Tragedy in Mazar 31

The fatalities in Mazar-i-Sharif are a terrible tragedy. I include in that the deaths of Europeans, Gurkhas and Afghans. They are all dresdfully tragic. Because I am immersed in studying Burnes, I hope you won’t think I am heartless if I say that I am struck by the very strong parallels between this event and the circumstances of Alexander Burnes’ own death.

The parallels between the hopeless venture of 1839-41 and the current occupation of Afghanistan remain compellling. The comparatively simple occupation, the imposition of a despised and corrupt puppet ruler, the troubled occupation, the eventual retreat and disaster, the puppet ruler not lasting very long after we left. It is increasingly apparent that. contrary to Obama’s and Cameron’s lies, the intention this time is to remain at least until the end of Karzai’s presidency, and probably far beyond, so he and his money can leave in safety.

There is another striking parallel with 1841. I want to travel to Kabul for research, and particularly I want to walk the route from the British cantonment to Burnes’ house. I am keen to explore the mystery of why Elphinstone and Sheldon did not send a relief column to relieve Burnes. The accepted answer, that they were just useless, is perhaps glib. I want to see the lie of the land.

I was worried that the sites of one or the other might be lost, but apparently they are well known. But the difficulty is that the cantonment of the doomed British army of 1840 is now the ISAF headquarters, which struck me as stunning. The British Embassy told me I am unlikely to be allowed in to study. I have made numerous attempts to contact the press office of ISAF to ask for permission, but nothing raises a reply.

Much more interestingly, the British Embassy in Kabul have advised me strongly not to attempt to walk from the cantonment to Burnes’ house, as it is far too dangerous. I would be at extreme risk of being shot or kidnapped. This is fascinating. While it is generally understood that Karzai’s writ does not run far outside Kabul, I do not think it is generally understood in the UK or USA, and it is certainly not put about by the media, that nine years of massive occupation have been a total failure, to the extent that it is not even possible to walk in the centre of the capital city.

I really found that quite a revelation. Now as you know, telling me that something is too dangerous is one definite way to make sure that I do it. I think the whole subject is fascinating – Burnes, the parallels between the First UK-Afghan War and now, the complete failure of a massive occupation to establish security. So I have an idea to encapsulate it all in a documentaryfilm called The Walk, in which we discuss all of this while walking between the cantonment and Burnes’ house – presumably starting with our attempts to get ISAF to let us in. There will be the added frlsson of waiting to see if a sniper’s bullet takes our brains out and interrupts the conversation. All I need now is a documentary maker crazy enough to do it with me.

Going back to Mazar, it seems to me very sad that Obama’s statement, quite rightly condemning the killings, did not also condemn the burning of the Koran. Book burning is always wrong. But it does not justify murder, and indeed it does not justify any punishment of those who had nothing to do with it, and are not even part of the occupying forces.

Euronews have footage right inside the mob, plainly taken by an extremely brave cameraman, just after the killings. It is interesting because the crowd is in a paroxysm of grief rather than anger. Bodies are being borne away, and one man is smashing up an automatic rifle against a rock, I presume taken from one of the Gurkha guards.

It is fascinating this has happended in Mazar. Mazar-i-Sharif is the largest and most important of the districts where it was announced last week that Afghan forces would take over security from the occupiers. It is the centre of power of the ruthless warlord and government enforcer General Dostum. The population, like Dostum, is mostly Uzbek. Dostum’s stance, like his ally Karimov, is that of the strong secularist hardman. That this outbreak of religious extremism could happen among Uzbekis in Mazar, so close to the Uzbek border, is going to come as a shock to Central Asian analysts, as frankly it does to me. Whether it is an extension of the Middle East social unrest, taking a different form in a fundamentally less educated population, is at the moment a conjecture.

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31 thoughts on “Tragedy in Mazar

  • somebody

    Craig You will not forget that you have a lovely wife and little boy at home will you?

  • angrysoba

    There was a similar horrific atrocity in Mazar-i-Sharif when the Taliban took over and murdered the staff of the Iranian consulate. Iran came close to invading Afghanistan at that time. But this time it appears the murderers are not Taliban.

  • O'Cobblers

    You're so brave, Craig! Do it! Fly business class all over the damn place!

  • dreoilin

    Craig, off topic but, your claim about a deal being done is backed up by Pepe Escobar here:

    "You invade Bahrain. We take out Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. This, in short, is the essence of a deal struck between the Barack Obama administration and the House of Saud. Two diplomatic sources at the United Nations independently confirmed that Washington, via Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, gave the go-ahead for Saudi Arabia to invade Bahrain and crush the pro-democracy movement in their neighbor in exchange for a "yes" …"

      • YugoStiglitz

        I have a little game I play with myself – when I see an external source cited on this website by both the host and the commenters, I guess how much time – in seconds – it will take me to find out the source is also a 911 truther. With this Pepe Escobar, it took me 5 seconds. About what I expected.

