walls.

The geographical position of Afghanistan, and the peculiar character of the people, invest the country with a political importance that can scarcely be over-estimated in the affairs of Central Asia. The government is a monarchy, but the king’s authority over his high-spirited and turbulent subjects, is personal and very uncertain. The kingdom is divided into provinces, each superintended by a representative of the sovereign, who collects the revenue and remits it to the capital.

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