Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Context and Culture

Nine Years and Fifty Days

Thomas Ruttig 4 min

Unfortunately, I do not have much time to follow the Afghan press – and even less the many Afghan TV and radio stations. But it is worth tuning in – and if it is only to be reminded of a historical coincidence. So, here a few impressions on what I picked up over the past few days.

Kabul graffiti. Photo: Thomas Ruttig.Kabul graffiti. Photo: Thomas Ruttig.

Because so much is left unsaid in Afghan media, I usually start with Idrees Daniel’s column in Kabul Weekly, a trilingual newspaper, publishing articles in Dari, to a lesser extent in Pashto and translated the highlights into English, when I have time. It is appropriately called ‘Na-guftani’ or, in the English version, ‘Things Left Unsaid’.(*)

This time he comments on a serial of concerts given by the famous Afghan singer Farhad Darya who lives in exile (one of his albums is called ‘I Love Afghanistan’) but has frequently returned to perform before large audiences. This time, gigs happened in Herat, Mazar and Helmand and were broadcast on Afghan TV during the Eid festival. Daniel laments that ‘[w]hen thousands of Muslims were busy circling the Kabba [sic] in Makkah, hundreds of Afghan men and women were dancing to Darya’s singing.’ And he says why he thinks so: ‘The Taliban’s interpretation of Islam is not acceptable to most Afghans, but even liberal interpreters [himself?] would condemn public dancing.’ And because one of the shows, in Herat, was paid for by ‘USAID and foreign embassies’ (and, as he assumes, possibly also the two others), Daniel concludes that ‘donor funds are paying to promote a singer and public displays of dancing. I’m not sure if the foreigners are simply ignorant, or if they’re trying to undermine people’s religious and cultural beliefs’.

What an interesting view of real Afghan people enjoying a rare cultural event (in Helmand in particular!). I guess those who thought as Daniel that Darya’s shows were cultural encroachments, probably just opted to stay at home. As others might have opted just to switch off their tellies when they found the singer’s not-too-Western Afghan pop music inappropriate during Eid. Why do they need such kind of lecturing and cannot make their own choice? They are Muslims themselves, after all.

When I was driving to a meeting the day befor, Radio Azadi’s (**) phone-in programme after the news was playing on the car stereo. It featured uncommented recorded phone calls, cut together one after the other. And you would be surprised from which remote areas people are calling in and how frankly they would speak under their names and location. (I assume that they do not use false names.)

One caller from Qalat, the capital of Zabul province, was particularly striking to me. He said:

‘This is a request to the Minister of the Interior. I would invite him to come to our province, to have a look at what kind of police is manning the check-posts here and how they behave to the people.’

This was echoed by a letter to the editor of Kabul Weekly (the letter is not on its website):

‘I live in Ghazni province and I hope that the Kabul Weekly publishes my letter so that officials take our problems seriously. The road from Qarabagh to Muqur district is insecure; no one can travel the road after 5 pm.
Before Eid I went to Ghazni with my family. We left Kabul late in the day and it was nearly evening when we arrived in the Qarabagh district. Other passengers advised us to hide our money and our valuables. We had barely left Qarabagh when armed men boarded our bus to rob us. They searched the car and found all the items we had hidden. Initially we thought they were Taliban, but they were common criminals.
We got back on the road and less than 100 meters from where we were robbed there was a police checkpoint.
The Afghan security agencies don’t exist just to fight the Taliban. They are supposed to protect and serve [sic] the public from all crimes. What’s the difference from being robbed by a Taliban or a thief? […]
If the ANSF don’t do anything than people will continue to think that they are in league with the criminals.’

Hasht-e Sobh (8 am), another popular Kabul daily strong on human rights, points to the plight of female prisoners in Shebarghan jail. It quotes the complaint of ‘dozens of female prisoners who stay behind bars with their kids […] that there are not enough facilities for female prisoners and their cases have not been considered since many years.’

Kabul Weekly, by the way, labels itself an ‘independent newspaper’ but is known to be close to the former Northern alliance mujahedin; it features Ahmad Shah Massud as its founder and Fahim Dashti as chief editor who was a close companion of the mujahedin leader assassinated two days before 9/11 and even was present and severely injured in this incident. At the same time, though, it is not uncritical vis-à-vis its former comrades-in-arms. Its latest editorial features some strong criticism of Dr. Abdullah’s ‘Change and Hope Coalition’, namely that ‘to date [it] has done nothing tangible to affect change or give people much hope’.

The same issue also carries a commentary ‘Why Karzai is breaking with the West’ – read it here – which I thought I had read elsewhere. Although no source is given in KW, not an unusual deficiency in the Afghan media, just compare it with Ahmed Rashid’s ‘Why a forlorn Karzai is breaking with the west’ in the Financial Times on 1 November (read it here).

Lmar TV’s evening news last night also were interesting. It showed roads blocked and tyres burning, angry protesters and even more angry candidates not elected, now from Khost also. The candidates threatened that they would not only continue to block the road but also withdraw their support from the government. Most surprising, most of the candidates shown were those who had run President Karzai’s electoral campaign in this province last year, like Ghazi Nawaz Tanai and Sardar Khan Dzadran.

Last but not least, an Afghan website (Afghanpaper.com) reminded us of the fact that the US-led intervention just has passed the moment when it became longer than the period of Soviet occupation in the 1980s, nine years and fifty days. When you start counting when the first US bombs were dropped on Afghanistan on 7 October 2001. The headline of the article is telling as well, reflecting what many Afghans discuss: Kudam-yak badtar budand: Shurawi ya Amrika? (Which one was worse: The Soviets or America?)

As a candidate who visited AAN coming from the Attorney General’s office the day before confirmed. He said he encountered some angry people from Helmand there saying that ‘these foreigners’ were ‘exactly the same like the Soviets’. But this is not from the official media but from ‘Radio Sar-e Chowk’ only, like the latest spray painting on the wall (see photo)…
(*) You could also translate it as ‘Things That Must Not Be Said’.

(**) Radio Azadi is the Dari/Pashto programme of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty which is very popular amongst many Afghans.

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