        So yes, Mr. Murray, the conspiracy nuts have caught up with you in inventing a secret deal.

        In any event, this was a good read. Anonymous sources – hah!

        • ingo

          'I play with myself'.
          You don't say Yugo, your fascination with 911 has made that very clear. Hmm, five seconds eh.

  • Suhaylsaadi

    Interesting about the barracks/cantonment – plus ca change…

    How about the Australian film-maker, Benjamin Gilmour? He'd have the verve, the nerve and the experience of solo filming in the former NWFP in recent times wrt matters Pushtun. Benjamin is an amazing guy. We had him over in Glasgow for a screening and Q and A at the Glasgow Film Theatre; it was a superb event and his film, which used local people, is truly excellent.
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    Incidentally, the British puppet ruler of 1839-1842, Shah Shuja (and his blinded ex-King brother, Shah Zaman who accompanied him to India when he initially lost the Durrani throne in the early C19th) were my great-great-great… grandfathers/uncles from several 'lines'. Pity Shuja had to give the Koh-i-Noor diamond to his once-underling, Ranjit Singh as ransom to be allowed to go freely into exile; perhaps I should ask the Queen for it back (!) But a far greater pity is that he agreed to front the stupid campaign of 1838-42 riding on the back of a doomed British army and so plunged Afghanistan into what is now known as the First Afghan War. Btw, the Wikipedia entry for Shah Zaman is inaccurate; he was not imprisoned for the rest of his life, he was freed in the first decade of the C19th when Shuja came to power – as either Elphinstone or Ligne have written in their memoirs, both of which I've read, they met "the blinded king" when visiting Shah Shuja in India. The extended family lived in Ludhiana until the Partition of 1947, after which they moved to Lahore, where they remain.

    Here's an interesting novel I came across on the web, haven't read it yet:
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    Anyway, good luck!

    • Craig_Murray

      Yes – interesting that descriptions of Shujah tend to ignore the fact that as a younger man he had fought for his throne pretty bravely and won a good battle at Eshpaun (1801 from memory) before eventual defeat and exile. It also seems that some of the despised units Shah Shujah brought to fight alongside the British behaved very well.

  • Suhaylsaadi

    The terrible event itself, the murders in the UN Compound, seems emblematic of the insanity of the whole interaction. In spite of his claims to the contrary, the dangerous fool, Jones got what he wanted. Nonetheless, in spite of what one may think of him and his followers, he personally didn't murder anyone, he burned a book, though with the important backdrop of his countrymen and women currently, and for the past decade, being engaged in killing Afghans. It was inevitable that some murderous idiocy would occur, whether it be in Pakistan, Afghanistan or Europe a la the horrific and inexcusable murder of film-maker, Theo Van Gogh or the boring but bloody Islamist propagandising around the Danish cartoons. It seems that all some two-bit hooker-preacher has to do is flash some Islamic symbol and spit on it and there will be a war four thousand miles away; talk about butterflies' wings! What power these people have given to such nonentities.

    These murders in Mazar-i-Sharif (a northern area, not under Taliban control; the killer drug barons of the 'Northern Alliance' are every bit as brutal and almost as Islamist as their opponents, the illiteracy and hatred they culture, every bit as malevolent) illustrate the profundity of the degradation, destruction and mayhem of Afghanistan after 32 years of war. Together, the great powers have destroyed a people. I hope they are proud of their handiwork. Of course, the criminal so-called 'leaders' of Afghanistan have also destroyed their own people and continue to do so.

    I know this is a naive vignette, below, but I write it simply to demonstrate that Afghanistan was not always like this.

    In the spring of 1971 – exactly 40 years ago – my mother took my four year-old brother on a rickety Ariana Airways flight to Kabul to visit the tomb of our ancestor, Ahmad Shah Durrani. She wore a typical early 1970s bellbottomed suit and had no head-covering; this was completely normal and unremarkable. In those days, Kabul was safe. No-one dreamed that eight years later, Hell would descend upon the country – and upon the region.

    • angrysoba

      "In the spring of 1971 – exactly 40 years ago – my mother took my four year-old brother on a rickety Ariana Airways flight to Kabul to visit the tomb of our ancestor, Ahmad Shah Durrani."

      What? Ahmad Shah Durrani is an ancestor of yours? Wow! That makes you royalty! I received a recent biography of Nader Shah for my birthday and plan to read that soon.

