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Afghanistan, Independent and Encircled
A FGHANISTAN is a land-locked and mountain-studded land the size of Texas, with a population estimated perhaps at 12,000,000. The vast majority of its fervent Moslems are primitive farmers or nomads, pursuing ancient patterns of life. The country is bounded on the west by Iran, on the south and east by Pakistan, and on the north by a 900-mile frontier with the U.S.S.R. At the extreme northeastern corner a needle-like corridor stretches as far as Red China, marked out long ago by the British to keep the Russian Empire from direct contact with India.
Down this corridor march the Pamirs, lofty outshoots of the Himalayas, to spread out and traverse the central spine of the country as the massive Hindu Kush range. To the south of the Hindu Kush a boundless plateau slopes toward the Indian Ocean, while to the north are desolate steppes extending to the Oxus River, which forms the Soviet frontier. Rainfall is scanty, so that in most parts of the country crops can be grown only by irrigation from streams flowing out of the snow-crowned Hindu Kush and these facilities are so restricted that less than 5 percent of the land is now cultivated.
A Western visitor is likely to enter Afghanistan through the Khyber pass, leaving behind the Pakistan town of Peshawar with its asphalted, tree-lined avenues to emerge into a region of fantastic and rugged beauty where the turbaned, baggy-trousered men carry guns and the women are heavily veiled. A narrow shelf carries the rough road above a boiling river, and then the route winds steeply over a high pass before the final descent to Kabul. The traveler may continue along the "great circle" route which joins Kabul with the rest of the country, and will then pass through such historically famous towns as Mazar-i-Sharif, Balkh, Herat, Kandahar and Ghazni--towns that were seen by Alexander the Great, Genghiz Khan and Tamerlane. Kabul, the capital city of more than 200,000 people, is hemmed in by mountains and penetrated by rocky ledges which are still crowned by ancient walls. Wide new avenues have been laid through the crowded older quarters south of the Kabul River and suburbs are pushing out in every direction. The city has an air of activity and enterprise.