Aug 192015


Afghan Independence Day is celebrated in Afghanistan on this day to commemorate the Anglo-Afghan Treaty of 1919. The treaty granted complete independence from Britain; although Afghanistan was never a part of the British Empire. The British fought three wars with Afghanistan in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.


The First Anglo-Afghan War (1839–1842) led to the defeat of the entire British-led Indian invaders by Afghan forces under Akbar Khan somewhere along the Kabul-Jalalabad Road, near the city of Jalalabad. After this defeat, the British-led forces returned to Afghanistan on a special mission to rescue their prisoners of war but quickly made a complete withdrawal.


The Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878–80) first began with a British defeat followed by their victory at the Battle of Kandahar, which, in turn led to Abdur Rahman Khan becoming the new emir and the start of friendly British-Afghan relations. The British were given control of Afghanistan’s foreign affairs in exchange for protection against the Russians and Persians.


The Third Anglo-Afghan War in 1919 led the British to give up control of Afghanistan’s foreign affairs.

For well over a century Afghanistan has been politically unstable and grindingly poor. The reason are not hard to understand but the solutions are very difficult to find. Foremost is the presence of conflict, both internal and external. Internal conflict arises from issues I have talked about many times before. The nation of Afghanistan is a conglomeration of ethnicities bound together politically by certain accidents of history, but usually at each other’s throats. Outside invasion has been a fact of life for centuries.


The country sits at a crossroads where numerous civilizations have interacted and often fought. It has been home to various peoples through the ages, among them the ancient Iranian peoples who established the dominant role of Indo-Iranian languages in the region. At many times, the land has been part of large regional empires, among them the Achaemenid Empire, the Macedonian Empire, the Indian Maurya Empire, and the Islamic Empire.


Many kingdoms have also risen to power in Afghanistan, such as the Greco-Bactrians, Kushans, Hephthalites, Kabul Shahis, Saffarids, Samanids, Ghaznavids, Ghurids, Khiljis, Kartids, Timurids, Mughals, and finally the Hotak and Durrani dynasties that were the foundation of the modern state. The formation of modern Afghanistan mirrors the creation of nation states in Europe and Africa out of diverse ethnicities, with all the attendant turbulence, but magnified. Modern major powers, such as Russia and the U.S., who believe they can come in and sort things out by imposing their will through sheer overwhelming might need to pay more attention to the history books.

Afghanistan is surprisingly uniform culturally despite its ethnic and linguistic diversity. The majority of Afghans are Muslim (although with some diversity in interpretation), dress similarly, listen to the same music, share a generally similar worldview, and enjoy the same foods. In the southern and eastern region, as well as western Pakistan which was historically part of Afghanistan, the Pashtun people dominate. The western, northern, and central regions of Afghanistan are influenced by neighboring Central Asian and Persian cultures. Afghans living in cities, particularly Kabul, are further influenced to some degree by Indian culture through Bollywood films and music.


Afghanistan has long been famous for carpet making. One of the most exotic and distinctive of all oriental rugs is the Shindand or Adraskan (named after local Afghan towns), woven in the Herat Province, in western Afghanistan. Strangely elongated human and animal figures are their signature look. The carpet can be sold across Afghanistan with the most based in Mazar-e Sharif. Another staple of Afghanistan is the Baluchi rug, most notably Baluchi prayer rugs. They are made by Afghanistan’s Baloch people in the south-western part of the country.

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Afghan cuisine is largely based upon the nation’s chief crops, such as wheat, maize, barley and rice. Accompanying these staples are native fruits and vegetables as well as dairy products such as milk, yogurt and whey. Kabuli Palaw is the national dish of Afghanistan. Kabuli Palaw, also called Qabili Pulao or simply pilav, is an pilaf dish consisting of steamed rice mixed with raisins, carrots, and lamb. Kabuli Palaw is made by cooking basmati or long grained rice in a brothy sauce (which makes the rice brown). This dish may be made with lamb, chicken, or beef, but lamb is preferred. I like to use shanks but any cut is all right. Meaty lamb neck is flavorful. You can also use goat. Kabuli Palaw is finished off by being baked in the oven and may be topped with fried sliced carrots, raisins, orange peel strips, and chopped nuts such as pistachios or almonds. The meat is covered by the rice or buried in the rice mixture.


Kabuli Palaw


4 lbs lamb
2 large onions, sliced
3 pints hot light stock
1½ lb cooked basmati or long grain rice


2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp ground cardamom
1 tbsp ground cumin
3 carrots, cooked and shredded
½ cup raisins
½ cup pistachios or slivered almonds
1 orange peel cut in julienne strips


Simmer the lamb and onions, in light stock for about 2 hours, or until very tender.

Remove and cool the lamb, reserving the stock. Remove any bones from the lamb breaking the meat in large pieces.

Sauté the carrots in a little butter until lightly browned. Set aside.

For the stock sauce, brown the onions in butter in a large, deep skillet and then remove from the heat.

Add the cardamom and cumin and mash them with the back of a wooden spoon together with onion to form a paste.

Add about 1 pt of the lamb stock and simmer for a few minutes stirring with a whisk to combine.

Put the cooked rice, stock sauce and lamb into a large lidded casserole. Place the carrots, raisins, orange peel, and nuts on top. Cover and cook in the oven for about 35 to 45 minutes at 325°F. Add a little extra stock if it dries too much.

To serve fluff the rice and all the ingredients together and mound on a heated serving platter.