Nestled in wooded valleys of the Hindu Kush, Nuristan – “the Land of Light” – is Afghanistan’s newest and most remote province. It combines special history (the last pre-Muslim enclave in Central Asia, converted only in 1896) and current significance (a sometime hideout of militant Islamists, perhaps including Osama bin Laden).
Between July 26 and 29, 2006, AIAS hosted an international conference on Nuristan. The conference site near Barcelona was chosen to facilitate travel by nearly two dozen specialists from Afghanistan, Europe, and the US. While primarily academic in focus, the conference attracted not only university professors but also diplomats, security analysts, and representatives of NGOs working in Nuristan.
Topics ranged from ethno-genesis, linguistics, and material culture to modern issues of governance, ecology, and logistics. Fundamental questions quickly arose: To what extent is Nuristan culturally distinct and unified? If, as scholars agreed, the largest functional unit of Nuristan society is the village community, how best to tailor development earmarked for the entire province? And is Nuristan, like other Himalaya-Hindu Kush regions, doomed to depopulation as its people are lured to cities by modern opportunities?
For more information on Nuristan, please go to Richard Strand’s Nuristan Site.