April 12, 2018 - All
CIA map of mujaheddin groups, 1985. “Peshawar Scrapin'” is my name for a project I undertook for my Government Information and Programming for Cultural Heritage classes in library school at Pratt. It is named for the Peshawar Seven, or the loose alliance of seven anti-Soviet mujaheddin groups who received US and Pakistani support during the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. I used a series of Python scripts to scrape documents and metadata from the CIA FOIA Electronic Reading Room, and then to extend the metadata by adding subject terms–namely people, organizations, and places within Afghanistan. A spreadsheet of the results may be viewed here: https://goo.gl/SrG8qL Anyone interested in the scripts themselves, or a JSON version of the metadata, may find them at github.com/evanvolow/Peshawar-Scrapin- The Soviet-Afghan War was well-publicized in its time and resurfaces occasionally in popular culture, but it remains poorly understood. Mainstream, Western apprehension of the conflict fixates on the war’s place in broader Cold War between USA and USSR. Its significance within Afghanistan’s forty-year internal struggle is reduced to a vague sense of grievance or regret: those mujaheddin we trained, armed, and wrote of so admiringly in the press, they turned out to be the Taliban and al-Qaeda, after all. In truth, the mujaheddin of that time were as diverse as Afghanistan itself, a jumble of ethnicities and ideologies that continue to vie for power or unity in Afghanistan’s current government. A few notable examples: Abdullah Abdullah, friend and advisor to the sainted Ahmad Shah Massoud, now serves as Chief Executive of Afghanistan, an office created in a power-sharing deal with president Ashraf Ghani. He translated for Massoud at the 2001 European Parliament meeting where Massoud warned of an imminent attack on America. Abdul Rashid Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek general who originally fought for the communist PDPA regime, is now one of two Vice Presidents of Afghanistan. He was an important ally to Massoud and the US in fighting the Taliban, but has also been accused of various and sundry war crimes. He is barred from entering the US and has spent significant portions of his Vice Presidential term in exile in Turkey. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the warlord once dubbed “Butcher of Kabul” for his brutal attacks on the capital city, signed a peace deal with the present government in 2016, ending a 20-year period of exile. My main objective for this project was to assist researchers in determining what the CIA’s relationship with these various factions was, and how much thought or effort went into controlling the flow of arms into Afghanistan. Understanding this time period better could have saved us the trouble of a sixteen-year occupation of our own, and could stil save us from dire error in other conflicts. The project also included a paper with further description and more personal detail than this post. A professor of mine expressed interest in helping me publish it in a journal, so I will hold off on posting it here until I see where that goes..