Unhappy Afghanistan has long been the arena for major political struggles, and in the past two centuries the country has been invaded or policed by armies from Great Britain (19th century), the Soviet Union (20th century) and the United States (21st century). All have attempted to impose their will and values on the Afghan people, and all have failed because they underestimated the resilience of those people. Most Afghans are fiercely loyal to their tribe, ethnic group and religion, but have little concept of or interest in a national identity. However when they perceive a threat to their way of life they take to arms, and in a society that values military skill very highly they have repeatedly proved to be formidable fighters. Since the civil wars of the 1970s the history of Afghanistan has been one of almost constant violence, and that remains the case at the time of writing (2014), but despite so much conflict this is the first set of plastic figures depicting such men.
Because Afghan fighters have been much in the news for so many years, everyone is familiar with their appearance, or at least they think they are. The supposed 'classic' appearance includes the very familiar Pakol (Chitrali) cap, which eight of the poses in this set wear. In fact this is mainly a feature of the Pathan tribes which live close to the border with Pakistan, and is so widely pictured in Western media because journalists photographing the Mujahedeen tended to do so in that area, where they were not too far away from the relative safety of Pakistan. In Afghanistan as in early societies dress is extremely important in denoting ethnicity and belonging as well as status, and many groups would wear a turban (the shape of which was also extremely important) or a simple skull cap (koola). The remaining four poses in this set wear a turban, but none wear a skull cap or the pillbox-type, and all these figures are heavily bearded - an important sign of manhood in some tribes, although other Afghan tribes are always clean-shaven. Nearly all of these figures wear the shalwar kamise, which is the long shirt reaching to the knees and very baggy trousers, and this is certainly very widely worn and so appropriate. Some wear a waistcoat - another important garment in some tribes - but one man seems to have a western-style jacket, and the feet are not clear enough to provoke comment. Some look to be wearing packs or pouches to carry more ammunition, and several have yet another very common Afghan item - a blanket draped from the shoulder or wrapped around for warmth. Our point about the Pathan costume is not to suggest that these figures are wrong - they look perfectly authentic to us - but just to point out that these figures do not reflect the much wider diversity of costume Afghan men might wear.
As with any modern set the subject of weaponry is quite a complex one. Eight of the 12 poses are carrying a rifle that looks to be an AK-47 or at least from that family, or just as possibly a copy. The Afghans have always admired good weapons, and the excellent AK-47 was plenty common enough to justify so many in this set. The prone man using binoculars (row two) looks to have an American M16-type rifle, while one of the kneeling firing figures is using something much older - perhaps an antique but still very good Lee-Enfield rifle from British colonial times. Again while all these weapons were used, good copies were also made of all of them, either locally or somewhere like China. That then leaves two more figures, both in the bottom row. The walking man carries another very popular weapon, the RPG-7, which was widely used against vehicles and indeed almost any other target. However during the Soviet-Afghan war the insurgents had little to effectively combat airborne attack until the United States went public (in 1986) with its enormous support of these groups by supplying large numbers of their FIM-92 Stinger surface-to-air missile system. This is the weapon we see being held by the first figure in the bottom row, and while the impact of this weapon is still hotly debated it certainly forced the Soviets to change their tactics, so is a worthy inclusion here. One more very popular and widely used weapon is also on show - the second figure in the top row is carrying a mine, which was very useful for ambushes of convoys and bobby-traps. Happily for everyone the donkey is unarmed.
Of the 13 poses in the set we thought 11 were either very good or excellent. There are a good many keeping their heads down, and a lot actually using their weapons, which is great. The first of our two rejects is the running figure in the middle of the second row, who leans forward but has both legs perfectly straight and so looks extremely unnatural and anything but lively. In a set with no other running poses this is a pity. The second figure that failed to impress is the donkey, which again has some very straight legs pointing in peculiar directions. When a donkey walks its hooves do not gain much altitude, but this one seems to be mid-way through a gallop or leap, which is highly unlikely!
Sculpting-wise the figures are very nice. The many folds in the clothing all look realistic and detail such as on the weaponry is nice and clear. There is little excess plastic but some of the figures do have a smallish amount of flash. All the figures, including the donkey, come complete as shown, so for the man with the Stinger this means some inevitable compromises; in particular the antenna has been done as a solid block. All the figures have surprisingly small bases with a roughened edge, although they all do stand without difficulty.
One curious feature is the first man in the second row, who has a bag with what appears to be a cross on it. Our assumption, perhaps incorrect, is that this is a medical bag, although the Mujahedeen were always short of doctors and medics of all sorts. Certainly the International Red Cross did and still do important work in Afghanistan, and both Soviet and NATO medical equipment would bear the cross and might be captured and put to use, but we wonder whether such a Christian symbol would be removed or, at best, replaced by the symbol of the Red Crescent instead. However the symbol is easily trimmed off if desired.
With a fair number of poses, most of which are good, and some good sculpting, this is a well-produced set. Everything is accurate, which is good, and the wide mix of items and styles gives these quite a natural feel, which is even better, so we can’t fault the design. The small amount of flash is no more than a minor annoyance, so as long as you throw the entirely unconvincing donkey in the bin then this is a really good set. Motivated by Jihad and a desire to rid their land of foreigners, Afghans have long been exceptional fighters and have had many opportunities to practice the craft in recent years. Although the presence of the Stinger makes this set feel like one for the Soviet occupation of the 1980s, all of the other figures could just as easily serve for any conflict of the past 40 years, including that of today. Given their reluctance to change, it is likely that these figures will still be suitable for many years to come, making this perhaps the most long-lasting 'modern' set so far made.