Taliban Poetry

May 14, 2012 § 1 Comment

A shaved version of this review appeared in the Guardian.

In the 1980s an artist friend of mine made a poster for Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami, a militia later allied with the Taliban. The poster depicted a fully-bearded Afghan mujahid clutching Quran and Kalashnikov and standing atop a slaughtered Russian bear. It was sent as a postcard to British journalists and politicians, without controversy.

In the same period I remember reading stories in the mainstream press about the Mujahideen’s poetic love of flowers and song. After the Russian rout, these Mujahideen committed excesses so extreme that it took Taliban puritanism to re-establish order. Then the Taliban committed their own excesses, of a different sort, and after 9/11 the West waged war on them for metonymic reasons. Nobody now celebrates the gentle, flowery qualities of these men who have burnt schools and lynched television sets.

“Poetry of the Taliban”, therefore, is a brave and very useful project. It offers the reader a perspective on the conflict through the Other’s eyes. It offers the human element, and as such is worth more than a library-full of cold analysis.

There are poems of love, battle, transience, grief, enthusiasm, material deprivation and mystical astonishment. The voices are diverse and often surprising. Faisal Devji’s preface points out that the poetry displayed here is not the official product of the Cultural Committee of the Islamic Emirate, not centrally-organised propaganda, but the efforts of men (and a woman) who fight for a variety of reasons, tribal, ethnic or nationalist, and particularly out of gut resistance to foreign occupiers, wherever they come from.

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Afghan Screams Aren’t Heard

April 21, 2012 § 1 Comment

by Kathy Kelly and Hakim

Two Afghan youth taking refuge together with the Afghan Peace Volunteers

Last weekend, in Kabul, Afghan Peace Volunteer friends huddled in the back room of their simple home. With a digital camera, glimpses and sounds of their experiences were captured, as warfare erupted three blocks away.

The fighting has subdued, but the video gives us a glimpse into chronic anxieties among civilians throughout Afghanistan. Later, we learned more: Ghulam awakens suddenly, well after midnight, and begins to pace through a room of sleeping people, screaming.  Ali suddenly tears up, after an evening meal, and leaves the room to sit outside. Staring at the sky and the moon, he finds solace.  Yet another puzzles over what brings people to the point of loaning themselves to possibly kill or be killed, over issues so easily manipulated by politicians.

I asked our friend, Hakim, who mentors the Afghan Peace Volunteers, if ordinary Afghans are aware that the U.S. has an estimated 400 or more Forward Operating Bases across Afghanistan and that it is planning to construct what will become the world’s largest U.S. Embassy, in Kabul.  Hakim thinks young people across Kabul are well aware of this. “Do they know,” I asked, “that the U.S. Air Force has hired 60,000 – 70,000 analysts to study information collected through drone surveillance?  The film footage amounts to the equivalent of 58,000 full length feature films. The Rand Corporation says that 100,000 analysts are needed to understand ‘patterns of life’ in Afghanistan.”

Hakim’s response was quick and cutting: “Ghulam would ask the analysts a question they can’t answer with their drone surveillance, a question that has much to do with their business, ‘terror’: “You mean, you don’t understand why I screamed?”

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Our War Against the Pashtuns

April 5, 2012 § 1 Comment

by Anatol Lieven

The situation in Afghanistan is beginning to remind me of an old Russian joke about the difference between an optimist and a pessimist. The optimist says, “Things are so bad, they couldn’t possibly be worse.” And the pessimist says, “No, they could be worse.” That thought came to me when I read yet again someone expressing the fear that after US and NATO troops leave Afghanistan, the country “may descend into civil war.” What exactly do they think is happening now between the Taliban and the Afghan security forces?

This has always been an Afghan civil war, as well as a war between the Taliban and Western forces in Afghanistan. It is a continuation of the civil war which had been going on since 1992 between different groups among the Mujahedin forces which overthrew the Communist regime in that year; just as for the 14 years before that, Afghanistan had been in a state of civil war between the Communists and their enemies. What happened in 1979 and again in 2001 was that outside superpowers intervened on one side of a civil war. This meant that the military balance was violently tipped in the direction of that side—for a while.

Some of my students at King’s College have chosen this year to write their MA essays on the subject of Edward Luttwak’s argument a dozen years ago against humanitarian intervention, “Give War a Chance”. This has made me think about the relevance of his ideas to Afghanistan over the past two generations. I am certainly not advocating a US strategy of allowing civil war in Afghanistan to play out as it will. Nor of course were either the Soviet invasion of 1979 or the US invasion of 2001 humanitarian interventions intended to do so: both had the effect of trying to maintain and extend Afghanistan’s limited modern progress in the face of Islamist and tribal conservative resistance.

