The Taliban are undefeated. Should that earn them a state of their own?
From a young age, Frank was fascinated by maps and atlases, and the stories they contained. Finding his birthplace on the map in the endpapers of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings only increased his interest in the mystery and message of maps.
While pursuing a career in journalism, Frank started a blog called Strange Maps, as a repository for the weird and wonderful cartography he found hidden in books, posing as everyday objects and (of course) floating around the Internet.
"Each map tells a story, but the stories told by your standard atlas for school or reference are limited and literal: they show only the most practical side of the world, its geography and its political divisions. Strange Maps aims to collect and comment on maps that do everything but that - maps that show the world from a different angle".
A remit that wide allows for a steady, varied diet of maps: Frank has been writing about strange maps since 2006, published a book on the subject in 2009 and joined Big Think in 2010. Readers send in new material daily, and he keeps bumping in to cartography that is delightfully obscure, amazingly beautiful, shockingly partisan, and more.
States come into the world much like people: bloody, screaming, and blunderingly unaware of how to behave in polite society. France, the Netherlands, and the U.S.: All once started out as rebellions and revolutions. They were labeled traitors, barbarians, and terrorists and shunned by the powers that were.
But as these violent upstarts proved undefeatable on the battlefield, some sort of accommodation eventually had to be arranged. The same goes for many other of today's well-established, highly sophisticated countries. So: When will we recognize Talibanistan?
In 2001, a U.S.-led coalition threw the Taliban out of Kabul, their removal from power the price they paid for the sanctuary they had provided to al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. But in the decade and a half since, the military might of the West has been unable to eradicate the Islamist movement from the land it had supposedly liberated.
Now the ISAF task force has wound down, and the Taliban are still around, their estimated 60,000 fighters largely in control of the mountainous border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan — the government of which they also fight.
Although it is unlikely that they will defeat either government (at least any time soon), their presence on both sides of the so-called Durand Line that is the official Af-Pak border, has in places rendered it as meaningless as the Syrian-Iraqi border straddled by Islamic State.
However, most cartographers still obligingly trace the Durand Line across any new map of the area. So it is a bit of a shock to see this map, which overlays the official map with the actual situation on the ground.
But maybe this is what the official cartography for the region will look like, some years hence. Assuming the state structures currently holding sway from Kabul and Islamabad don't disintegrate, nor manage to regain control over the border area, a logical accommodation could be to recognize the writ of the Taliban over the area where they rule the roost. Et voila, Talibanistan, nestled between a reduced Afghanistan and Pakistan. Born out of a bloody revolution, just like France. Although its slogan is unlikely to be liberté, égalité, fraternité.
Much, much more on the Taliban's rise and fall and rise again in this paper from the Council on Foreign Relations, which also contains this map of Talibanistan — perhaps one day the junior musician in the Concert of Nations.
Strange Maps #713
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