      • Suhaylsaadi

        Ha! Sounds like an interesting book, angrysoba – Nadir Shah, the mid-C18th potentate of Persia, I presume? Yes, Ahmed Shah Durrani (or Abdali) and his men were Afghans in the employ of Nadir Shah. Swashbuckling – and very bloody – history. My family were (are) the Sadozais. Zahir Shah, the ex-king who recently died, was a Mohammedzai, a related, and rival, family within the Durrani 'clan'. He bore a strong resemblance to my grandfather. History sits very close at times…

  • Dick the Prick

    Craig, as Mr or Mrs Somebody states; you should think about the cost benefit analysis. I'm all for bravery or courage or damned dogged determination but wandering round the centre of a narco-state with just your dick in your pocket could be considered a bit foolish. As a Brit you are defo the enemy and these smacked up mother fuckers won't take time to chat about nuance. I dunno man, but i'd heavily advise against not because someone says you canny do it but because it's beyond politics now; it's a full blown failed state with more money flowing through it than a banker's Swiss bank account.

    These days are gone:

  • Suhaylsaadi

    I note that Ansari claims that Burnes played-down any resistance to British rule in his messages to the Governor-General of India because he wanted to succeed Macnaghten in the position of commander of the British forces in Afghanistan and so wanted to present the mission as having been a complete success: "All quiet on the Western Front". That was a fatal error.

  • Jotman

    "…the British Embassy in Kabul have advised me strongly not to attempt to walk from the cantonment to Burnes’ house, as it is far too dangerous."

    Of course, an embassy warning is a data point. Sometimes not a reliable one. I know of at least one Middle Eastern capital where an ordinary tourist is reasonably safe, yet US embassy personnel and their families are not supposed to leave the compound without an armed escort. Such can be the lifestyle of the people who dispense travel warnings.

    Check out this travel advisory:

  • Michael.K

    The Koran burning religious nutter from Florida, should, of course, have been really courageous and torched it in downtown Kabul, and trusted in the power of Our Jesus the Lord to protect him, through devine intervetntion, from being torn limb from limb by an enraged mob of Muslims.

    Evedently, Pastor Shitforbrains held a 'trial' for the Koran, found it guilty of heresy, and then proceeded to burn the offending tome in ritual execution of the Devil's words.

    I heard an Afghan journalist on Radio Five Live this morning, whe condemned these ghastly attacks on the UN compound, but explained that the Koran buring was simply the last straw that broke the camel's back. The slaughter of Afghan civilians also played a large part in the climate of rage spreading throughout the country, especially the vile trophy photos of the 'kill team' and their disgusting killing spree. Oddly, as soon as he mentioned the 'kill team' and the photos in Der Spiegel and Rolling Stone, the studio host became agitated and broke in immediately. She mentioned that because of all the other things happening around the world one had perhaps not covered the 'kill team' story properly. She then was quick to assert that the story of an American 'kill team' murdering for 'sport' was only an alligation and hadn't been verified yet independently, or words to that effect.

    It's interesting how quickly BBC journalists jump in to put a lid on guests who stray from the rosy path of the official narrative concerning Afghanistan. And suddenly the burden of proof and verification required leaps upwards, if the story is critical of our imperial adventure, yet when lurid stories about Gadaffi's black, African, mercenaries on the rampage, or his massacres, or even genocicde, are aired, the level of independent verification required drops dramatically. Don't you just Love propaganda?

  • Michael.K


    I think, unless you have secret deathwish or martyr complex, that taking a stroll through Kabul sounds really, really, daft. Unless of course out of the line of the camera you are surrounded by a phalanx of heavily-armed mercenaries. But maybe sheer recklessness of you plan would serve as protection? Perhaps the Afghans would think, oh, don't bother with him, he's obviosly a nutter? You might want to consider robing yourself in full Highland dress which complete the look.

    Seriously though, you got a lovely young wife, a new child, and other children. To take such a risk without adequate precautions sounds really silly.

    You're correct about Obama though. He's a right twerp. A hopelessly weak president. An arrogant, pompous, narcississtic, self-righteous, buffoon, pretending to be in charge of an empire.

    I find him more irritating than Bush, and less able to commincate his views and policies, because Obama doesn't really have any, apart from his colossal, towering belief in his own extraordinary abilities and worth.

    His utterances about the attack on Gadaffi are dreadful. He's worse than Bush. Obama's belief in Amerian exceptionalism are shockingly arrogant.

    'Som nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different.'

    He then went on to justify US military interventions abroad by referring to the duty and right of the United States to defend both its interests and values. It's interests and values. Interests is a broad enough definition to justity war, but 'values' is even wider and flexible. Isn't going to war to protect one's values close to the definition of a 'crusade'?

  • anno

    Craig, thank you for mentioning the absence of condemnation over here of the broadcast burning of the Qur'an by a nutter padre in the US. Maybe copies of Allah's word should carry Government Health Warnings: Burning this book could seriously damage your own chances and those of others who agree with you, in the afterlife. In the meantime the taking out of Friday worshippers by plain clothes Mossad gunmen on the rooftops of Arab cities would also be provocative, if it wasn't obvious to everyone that this kind of desperation means that the whole anti-Islam crusade project has failed.
    You have detected perhaps that the rising power of Islam will protect you in Afghanistan. The whole world will become safer as the US UK IS machine is weighed in for recycling. Suddenly the voodoo of USUKIS brutality is looking very weak and exposed.

