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Remembering the Taliban, Robert D. CREWS, Amin TARZI (eds.): The Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan, Cambridge, Massachusetts und London: Harvard University Press 2008, 182-212

Edited by Robert D. Crews and Amin Tarzi
Edited by Robert D. Crews and Amin Tarzi
Harvard University Press
Cambridge, Massachusetts • London, England
Copyright © 2008 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College
All rights reserved
Printed in the United States of America
First Harvard University Press paperback edition, 2009.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The Taliban and the crisis of Afghanistan : / edited by
Robert D. Crews and Amin Tarzi.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-674-02690-2 (cloth : alk. paper)
ISBN 978-0-674-03224-8 (pbk.)
1. Taliban. 2. Afghanistan—History—1989–2001. 3. Afghanistan—
History—2001– I. Crews, Robert D., 1970– II. Tarzi, Amin.
DS371.3.T354 2008
958.1046—dc22 2007031807
Maps vii
Note on Transliteration ix
Introduction 1
Robert D. Crews and Amin Tarzi
1. Explaining the Taliban’s Ability to Mobilize the Pashtuns 59
Abdulkader Sinno
2. The Rise and Fall of the Taliban 90
Neamatollah Nojumi
3. The Taliban, Women, and the Hegelian Private Sphere 118
Juan R. I. Cole
4. Taliban and Talibanism in Historical Perspective 155
M. Nazif Shahrani
5. Remembering the Taliban 182
Lutz Rzehak
6. Fraternity, Power, and Time in Central Asia 212
Robert L. Canfield
7. Moderate Taliban? 238
Robert D. Crews
8. The Neo-Taliban 274
Amin Tarzi
Epilogue: Afghanistan and the Pax Americana 311
Atiq Sarwari and Robert D. Crews
Notes 359
Contributors 419
Acknowledgments 421
Index 423
vi Contents
Remembering the Taliban
Lutz Rzehak
The reign of the Taliban is over, but what remains? How Afghans re-
call the past and preserve memories of the Taliban era are questions
of crucial importance. The civil war and the Taliban are still part of
individual experience today. Political alignment, ethnic affiliation,
and, not least, personal histories shape the varying ways in which Af-
ghans assess the Taliban and their way of governance. Recent events
in Afghan history are often recalled in ways that transform stories
about the past into meaningful history for the present.
In Afghan society, the written word is an important, but not all-
embracing or constitutive, element of social communication. One
must look instead to the oral transmission of knowledge. This mode
of transmitting knowledge about contemporary Afghan history con-
forms to distinct forms of traditional folk literature, reworking indi-
vidual experiences into a collective one adapted to the construction
of cultural memory. Popular poetry, songs, prayers, storytelling, and
other, more casual, forms of communication reveal how Afghans
adapt particular rhetorical patterns to construct oral accounts of re-
cent history, including that of the civil war and the reign of the
Taliban, to shape popular opinion in the present. Drawing on histori-
cal narrations and songs from early periods of Afghan history, the
first part of this essay reconstructs the established tradition of folk-
lore. The second then compares these traditional genres with new
kinds of folklore in order to show both continuity and change.
I take my material from interviews and participatory observation
conducted during trips in 2002 and 2005 to the southwestern prov-
ince of Nimroz. Ethnically, the southwestern part of Afghanistan
is inhabited by Baluch, Persian-speaking groups (Farsiwan, Tajik,
Parahi, Anardarahi,and others), and Pashtuns (mostly of the Ghilzai
tribe, who also use Persian as their primary language in this region).
