Architecture and Crafts Against the Soviet and U.S. Invasions of Afghanistan

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We begin with a literal understanding of the notion of insurgent architectures: those erected by Afghan militants against the invasions of the Soviet Union in 1979 and the United States in 2001. Feda Wardak also describes the regional transmission of building crafts as fundamental anti-imperial practices too.

Article published in The Funambulist 23 (May-June 2019) Insurgent Architectures. Click here to access the rest of the issue.

Wardak Funambulist1
Rohani Wardak, Amin Wardak, and Mustapha Wardak, three brothers who led the resistance for 12 years in Wardak Province, then in Ghazni and Kabul (early 1980s)

At the crossroads of great Empires, Afghanistan has long remained sealed to foreign invasions. The country was late unified, often coveted, sometimes dominated but never colonized by various colonial powers, some which nevertheless have amputated part of its territory. Since the creation of the Pashtun State in 1747, various Afghan tribes and ethnic groups have expressed the shared objective to secure their territory and make it independent from their neighbors (mainly Persia and colonized India). For over two centuries, the series of conflicts have never left sufficient time for the central power to implement its ambitions in terms of structuring a centralized modern state. Often, the desire of political elites to import modernity from abroad has been violently confronted with local realities. This has translated into the emergence of resistance processes embodied by various Afghan communities in order to preserve the social, spatial, and cultural identity of their microcosms. This resistance has manifested through strategies of urban guerrilla and the introduction of insurrectional architectures intended to preserve local heritage in peril. Better grasping these resistance mechanisms requires us to put them in perspective with the intentions to modernize the Herat-Kandahar-Kabul road, which will be used as colonial infrastructure by the various invaders of Afghanistan.

The Herat-Kandahar-Kabul Road and Spatiotemporal Contextualizing of the War Against the Soviet Union ///

At the beginning of the 20th century, Afghanistan — a landlocked territory — attempts to open up to the ‘modern’ world, whose influences were already starting to penetrate the country. This great discrepancy between customs disturbs the central power that precipitates the implementation of certain reforms directly inspired from the societies of European colonial powers. Ulamas, the theologists of Islam, as well as some tribe leaders from zones located near Pakistan refuse the imposition of customs changes — that they deem radical enough to put in peril their cultural identity and the spaces they practice within. So they revolt. The British Empire decides to support the rebellion in order to stabilize their positions in the region, and in turn the Afghan Kingdom’s ambitions goes up in smoke. Thereafter, patience will be the privileged path of action for implementing new reforms, given the ambivalence between the ruling class who continues to strive after a foreign culture, and the population who is fixed in what they know.