Friday, November 02, 2018

The Hindukush

"When we were children we used to play here and drink water straight from the river - it was so clean!"

The best years of Kabul are often described in past-tense. People talk of the glory days of the kings, of a city that was once a hub of trade and commerce across Asia, of dogged resistance to 'foreign invaders' who could never ever conquer Afghanistan..

The elderly in Kabul have happy memories of the city in the 1950s - those wonderful days when water was clean, when the country was peaceful and winters were what they ought to be - freezing cold. It is amazing to think that this country, proud its aversion to foreign invaders, was also the home of invaders who left an indelible mark on the history of Northern India.

Driven by the zeal of a new religion, Mahmud of Gazni was the first plunderer to make a career out of invading infidels in India. He systematically raided and plundered kingdoms in east of the Indus river to west of Yamuna river, no less than seventeen times between CE 997 and 1030. After a brief pause of two centuries, another ruler emerged from Ghor, nested in the Hindukush mountains. The Ghurid empire led by Mu'izz al-Din was influential in creating the Delhi Sultanate.

Then came Timur-the-lame and his army as they crossed the Hindkush range, to launch the 1398 invasion of northern Indian subcontinent, plundering and killing all the way. Such was the number of slaves who were forced to cross the freezing cold of the Afghan mountains that Ibn Battutta refers to them as the "Killer of Hindus", or Hindukush.

Inspired by stories of Timur, one of his descendants, Zahir-ud-din Mohammed - aka Babur ('tiger') - decided to follow suit. As a young man of 21 years, he had taken control of Kabul in 1504. Having failed time and again to regain control over the Ferghana Valley, he turned his attention south-eastwards. In 1526, he made his move into north India, won the Battle of Panipat, ending the last Delhi Sultanate dynasty, and starting the era of the Mughals.

The slave trading operations continued during the Delhi Sultanate and through the Mughal era. It became a standard practicee to send thousands of slaves every year to Central Asia to pay for horses and other goods.

Looking at the condition of Afghanistan today you wonder... after all those centuries of plunder and flogging of slaves across the Hindukush: Where has all the loot gone? 

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