Persian is the main language of administration and education in
Nimroz Province, whereas Baluchi may be used, along with Persian,
as the lingua franca in everyday communication, even by non-Baluch
people. During both trips I lived in the household of a Baluch family,
which provided me the opportunity to follow casual communica-
tion in everyday life.1The members of this household belong to the
Baluch Shayrzi tribe. They have close marriage ties with the Nurzi
tribe, whose members may identify themselves either as Baluch or
Pashtuns.2My hosts had largely been stock farmers until the cata-
strophic drought that began in 1997—an occurrence that many in-
terpreted as divine punishment for the crimes of the Taliban (an in-
terpretation reinforced by the ending of the drought in the winter
of 2002–2003, one year after the collapse of the Taliban). Locals
then shifted to earning a living through trade and occasional jobs, in-
cluding cross-border drug trafficking. None of my hosts was associ-
ated with the Taliban movement, and no other informants admitted
to having been. However, drug trafficking necessitates involvement
Remembering the Taliban 183
with the producers and suppliers of drugs, who in this case are usually
Pashtuns from Helmand Province and who may have been associated
with the Taliban.
The greater part of Nimroz is desert and remains uninhabited.
The majority of the population lives in the southwestern part of the
province where the Helmand River forms a delta on both sides of the
border of Iran and Afghanistan and flows into a large lake without an
outlet (the Hamun-e Helmand). Thus, expansive deserts separate all
of the important settlement areas of Nimroz from the central parts of
Afghanistan. Both in Afghan Nimroz and on the Iranian side of the
border the population consists mainly of Baluch, who maintain close
cross-border family ties with each other. Like many Pashtun tribes
who live near the border with Pakistan, the Baluch belong to the “free
tribes” (qabayil-e azad) of Afghanistan and enjoy some privileges, es-
pecially in frontier affairs. Officials tolerate the fact that many of
them have two identity cards, a tazkira from Afghanistan and a
shinasname from Iran. Some Baluch have Pakistani documents as
well. They can cross the border easily and almost without restriction.
In 2004 a new bridge was built over the Helmand River near Zaranj,
and an international checkpoint was opened there; however, Baluch
use neither the bridge nor the checkpoint. Only a hundred meters
away, and still in plain view of the border officials, they cross the river
that forms the frontier by boat—without any control. Even some
members of the local administration of the province are said to keep
two households, one in Afghanistan and another in Iran. Situated
seven kilometers from the border with Iran, the administrative center
of the province is Zaranj—a young town that was founded in 1970
and that, for this reason, may also be called Shar-e Naw, or “New
City,” by local people.
According to local informants, the Taliban conquered the province
of Nimroz twice. In January 1995, Taliban military units took the
184 Remembering the Taliban
city of Dilaram in the southwestern part of Farah Province.3This
point is strategically important for Nimroz, because here one has
to leave the main circle road that connects Kabul, Kandahar, and
Herat in order to enter the province.4When the Taliban appeared in
Dilaram, the local mujahedin government of Nimroz started negoti-
ations with them. Both sides agreed that Taliban troops would not
enter the province of Nimroz as long as it remained unclear which
group would hold power in Kabul. If the Taliban succeeded in taking
Kabul, the mujahedin would hand Nimroz over to them without re-
sistance. People say that the Taliban ignored this agreement and en-
tered Nimroz Province only a few days later. Local mujahedin forces
under the leadership of Karim Brahui did not resist and withdrew to
neighboring regions in Iran.
Soon after seizing Nimroz, the Taliban appointed a governor (wali)
with a certain standing in local society. His name was Hamidullah
Niyazmand, and he is said to belong to the Baluch Brahui tribe, the
same tribe as the leader of the local mujahedin, Karim Brahui. The
ancestors of Hamidullah Niyazmand had formerly lived in Nimroz,
and some people still remember that his father worked as a mullah in
some villages of the province. Hamidullah Niyazmand himself grew
up and was educated in Pakistan and spoke neither Baluchi nor Per-
sian. Under his rule Urdu became the official language of provincial
administration, and only Pashto was accepted along with it. Baluch
and Persian-speaking persons who applied to local officials and did
not know Urdu or Pashto were turned away. However, people re-
member that Hamidullah Niyazmand was quite acquainted with lo-
cal traditions, and that their customs were widely respected at this
Later on, Hamidullah Niyazmand was replaced by a new governor
named Mullah Ghani. People remember that in the main he fol-
lowed the same principles of governance as his predecessor. He did
Remembering the Taliban 185
not rule for a long time, because in the meantime local mujahedin
forces managed to summon up their strength and attack the Taliban
on three sides. They reconquered Zaranj quickly and ruled again for
some weeks. But when the Taliban captured Herat on September 5,
1995, and the strong mujahedin leader of Herat, Ismail Khan, fled to
Iran, Taliban forces started a new attack on Zaranj. Once again the
local mujahedin of Nimroz did not offer any resistance and, like
Ismail Khan, withdrew to Iran, as they had done before.
