Afghanistan: Elegy . . . Unfinished Tapestry?

POETRY FORMAT, 19 Jul 2021

Anthony J. Marsella, Ph.D. – TRANSCEND Media Service

19 Jul 2021 – Afghanistan has been in modern western media headlines from the earliest days of “The Great Game,” a euphemism for 19th Century Britain and Russia’s imperialistic invasion, occupation, domination, and destruction of its lands, peoples, cultures.  And now the USA asserts its failed presence in the 16-year war with Afghanistan, by dropping the largest non-nuclear bomb on some distant mountainous location; another demonstration of its inept and tragic reliance on militarism.

Afghanistan will remain, if only as a symbol, a memory, a lesson of the USA’s final gasps as a failed empire, collapsing from within because of its immoral aspirations and pursuits. Read Ozymandias, and tremble!



                   Beyond deliverance?

Unfinished tapestry?

Awaiting looms,

Threads, strands, fibers,


“Stan” among “Stans:”

Pakistan, Kazakstan, Turkmenistan, Baluchistan

Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uiguristan, Wajiristan, Uzbekistan . . .


And long ago, Pashtunistan!

Place, land, country, nation, people





Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazara, Uzbeks, Kazaks,

Aimaks, Turkmen, Uigurs, Balochs:


Intrepid warriors in turbaned Pakols,

Tribal names and blood lines

Exotic to foreign ears and minds:

Proud peoples:

Human in every way:

Vessels that bleed,

Flesh that burns,

Bones that dry and wither!


Fathers, sons, husbands, brothers,

Mothers, daughters, sisters, cousins, family, friends!

Decaying in rock piles, shallow graves, smoldering huts!

Flesh for foragers – vermin, insects, vultures,

Sacrificial testaments to sacrifice . . .

Canonized names tearfully recited,

Immutable gazes narrate history.


Branded barbaric in scripture and custom,

Among those seeking envied geography,

Ignorant of peaceful warrior traditions,

Tribal loyalties,

Village identities,

Family ties,

Ordered lives

Inscribed memories!


Flag-waving invaders:

Parades, anthems, medals, promises,

Tanks, artillery, cadenced-stepping soldiers,

Red coats, pith helmets,

Camouflaged, dark glasses!


Harbingers of death,

Departing as they came,

In disbelief!

Their nation’s history:

Sullied, soiled, stained!

Their soldiers:

Minds, limbs, senses – shattered.     Afghanistan remains!






Strategic passage:

West to East,

East to West,

Imagined buffer for empires!


Mountains, valleys, rivers, plains,

Formidable, challenging, impassable!

Boundless contradictions!

Resilient native character,

Granite temperament,

Enduring – outliving time.




Insatiable invasions!

Beyond Shakespearean imagination!

Ravenous control!

Voracious appetites,

Unquenched avarice!

Ravaged by war!

Destroyed in resistance!

Conquest denied!

Eternal trauma,

Body, mind, seed!


Women defiled,

Lives planted,

Between struggling thighs!

Entry forced,

Identity undefined.

Misery daily fare,

Smells known!

Blood, cordite, semen!






Should we shout, scream,

                                      Accept savagery,

Tolerate insult, assault, rape?


Should we speak?

With diplomatic restraint!

Deny committed sins?

Forge unholy alliances!

Sign new maps?

Defy ancient order!


“Yes, Mr. President;

Thank you Mr. Prime Minister;

It is kind of you, General!”


Oh, that is my secretary, General;

Her family and five children lost.

She is unsure: drones, IED, bombs?

                             Mute now!

                                      Sullen witness!

                                                We have all seen so much,

                                                          For so long,

                                                                   We wait!”


“We understand your concerns

For Russia, China, India, Pakistan!

Narcotics trade!

Human rights!


                    Tactics, strategies, policies,

                             To contain . . .”


“We welcome your military,

We accept your apology

For Kandahar, Kabul, Herat . . . !”

          Please, Sir, allow me:

                   Have you tasted “Qabili Palau?”   

                             Our “national” dish!

                                      Do you like lamb?


In silence:

“We are caught!

East-West balancing act!

          Ancient customs!

Tribal rivalries!

Sunni-Shia hatreds!

War-lord ambitions!

                                        Revenge required!

Life, death . . . . “






Sacrificial lamb for the world!



Centuries lost,

Cultures destroyed.


Reached by Alexander the Great,

Megos Alexandros;

Macedonian legacy?

Generations of green eyes!


Silk Road passage,

Khyber Pass!

Mythic place for Kipling’s tales,

Victoria’s gift to Britain’s people!

Borders, demarcations, sovereignty!


England’s legacy?

Debate for a nation’s conscience,

Gladstone lectured Disraeli:


“Remember the rights of the savage. . . . Remember the sanctity of life in the hill villages of Afghanistan, among the winter snows, is as inviolable in the eyes of Almighty God as can be your own.”


Britain’s legacy?


Sublimated guilt with arrogance!

A new word for armies: “Sanctity.”

Eager to continue their

Messianic mission:

“Take up the White man’s burden.”


A “Great Game” — played without Native consent!

A ravenous game for nations:

Britain, Russia, Germany, India.

Prize for Queen, Czar, Raj, Kaiser, Ministers, Presidents!

Imperialism’s darkest hours,


Awaiting America!

