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A Reflection on the Crises in Afghanistan following the Fall of Kabul Patrick Comerford Introduction The fall of Kabul in recent months and the completion of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August have created a multiplicity of crises and have had repercussions in many areas of life in Ireland. The responses in Ireland have included knee-jerk and prejudiced reactions from people who object to accepting Afghan refugees. Paradoxically they are also among the people who point vocally to the forms of Islam expounded by the Taliban, yet have exercised little or no effort to understand Afghanistan, its history, its people, and the complexity and diversity of its religious cultures. For many too, the Taliban confirm all their fears and prejudices of an expanding, militant Islam, and they are unwilling to concede that Islam is as diverse as Christianity and other religions, if not more so. The Taliban represents an extreme expression of Islam that has arisen only comparatively recently. Indeed, the Taliban expression of Islam cannot easily be labelled ‘conservative’ – for it is not conserving anything that is traditional in many streams of Islamic culture and thinking, nor is it rooted in traditions in Afghanistan. Fears about the rights of women, for the education of children, and for freedom of expression in Afghanistan are well-founded. But there are genuine fears too for the loss of religious and cultural diversity and pluralism in Afghanistan under Taliban rule. It is difficult too, for many of us, to understand and accept thatAfghanistan is not a distant and remote part of Asia, but that for many centuries it came within the ambit of the ‘Euro-Mediterranean’world, that it has long had close links with the classical and Hellenistic worlds, and that its history has been intimately interconnected with the history of Europe, including the history of Ireland. Studies • volume 110 • number 440 458 Childhood reminders As a child in Cappoquin, Co. Waterford, I was regaled with stories of General Sir John Keane (1781–1844), who eventually become Baron Keane of Ghuznee and Cappoquin. Those derring-do stories of Keane’s escapades and adventures in Afghanistan were as gripping as the stories of ‘the Wolf of Kabul’, which featured in my childhood days in The Hotspur, a popular British boy’s comic in the 1960s. Keane played the key role in the capture of Ghuznee (Ghazni) during the First Anglo-Afghan War in 1839, following the fall of Kabul. I was reminded of this link between Ireland and past conflicts in Afghanistan during a recent visit to Cappoquin House, when Sir Charles Keane showed me many family mementoes of Lord Keane, including a portrait, a painting of Ghunzee Fort, and a ceremonial sword. John Keane was born in Belmont, Cappoquin, on 6 February 1781, the second son of Sir John Keane, 1st baronet. He joined the army as an ensign at the age of 11 in 1792, rose to the rank of lieutenant-colonel and commanded a brigade in the Peninsular War, and he was promoted to major-general when he commanded a brigade at the Battle of New Orleans. Later, he was the British commander-in-chief in the West Indies and administered the colonial government of Jamaica. Keane was commander-in-chief of the Bombay Army in 1834–1840, and he commanded the combined British and Indian army (‘The Army of the Indus’) during the opening campaign of the First Anglo-Afghan War. He and his forces seized Karachi in February 1839. He then commanded an expeditionary force that entered Afghanistan from India to forestall an expected, imminent Russian invasion, and commanded the victorious British and Indian army at the Battle of Ghazni on 23 July 1839. Because of severe shortages of supplies and the lack of draft horses, Keane’s forces had to leave heavy siege equipment behind them in Kandahar. The defence of the city was led by Hyder Khan, the son of Dost Muhammad, then the ruler of Afghanistan. All the gates into Ghazni were sealed with rocks and debris, with the sole exception of the Kabul Gate, which was lightly guarded and poorly defended. Keane’s forces went around the city, camped on the north...