Locals remember all subsequent Taliban governors as very hostile
and barbarous persons who came from Pakistan and did not have the
faintest idea about local customs. Sher Malang spoke Pashto, but
persons who met him say that they heard only rude things from
him. During his reign the local library, with more than fifteen thou-
sand books, was burned down. Locals in Nimroz believe that Sher
Malang, who wielded a stick and struck people with it, considered
them to be Shiites due to their close relations with persons on the
Iranian side of the border. They also recall that Sher Malang and his
men had an order from the Central Council (shura) of the Taliban in
Kandahar to kill all males in Nimroz and to marry all females in or-
der to put an end to this kind of “unbelief.” Undoubtedly there were
cases of violence, but no mass executions or forced marriages are re-
The successor to Sher Malang was Mullah Muhammad Rasul.
Locals say that he was a close associate of Mullah Omar. Mullah
Muhammad Rasul tried to bring cross-border trafficking under his
control and to amass a personal fortune in the process. Under his
rule, massive economic pressure was added to ethnic and religious
discrimination. The Taliban confiscated land, private houses, and
shops. Drug smuggling was the main source of income for the local
Taliban at the time.
Mullah Muhammad Rasul founded a new city called Ghurghuri
186 Remembering the Taliban
seventy kilometers to the northeast of Zaranj in the middle of the
desert in order to draw the local population away from the frontier
regions with Iran. He declared Ghurghuri the new administrative
center of Nimroz and moved all local offices to this city. There had
been some Pashtun settlements in the region of Ghurghuri before,
and people believe that the Taliban clearly felt safer in a Pashtun en-
vironment. The Taliban did not succeed, however, in moving the
population of Zaranj to the new city.
When U.S. troops carried out an air raid on Zaranj on November
13, 2001, Mullah Muhammad Rasul fled, together with other Tali-
ban. People say that they all went back to Pakistan. Local mujahedin
forces soon returned from Iran. They let the Taliban flee and came
into power without fighting. The former governor of the local mu-
jahedin, Karim Brahui, has once again become the governor of the
Oral transmission of history is a general phenomenon, but in a coun-
try like Afghanistan it is of special importance. The Persian language,
officially called Dari since the 1960s in Afghanistan, has more than a
thousand-year tradition of writing and literacy. Historiography has
been an elaborate genre of Persian literature from the very beginning,
and it has served as a model for historical writing in many other Is-
lamic languages. This applies especially to Pashto, which has, at a
minimum, a five-hundred-year-old tradition of writing.
For social communication, however, Afghans do not necessarily
confine themselves to these very sophisticated and highly elaborate
forms, styles, and genres of writing. This is not only related to a com-
paratively high rate of illiteracy. In many spheres of Afghan everyday
life, writing is often less important than in most other societies. Con-
sequently, Afghans tend to attach more importance to the spoken
word. Eloquence, poetic talent, narrative art, and other rhetorical
Remembering the Taliban 187
gifts are held in high esteem. Beauty of language is not seen as a
superfluous ornamentation of oration. Rather, language is a thing of
beauty. The aesthetic of oration holds much power of persuasion.6
This also applies to the transmission of knowledge in everyday
communication. There is a lively tradition of storytelling in Afghani-
stan.7Narratives, legends, tales,and stories are told for entertainment
and for education as well. Popular knowledge of Islam is transmitted
in narratives of the lives, extraordinary adventures, pious deeds, and
attributes of the prophets and saints.8Similar narratives of historical
events transmit common knowledge of history.