                                                                    But first: “Empire!”


Boundaries fashioned under duress!

Durand Line! 1893!

Sir Mortimer Durand,

British India diplomat,

Skilled in deceit,

Tea at Parachinar!

“May I remind you:”

“You really have no choice!”


A new Northwest-Frontier Province

Harsh reality soothed by tea!

Abdur Raman Khan,

Afghan Amir,

Compliant, impressionable, malleable!

Pretense at face!

“We can accept this line.”


Treaty — written in English — signed!

“You do, Amir Khan, understand our decision?

“We look forward, Minister Durand,

To an era of mutual cooperation!

All will benefit!”


Pashtuns . . . Balochs . . . warrior tribes!

Division essential:

Northwest area must be separated.

“Security of India!”

“Jewel in the Crown!”

          “More tea?”

                   “Two or one?”




A nation, people, history sacrificed!

Beseeching victim!

Splayed on altars,

For wealth, power, position.

Illusions of empire!


Soviet Union – USSR – invasion:

Modern arms, ideological intention;

Aspirations! Delusions! Hallucinations!

Nine years, 1 month, 3 weeks, 1 day.


In response: America arms Mujahadeen!

Communism must be stopped!

Al Q’aida born!

ISIS nurtured!

          Taliban required!

Hatred sired!

Cold wars spill blood:

Victims of grand designs!

Millions in dead!

Millions refugees, displaced!

Faces, now statistics!

Collateral damage!


Amid upheaval,

New powers emerge:

Warlords, religious zealots, village chiefs, foreign forces!

“Who is in charge here?”

I am!”

                                                “Who are you?”


Soviet legacy?



Defiled name!

Satanic nation!


Coalition, consortium, confederation . . .

Conspiracy of the “Willing,”

Conscienceless term: “Willing!”


Code for death and destruction!







“America’s troops will remain and help!”

Centuries dismissed . . . with impunity,

Tribal inheritances insulted!

Local ways ridiculed,

Traditions . . . crushed

What savage God . . .

Ordained you, savior?



Decay, decline, lawless!

Men, women, children,

Villages, earth, fields — fodder!

Imperfect resurrection!


America’s legacy:

Purveyor of sullied fruit!



“Our intentions were good!”

Expressions of guilt impossible!

Semblance of villainy denied!


“Never say you are sorry!

                   Never say you made a mistake!

                             Never question our rationale!

How could you explain

To limbless soldiers,

Media, taxpayers, lawyers?

          Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan!

                   Tolerance is gone!”       


Colonialism, imperialism, capitalism,

Corruption, opium, slavery, prostitution!

Choose your “Cides:”

Ecocides, fraticides, infanticides




                             Noun! Verb !



To all coveting this fabled land,

I say:

Fall on your knees!

Beg forgiveness.

Pray to the god of your choice,

Beat your chest for penance.

Shed tears.

Renounce violence!


Behold your tainted tracks!


An unfitting word!

“Barbarous” more apt!

What lesson remains?

. . . .   Rashkalnikov!


Commentary: Afghanistan — history, country, people, culture — is difficult, even under the best of intentions and talents, to confine to poetic words. How does one share imprints of a people, land, nation, torn by endless periods of social upheaval, destruction, death — victim of its own and foreign hands? Understanding legacy is essential, yet insufficient!

An elegy is a sad poem – a poem expressing sorrow, grief, and longing for someone who is dead or dying. Many would say the term “elegy” is premature. They claim Afghanistan has survived numerous invasions and occupations by foreign powers and internal regime changes. Yet, Afghanistan remains! This is true! But what Afghanistan remains?

Borders are erased, new boundaries accepted! Nations emerge and disappear, even as remnants of cultures remain. People assume new faces and bodies. This is history! A story well-known in Central Asia! Revisionist map-makers omnipresent, eager to display old and new lines – latitudes and longitudes!

I offer a second sub-title in this poem: “Unfinished Tapestry,” hoping Afghanistan may find stability and security among its own weavers and looms. The tapestry metaphor was gleaned from the words of the talented poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay, in her published sonnet, Huntsman, What Quarry? Afghanistan’s looms have proven inadequate; its prior weavers unwilling to accept their tattered failures, continuing to weave with soiled hands, torn threads, and broken looms.

I offer this poem to Afghanistan with apologies. Nothing can heal loss, grief, and sorrow – a decimated population, a denied national identity, a future uncertain. I apologize for all who should, and do not!

Can Afghanistan’s destiny be shaped by its own hand? I know only no permanent solution can be found in violence and war. Choices define futures! Can an “Unfinished Tapestry” find healing, peace, dignity? I do not know! Until such time, as South African Bishop Tutu said amidst his country’s darkest hours: “We remain prisoners of hope.”


Anthony J. Marsella, Ph.D., a member of the TRANSCEND Network, is a past president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Hawaii, and past director of the World Health Organization Psychiatric Research Center in Honolulu. He is known nationally and internationally as a pioneer figure in the study of culture and psychopathology who challenged the ethnocentrism and racial biases of many assumptions, theories, and practices in psychology and psychiatry. In more recent years, he has been writing and lecturing on peace and social justice. He has published 15 edited books, and more than 250 articles, chapters, book reviews, and popular pieces. He can be reached at

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 19 Jul 2021.

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