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Afghan My Lai — Robert Bales was not alone

March 31, 2012 § 7 Comments

That is according to Afghan child witnesses interviewed by Yalda Hakim for Australia’s SBS Dateline. (h/t Shaheen)

Hakim, who was born in Afghanistan and immigrated to Australia as a child, is the first international journalist to interview the surviving witnesses. She said American investigators tried to prevent her from interviewing the children, saying her questions could traumatize them. She said she appealed to village leaders, who arranged for her to interview the witnesses.

Noorbinak, 8, told Hakim that the shooter first shot her father’s dog. Then, Noorbinak said in the video, he shot her father in the foot and dragged her mother by the hair. When her father started screaming, he shot her father, the child says. Then he turned the gun on Noorbinak and shot her in the leg.

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Above the Drone of War, Voices for Peace

March 25, 2012 § Leave a comment

by Davis Smith-Ferri

Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers from Kabul and Bamiyan visiting with Afghan youth at Nangarhar University in Jalalabad.

In 1876, at the so-called Battle of the Little Bighorn when U.S. Cavalry regiments attacked an Indian village along the Little Bighorn River in Wyoming, the first casualty was a ten-year old Lakota Sioux boy named Deeds. Unaware that U.S. troops were nearby planning an attack, he and his father were combing a hillside looking for a lost pony when U.S. troops encountered and killed him. The next casualties were six Lakota women and four children, who were murdered while in a field gathering wild radish bulbs, one of the many indigenous plants that Native people depended on for their livelihood, and hardly a threatening activity.

I think of these events today because of the recent killings of Afghan civilians, not only the 17 women and children killed in villages outside Kandahar, but also two recent and less publicized atrocities resulting from NATO airstrikes that killed civilians in Kapisa Province, including eight Afghan boys who were tending their sheep. Sheepherding, of course, is an activity as integral to their livelihood as gathering indigenous plants was to Lakota people.

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Kandahar ‘killing-spree’ militarism

March 13, 2012 § Leave a comment

A call for U.S. and Afghan citizens to question the Strategic Partnership Agreement.

Anar Gul points to the body of her murdered grandchild


By the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers

13th March 2012 — The Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers question the presumption that the U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan is necessary for American or Afghan peace.

Tragedies like the Kandahar killing spree which massacred 16 Afghan civilians in their sleep ( including 6 children and 3 women )  are tragedies repeated in any war, including the U.S. war in Afghanistan. This failed military strategy that is designed for U.S. power and economic interests is being sold to the U.S. electorate through the mainstream media doublespeak of ‘withdrawal’ and ‘negotiations’, but is quietly being pursued in what President Obama and President Karzai called ’progress’ towards the signing of the U.S Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement. The Agreement will entrench U.S. military presence in Afghanistan till 2024 and beyond and is based on the same militarism that has resulted in the pathologicalurinating on Afghan corpses by U.S. soldiers, the morbid keeping of severed finger-trophies by the Kill Teamthe burning of the Quran and many other ‘unforgiveable’ tragedies.

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Heart & Mind-O-Matic

February 17, 2012 § Leave a comment

From the great, Pulitzer-Prize winning political cartoonist Mark Fiore.

Learn all about the US drone program in Pakistan and other lucky countries across the globe! See how fortunate one young villager is to have the US looking out for him and fighting extremism. Never mind the attacks on funerals and rescuers. A Mark Fiore political animation.

Cold, Cold Heart

February 14, 2012 § 2 Comments

by Kathy Kelly

It’s Valentine’s Day, and opening the little cartoon on the Google page brings up a sentimental animation with Tony Bennett singing “why can’t I free your doubtful mind and melt your cold, cold heart.”

Here in Dubai, where I’m awaiting a visa to visit Afghanistan, the weather is already warm and humid.  But my bags are packed with sweaters because Kabul is still reeling from the coldest winter on record.  Two weeks ago, eight children under age five froze to death there in one of the sprawling refugee camps inhabited by so many who have fled from the battles in other provinces.  Since January 15, at least 23 children under 5 have frozen to death in the camps.

And just over a week ago, eight young shepherds, all but one under 14 years of age, lit a fire for warmth on the snowy Afghan mountainside in Kapisa Province where they were helping support their families by grazing sheep.  French troops saw the fire, and acted on faulty information, and the boys were all killed in two successive NATO airstrikes.  The usual denunciations from local authorities, and Western apologies, followed. (Trend News, February 10, 2012).

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Pakistani FM on the regional crises

February 9, 2012 § 1 Comment

Pakistani foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar speaks about drones, Afghanistan, Iran, Syria and more.

American drones hitting targets on Pakistani territory is illegal, and involvement of the Pakistani spy agencies with Taliban not even worthy of comment, said Hina Rabbani Khar, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, exclusively to RT.

Afghanistan’s last Jew

January 30, 2012 § 1 Comment

Having lived through Communism, the mujaheddin and the Taliban, Zebolon Simontov is the last remaining Jew in Afghanistan.

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