Courtesy Reuters

Afghanistan, Independent and Encircled

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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

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