How does this transmission of historical knowledge work? The
following story is very popular in Afghanistan. It is about Amir Ab-
dul Rahman Khan, who ruled from 1880 to 1901 and who is widely
known as the “Iron Amir.”
One day a woman came to the court of Amir Abdul Rahman
Khan and said: “A man kidnapped me, brought me to his
home and assaulted me.” In order to show that a man would
never assault a woman without any reason, Abdul Rahman
Khan ordered his men: “Bring needle and thread!” His ser-
vants brought needle and thread. Abdul Rahman Khan took
the needle into his hand and gave the thread to the woman.
Then he said to her: “I will turn the needle and you will thread
it.” As much as the woman tried to thread the needle, she
couldn’t get the thread into the eye of the needle. Finally she
said to Abdul Rahman Khan: “Keep the needle still so that I
can thread it!” The Amir became really angry now, and he
said: “I see, you also stayed still so that this man could assault
you. If you would have turned and moved like I turned the
needle now, this man could not have assaulted you.” He sur-
rendered the woman to his men and said: “Bring her into
188 Remembering the Taliban
prison because she made fun of the men.” Thus his men im-
prisoned the woman.9
It is unclear whether the incident reported in this story really hap-
pened or not.10 This story is nonetheless well known among Afghans,
and it can be classified as belonging to the traditional folklore of Af-
ghanistan. The story not only keeps alive the memory of Amir Abdul
Rahman Khan as a hard-hearted and intransigent ruler. It has an-
other and more important message as well: in a country where women
are not even allowed to testify in court, they have no opportunity to
appear as plaintiffs unless they want to be accused themselves.
In many languages of Afghanistan this kind of short prose story
recounting more or less concrete historical events is called riwayat,
which means both “metaphorical short story” or “narration,” on the
one hand, and “tradition” or “transmission,” on the other.11 In Persian
(Dari) and Pashto, the words hikayat and qissa may also be used to
describe short stories of this kind, which, however,are not necessarily
about specified historical incidents. The same can be said for short
stories called nakl in Baluchi. Persian formulas like “once,” “one day”
(roz-e, yak roz, yak waqt), or “the matter is that(hal in ast ki), and
their equivalents in other languages of Afghanistan are typical intro-
ductions to this kind of short prose story on more or less specified
historical events in contrast to real fiction, as in fairy tales, which usu-
ally start with the formula “Once upon a time” (yak-e bud, yak-e
nabud, literally: “there was, there was not”).12
Reports on historical events transmitted successfully in the form
of riwayat belong to a type of text in which each part has a clearly
defined function for the structure and meaning of the entire text.
Stories are generated when singular events are correlated to each
other, not only temporally and causally, but by a final idea, which
shows common features of finality and imparts a metaphorical idea.
Remembering the Taliban 189
Power of persuasion is thus emotional and aesthetic, rather than
merely logical. Moreover, not only do these stories help keep in mem-
ory a particular historical event and the meaning attributed to it; they
also present a narrative pattern for successful transmission of this
historical knowledge. In short prose stories like riwayat, historical
knowledge is always handed down together with the narrative form
for transmission.
Historical events preserved and transmitted in cultural memory by
means of well-established genres of folk literature like riwayat usually
date back to older periods of history. These events do not belong to
the individual experience of the persons who tell these stories or who
listen to them today. No one can prove that an incident reported in
such stories actually happened or not, and there is no need for such
proof, because the main message of a riwayat is its metaphorical
meaning and not the story behind it.
