There’s a long tradition of weaving carpets in Afghani culture, and though the designs remain generations old, in modern days weavers have updated them to contain the most memorable images of their times. Unfortunately for Afghanistan, since their occupation by the USSR in the 1980s, this has meant rugs covered in tanks, bomber planes, and other emblems of war.
A market for these rugs has sprung up in the west, where they’ve been traded since the ’90s, sometimes for thousands of dollars. “My favorite one is an old Beluch [a Middle Eastern ethnic group] style one,” Kevin Sudeith, an American seller of Afghan war rugs, told Colors magazine, “The design dates back to the 19th century but it has two helicopters and two tanks at each end of the rug.”
Many of the rugs imported to the U.S. since our invasion of the country after 9/11 were mostly made by female Afghan weavers who are living in Pakistan as refugees. It should come as no surprise, then, that rugs are beginning to appear featuring drones. (Obama’s drone program is estimated to have killed at least 400 and as many as 959 civilians in the country so far.)
Buying these carpets is a morally sketchy proposition: since the craft has gained popularity in the west, the rugs coming out of Pakistan may be made with forced labor. However, these carpets are a fascinating look into the collision of future and past in Afghanistan, and perhaps a rare international audience for artisans who lack many means for self-expression.