An Expedition into Afghanistan’s Forbidden Mountains in the Nuristan Province

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In the Heart of the Radical Mountains

There had been no military resistance in Parun. When the conquerors drove up in pickup trucks, the governor had already fled and his deputy capitulated. A walk into the forest provides hints of just how weak the former state’s influence had been on the area for quite some time. After only a few hundred meters you are standing between palisades, army fortifications, even a tree house that had been built by soldiers in a large fir tree to defend the small town.

Today, life in Parun seems normal. It has been raining since winter almost everywhere in Afghanistan, and even more here. For now, the threat of another drought has been averted. The shelves of the few stores are filled. It isn’t until the second evening in Parun’s only restaurant that a traveling salesman from Khost, deeper in the south, begins to tell of the hardship beneath the apparent normality. “We export pine nuts,” he says, explaining that they are a commodity in such high demand that farmers get down payments even before the harvest. “Before, there were trade agreements and we were able to export them all over the world. Since the Taliban have been back in power, though, the borders have been sealed. Our only option is to smuggle them to Pakistan, for a fraction of the price.”

During the day, strangers from other provinces are always on the move in the mountain forests around Parun, desperately searching for a source of income. “I’m going to hunt marmots,” says a young man with a shotgun held together mostly by duct tape. Marmot fat is good for rheumatism, he says, and he already has customers lined up in his hometown of Jalalabad.

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