Afghanistan & Palestine: People at the borders the devastating effects of scientific borders

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2,881.59 kilometres separate Palestine and Afghanistan. A great distance, one might reasonably think. However, what if we imagine restoring it? What if we do not imagine a distance between Afghanistan and Palestine but a continuous territory that connects them?

Bearing in mind the respective differences between Afghanistan and Palestine, it cannot be denied that these two countries share much more commonalities from a political point of view. The most surprising is that both have undergone a foreign invasion that has imposed “scientific” borders. Why? Because even before the invasions, both countries were borderline cases, challenging for the state to control classically. The British decided to opt for the easiest and quickest way possible: the creation of cartography for their benefit.

What we are seeing now is two populations living under the regime. On the one hand, we have the Taliban, and on the other, we have Israel. The Afghan and the Palestinian civil society struggles to control their borders and build solid political institutions primarily due to the high levels of corruption. As a result, their lives are stuck in a breath of violence.


Palestine has a history of occupation. Even the name commonly used to describe its territories, “Palestinian Territories,” is a political convention. The conflict has been going on since the early 1900s. At that time, Arabs, mostly Muslims, were part of the Ottoman Empire. In 1917 the United Kingdom decided to start a mandate in the same very place where Jews were moving, as part of Zionism, to escape persecution around Europe and establish their state (in what they consider their homeland). Fightings between Arab and Jews began in 1947 when the United Nations approved a plan to divide British Palestine into two independent countries: one for the Jews, Israel and the other for the Arabs, Palestine.

In the middle was Jerusalem, a unique international zone.

War started in 1948, and Israel succeeded in taking control of everything except for the West Bank and Gaza, where most of the Palestinians flew. Since 1967 Israeli’s military occupation turned Gaza into an open-air prison. The lives of the Palestinians were and still are all-consuming. Now Palestinians are constrained by Israeli checkpoints and a 20-foot wall, subjected daily to the Israeli’s military justice system, which is unbelievably violent. On average, two children are arrested every day. Violence has become the status quo.


Afghanistan shares a similar history when it comes to occupation. The name commonly used to describe a portion of its territory, “Af-Pak”, is a political convention, a negative and depreciative way to denote a remote area of the world, the Durand Line. During the 19th century, Britain, willing to protect its Indian pearl from Russia, attempted to annex Afghanistan, resulting in a series of British-Afghan Wars (1838-42; 1878-80; 1919-21). When Britain withdrew from India, it sought to create a Hindu secular state and the Islamic State of Pakistan, which includes the Durand Line, the long and uncontrollable border with Afghanistan. Afghan borders were drawn up by the British when the country was still riven by tribal and ethnic fragmentation [at the same time endorsed by the then emir of Afghanistan, Abdur Rahman Khan]. The population living at the border were those who suffered the most from the transformation of the Durand Line. The Pashtun tribes saw their tribal system and political power abolished.

After 9/11, U.S. officials said that bin Laden was hiding in Afghanistan. This was the primary excuse used by the U.S and the West to justify the start of the war in Afghanistan. Now Afghan people are constrained by the Taliban regime, a regime that is a direct result of both the western intervention and of a fictitious organization of the territory at the hands of an external actor. Violence has become the status quo.

What does it mean by scientific borders?

The scientific border is a term used in academia, especially in critical geopolitics and critical border studies, to indicate a specific type of border. Scientific borders result as a territorial organization that sees an external actor deciding and taking control over the territory. The imposition over time changes the territory and the political composition on the ground over time. These changes generate a particular type of geographic knowledge, a direct result of creating the borders. Occupying land always produces a specific type of knowledge and brings heavy and profound political consequences for the people living there. Because maps help create nations, boundaries and spatial imaginations (power), it is correct what Agnew said in 2007: “putting the state on the map meant knowing and imagining it is as real, and so making it a reality”. Maps are artefacts, tools to shape, legitimize and institutionalize certain forms of knowledge and collective spatial imaginations.

If we look at maps produced by the Israeli state or various governmental or non-governmental organizations, they always incorporate and represent broader discourses within Israeli society. Palestinian Territories are hugely underrepresented. Palestinian territories are under Israel’s control, emphasizing the potential threat coming from Palestinians.

Direct consequences of territorial mis-management

Whenever the territorial organization of a state is handled, irreparable damage is created. The action by an external actor who does not know the socio-territorial reality of the country in which he imposes his political logic has these direct consequences. Primarily on the population, it creates and increases social inequalities, favours black markets, increases sectarian conflict and average violence levels, decreases credibility in institutions, facilitates the infiltration of extremist groups, and increases poverty. In governments, on the other hand, the action of an external actor crumbles the institutions because the levels of corruption increase. These favors a few men (and never women, to note) or a group who accumulate all the power in their hands. Politics becomes even more stained with patriarchy and corruption and no longer manages to be the reference point for its citizens. On the contrary, it becomes the arena of clashes and violence.

At the economic level, capitalism is left free to disperse and kill any equity possibility. The rich get more prosperous, and the poor get poorer and poorer. The rich get rich because, very often, it is those who control and sell arms, the same weapons that destroy the countries in question. Under capitalism, there is no way out.

Indeed what do we have today in Palestine and Afghanistan? Exactly these scenarios. For males, life expectancy in Afghanistan is 63 years old, while in Palestine is 72, and the migration rate is -0.10% and 0.00%, respectively. On a scale of 0 to 100, Afghanistan has 28 points of political stability while Palestine has 32, 9 and 38 for civil rights, 16 and 26 for very bad corruption.

So what should be done?

In these two countries, I seem to see a complete blockade of the working class. On the one hand, Palestine is crushed by the yoke of Israelis, who let the Palestinian population slowly die. The hopes of a real revolution on the part of the Palestinian working class and not only of the whole Middle East are reduced more and more because it no longer has energy. On the other, in Afghanistan, the working class is practically non-existent. It disappeared after the Saur Revolution when the PDPA took power in 1978. The glory lasted a year until the USA, with the support of the Saudis, intervened to kill the revolution.

We must stop acting according to the logic of capitalism and stop deluding ourselves that capitalism is away. We need to recreate a force in Afghanistan, a movement in opposition to the regime. However, a virtuous economy, jobs, trade unions, and factories should be created before that. Now everything is dead with the Taliban. On the other hand, Palestine would have to stop working on the two-state solution because it would do nothing but replicate the absurd living conditions for the Palestinians. These facts would live in slavery and submission to the state of Israel, as they are doing now, but with the sop of land they can call “home”. Palestinians have the right to be free, and they are not and never will be slaves to anyone. Afghans have the right to be free, and they are not and never will be slaves to anyone.

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