Stories in the genre of riwayat are always meaningful stories about
the past that were successfully kept in cultural memory in order to
become meaningful history for the present. Cultural memory, as it is
transmitted in these genres of folk literature, is based upon specific
codes of narration, on the one hand, and becomes supra-individual
experience and objective culture, on the other, because it no longer
depends upon the experience lived within individual biographies.13 In
a society where an aesthetic model of language is held in high esteem,
stories in the genre of riwayat, together with other genres of litera-
ture, define the basics of cultural identity.
The civil war and the reign of the Taliban also belong to the past, but
they are still part of the individual experience of most people who live
in Afghanistan today. Remembrance of these events belongs to com-
municative memory: all participants who have a stake in this com-
mon discourse have more or less equal rights to form opinions based
190 Remembering the Taliban
on the experiences of individuals, kin-groups, tribes, or other social
groups. Yet transmission of this experience cannot be subject to those
strong codes that are characteristic of traditional genres of folk litera-
ture, nor can this individual experience be transformed into supra-
individual or collective experience as easily as was the case with tradi-
tional folk literature on historical themes.
It is almost a commonplace in contemporary rhetorical theory that
the background and intention of a speaker as well as the audience and
the context of communication are crucial determinants of rhetorical
choices. When a foreign scholar conducts an interview and asks a
person for memories about the Taliban, this person will choose other
rhetorical and argumentative patterns than would be used in habitual
communication with friends and relatives. In interviews, more liter-
ate persons tend to give a chronological account of the events, in-
cluding temporal and causal links and putting personal experience
Once I asked a person to tell me how the Taliban came to Nimroz.
The interviewee had studied at Kabul University. People said that he
was an officer in the intelligence services in Nimroz and neighboring
provinces, which represented a sign of education in their eyes.14 He
started his narrative with a report of the well-known political events
of 1978. Then he gave a detailed chronological account of the civil
war and its international ramifications. I am sure he would have fin-
ished with the American attacks against Afghanistan after Septem-
ber 11, 2001, if we were not interrupted. In his lengthy response he
never said a word about himself.
Less literate and illiterate persons tended to confine their narration
to particular events without chronological specification. Every narra-
tive could be given an imaginary headline that clearly captures what
the story is about, such as “How I was forbidden to speak my lan-
guage at the governor’s office,” “How the Taliban burned down the
Remembering the Taliban 191
library,” How the Taliban tried to frighten us away from Zaranj,”
“How the Taliban raped Iranian boys,” “How my brother was ar-
rested for possession of firearms,” and so on. Substituting the part for
the whole, such events were reported to represent a certain aspect of
this period of history.
Phrases like “one day” or “once” (yak maughe in Baluchi; yak roz in
Persian) were typical openings for such narratives. Informants fre-
quently used phrases such as “for example” (masalan) or “this is how
the Taliban were” (ame raz atant taliban in Baluchi; intur budand
talibha in Persian) to show that a particular event stands for a general
idea. In Persian (Dari), people can express their attitude toward the
Taliban by choosing a corresponding plural suffix. In Pashto the
plural of talib is always taliban, whereas in Persian one can say ei-
ther “taliban” (with the suffix -an) or “talibha” (with the suffix -ha).
The suffix -ha is universal and applicable to any class of noun. More
limited in application, the suffix -an may denote humans, is more
literary, and can be used especially if one wishes to express respect.
Thus the plural of “compatriot” (hamwatan) or “my dear” (aziz) is
always expressed as “hamwatanan” or “azizan.” No one would say
“hamwatanha” or “azizha.” Conversely,in Persian, people tend to pre-
fer the form talibha, because taliban (with the suffix -an) would pay
too much tribute to the Taliban.15
Usually interviews were conducted at gatherings in the guestroom
of a private house. Other persons listened to the interviews, and
communication could easily turn into common discussion. Once I
asked a person whose name was Dastagir to tell me how he was ar-
rested for possession of firearms. He had once mentioned the fact be-
fore. Instead of telling this story himself, Dastagir asked his brother
to tell me how he was arrested under the Taliban.
