This impact of this time warp is manifest in the refusal of these major countries and financial institutions to acknowledge that Afghanistan is part of Central Asia and not simply a problematic neighbor. This view dates to tsarist Russia’s conquest of all Central Asia—but not Afghanistan—in the 1860s. Russia’s aims were clear: to preempt Britain from seizing Central Asia north of the Amu Darya River and to gain control of a vast cotton-producing region at a time when Union gunboats had cut off cotton shipments from the American South. However, Russia stopped its southern push at the Amu Darya, which became the southern border of its empire and then of the Soviet Union. In the 1930s Stalin closed the border, imposed Communist development on that part of the region it controlled, and declared Afghanistan a zone of backwardness and poverty.
S. Frederick Starr is founding Chairman of the American Foreign Policy Council’s Central Asia-Caucasus Institute.