  • Suhaylsaadi

    Yeah, I mean look at Benjamin Gilmour. He made a film with Pushtuns in the northwest of Pakistan, all on his own. He's Australian, but is also half-German, was born in Hamburg and has dual German-Australian citizenship and the understanding while he was there was that he was German. I'm not saying 'go and do it' and Dick, above, has made a strong point, but Jotman is also correct. I mean, those poor people in northeastern Japan going about their daily business, no risk really… and then the wave.

  • Suhaylsaadi

    I see that more people have been injured or killed in other parts of Afghanistan due to riots around this book-burning incident. It's really typical and pathetic. I am certain these riots will be spread to Pakistan. The Islamists love these international spectacles like the Danish cartoons, etc. because it gives them a real chance to foment the type of chaos and violence on which they thrive. It's little really directly to do with US drone attacks, etc. or with Iraq, etc. – such stupid demos have occurred, in other circumstances, in the UK as well, for example, in response to authors' books that the loudmouths have been told present them in a less than flattering light; they seem to occur at the drop of a hat, ten thousand miles away. I mean the people in Brick Lane or Bradford, say, were not being bombed in 2003 ('Brick Lane') or 1989 ('Satanic Verses'). And yes, illiteracy and prolonged war and all that have a large role to play in specific circumstances (Af-Pak, for example). But it is a deliberately inculcated intolerance, a terrible inferiority complex and an accultured inability to deploy critical faculties that lies at the heart of the problem. Political Islamism renders a deadening of thought. And we've had 35 years of it. A three-decade-long lobotomy. And so, again and again and again, all their actions do is confirm the preconceptions and tactical political goals of people like Jones and the deaths of either themselves or innocents. The winners? The Far Right in the USA, the Tea Party, Sarah Palin and all the other literalist nutters 'over there'. More public support for 'The War on Terror' (or whatever it's called now, the 'Kandahar Tea-Party', perhaps?). Ah, the world is a mad, sad place. It's time for a cup of tea (as the March Hare said to Alice).

    • Dick the Prick

      I guess it's useful to have these 'events' as a sort of distraction mechanism. Leaders or protagonists can acknowledge that things are really bad but at the same time say, "look what this Christian minister is doing to 'our' religion, 'our' holy book, prophet etc over there – this is what they believe" whilst running the place as a fiefdom etc. It's simple human nature and it's as effective here as anywhere.

      By unifying against an appostate it serves to shift blame from those who bribe, steal, murder, drug deal, gun run etc with the potential that the young kids (one would suspect they're lads aged 15 – 25) are either bribed or threatened into violent conformity against 'the other'. I think a cup of tea is sound advice.

      • anno

        Muslim youngsters are duped into buying the Islam brand, like expensive trainers. You sad cynical bastards probably think the Muslim world is a cowboy film from Hollywood. Smell the coffee chaps.

  • wellwisher

    Craig, you refer in your last sentence to social unrest extending across the Middle East. Do you believe this is a spontaneous, organically generated phenomenon (as anyone of liberal sentiments might wish to) or have you consider the perspective offered by William F Engdahl? See his article 'Egypt's Revolution: Creative Destruction for a "Greater Middle East"?

    I am much afraid that Engdahl may be correct. But I would welcome your view.

    On another point, films are great but you are on to a book here (or so it seems to me) and perhaps writing and publishing that would be the quickest way to see your resonant thesis achieve wider currency (and then be made as a film….)? I can guess writing is horribly hard with a young family but I hope you will try.

  • technicolour

    Suhayl, thank you so much for your story: not naive; important perspective. Will retell.

    Otherwise sorry for off topic (and being brief) but does anyone have first hand knowledge of personal safety (for film makers) in Syria/Lebanon at the moment? FCO advising against travel to the south of Syria and a coastal city. Not convinced but would be grateful for added info.

  • Stuart

    Craig I know you have done some crazy stuff in the past and got away with it, but going to somewhere and blending in driving old cars and dressing plainly may offer you some protection from kidnap or murder but even that is not a certain.
    But to announce your journey and route then walk with a media scrum with cameras and boom mics will certainly draw attention. Most kidnappings are for financial gain rather than politically motivated and any potential kidnapper would bet incorrectly somebody would bail you out..

    If you do decide to do it for gods sake dont pre announce it and be discrete. get in do the walk and get out no public meetings, pre book your hotel in a false name and dont tell anyone at all you are going. I dont want to have to come and get you out!

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