Titled ’Under the Drones: Modern Lives in the Afghanistan-Pakistan borderlands’ and edited by Shahzad Bashir and Robert D. Crews, the book contains chapters about a broad spectrum of issues, both political and ethnographic, that go back to a seminar held at Stanford University in late 2009.
I asked a mullah, what do you think Paradise is like?
He ran his fingers through his beard and said
“Fresh fruits and rivers of milk”
A talib was sitting nearby
I asked him, what do you say?
He put aside the book of Zulekha he was reading, and said
“Beautiful women with (tattooed) green dots on their cheeks”
A khan raised his head from a lengthy sajda (protration in prayer)
What is your opinion, Khan Saheb? I asked
He adjusted his turban and said
“Luxuriously furnished and perfumed mansions”
Nearby, a labourer stood in his tattered clothes
I asked him, do you know what Paradise is?
He wiped the sweat from his brow and said
“It’s a full stomach and deep slumber.”
These verses are quoted from James Caron’s contribution to the book, titled ‘Taliban, Real and Imagined’ which deals with the role of the taleb as a social symbolic figure in Afghan folklore. Opening this contradiction – between reality and imagination – is the leitmotiv of editors Shahzad and Crews who were motivated by those journalistic stories about the Afghan-Pakistani borderlands that where the people ‘seem to be stuck in a kind of time warp of unchanging ‘tribal’ traditions, eternally isolated since time immemorial’. Or who has ever thought about a Taleb interested in beautiful woman, as above?
Lutz Rzehak from Berlin, an occasional author for AAN, too, explains how Baluch groups in Afghanistan can be Baluch without speaking Baluch, without knowing to which Baluch tribe they belong and without any knowledge about ‘their’ people’s history. Sana Haroun scrutinises ‘Religious Revivalism across the Durand Line’ and Jamal J. Elias ‘The Politics of Pashtun and Punjabi Truck Decoration’. Tahir Andrabi, Jishnu Das and Asim Ijaz Khwaja took a de-demonising look at the statistics about Pakistani madrassas. Other authors include Farzana Shaikh, Fariba Nawa, Amin Tarzi and Gilles Dorronsoro. AAN’s Thomas Ruttig contributed an article called ‘How Tribal Are the Taleban that was further developed into an AAN paper under the same title.
Harvard University Press, 2012. 328 pp. Hardcover. € 22.99 at Amazon.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020