The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, December 2003.
I took this photograph on a filming trip and it remains one of my favourites from the set for the way it speaks to me.
Here is a man with eyes cast down, looking world-weary. And why wouldn’t he be? Life expectancy in Afghanistan is 49 years for both men and women. And he looks to be older than that. Most of his life is behind him and here he is living in a country best known for a history of conflict and war. Afghanistan’s location is almost asking for trouble. Located pivotally between the Middle East, Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent it was centred on the ancient “Silk Route”. This geographic significance has made it a much disputed and fought-over territory for centuries. But what’s happened within this man’s lifetime?
In 1953 General Mohammed Daud became prime minister and sought economic and military assistance from the Soviet Union. He was forced to resign as prime minister in 1963. Ten years later Mohammed Daud seized power in a coup and declared a republic. In 1978 he was deposed and killed in a pro-Soviet coup. There then followed violent infighting with USA-backed mujahedeen groups beginning to feature. In December 1979 Afghanistan was invaded by the Soviet army which then supported the communist government. Mujahedeen groups continued to fight the Soviet forces backed by arms from the USA, Pakistan, China, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
In 1988 Afghanistan the USSR, the USA and Pakistan signed peace accords allowing the Soviet Union to start the process of military withdrawal. Then, in 1996, the Taliban took control of Kabul introducing a hard-line regime featuring severe punishments for disorder and disobedience, which included stoning and amputations.
In 1998 the USA’s pursuit of Osama bin Laden led to missile strikes at his suspected bases in Afghanistan then, following the 9-11 attacks, a bombing campaign began in October 2001 followed by a USA-led invasion.
Finally, in August 2003, NATO ISAF forces took control of security in Kabul providing a foundation for relief and development efforts.
So, in December 2003, this photo epitomised for me the struggles, conflicts and heartbreaks that a nation had suffered for centuries, reflected in microcosm in one man’s life. At the time I took the photo I was struck by the light falling across this man’s face. I like to think of that being the light of hope for a future that might bring a lasting peace to this troubled land and its people. I find it significant that the light is falling across his eyes in the hope that he might see peace and reconciliation in his lifetime.
Historical source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-12011352