The time of the Taliban was a time when, for example, the
Taliban came to Nimroz. Then they found out that Dastagir
192 Remembering the Taliban
had a firearm. One Talib took Dastagir and brought him to
the intelligence agency.He hit Dastagir so much that his body
became completely green. He said: “I swear to kill you. You
must give up the firearm.” [Addressing Dastagir:] You gave up
the firearm. Then you sat at home for some months until you
healed. When you healed the Talib [came again and] said:
“Do you have other arms?” He [Dastagir] said: “No. God for-
bid! It was only one. I gave this one to you.” And so his life
continued on then. People, for example, were much afraid of
the government at this time. Especially Persian-speaking peo-
ple and Baluch. If you knew Pashto you could do everything.
You could go to every office, if your language was Pashto.
You could do everything. Nobody asked where you were com-
ing from and where you were going. If you spoke Persian or
Baluchi they thought you were cursing at them. This is how
they were.16
The narrative was not limited to the incident when Dastagir was ar-
rested. Recounting this event, the narrator tried to represent a more
general aspect of the Taliban era, defined by the fact that Baluch in
general faced discrimination, whereas Pashtuns enjoyed many privi-
leges only because they were Pashtuns and because they knew Pashto.
This informant presented this idea here in a very direct way without
sophisticated rhetorical approaches, but Dastagir asked his brother
Gholam Nabi to tell this story because his brother was a talented nar-
rator.He knew that Gholam Nabi would tell this story better than he
could have done himself.
Gholam Nabi has worked as a shepherd most of his life and is well
acquainted with the tradition of storytelling. He is completely illiter-
ate, but almost every evening one can hear the men and women of his
house laughing at his jokes and droll stories. The oratory of such per-
sons is held in high esteem. People not only listen to them when they
Remembering the Taliban 193
tell traditional folk stories, but, as we have seen, narration about
events from the recent past can also be delegated to such experienced
storytellers, who are appointed as guardians of narrative memory.
Such experienced narrators know exactly what people expect from
them. Sometimes they even try to generate stories that follow the
structure of the well-established genre of riwayat when they are talk-
ing about events from the recent past.17 Usually such narratives still
show certain rhetorical deficits. However, the following example dem-
onstrates that the same experienced narrator, Gholam Nabi, not only
recounted an event from the recent past, but intended to give the re-
ported incident a more common idea and to entertain his audience at
the same time. The narrative was also recorded during casual conver-
sation in a private guesthouse.
Once a Baluch married his daughter to a Pashtun. This hap-
pened some years ago, twenty years ago. Well, the Pashtun
came here, he was working and then he married, started a
family. Then he took his wife and went to his homeland.
I don’t remember where this was, in [the province of]
Helmand, in [the province of] Kandahar, or in [the provincial
center of Helmand] Lashkar Gah. Well, he took her and went
away...Hebrought her away one or two years after the wed-
ding. Later on the father also set off.[He said to himself:] “I’ll
see how my daughter is—if she has not died, if she is still
alive, if she was not imprisoned, how she is doing.” Well, the
man set off. At that time there were not so many cars and such
facilities, just a camel or a horse. One night he stopped here,
one night he stopped there, he traveled for several days and
nights. Well, he went to the place where the house of his son-
in-law was. He came to the village and asked: “Where is the
house of that person?” One [person] said: “It is here.”Another
194 Remembering the Taliban
[person] said: “It is there.” And the poor man was so ex-
hausted. Finally he found the house. Well, he found the house
and went there. He saw his son-in-law and his father. They all
welcomed each other. Then they went into the house. They
gave much bread and tea to him. Well, so he was sitting there.
One night went by and a new day began. Then he said: “I
came to my daughter. I want to meet my daughter and to
know if she is okay, how her life is, if she is doing well or not.”
[The Pashtun] said: “We still have time. You will see her.”
More days went by. A long time later the Baluch said: “I didn’t
come to you. I don’t want to see you. I can well do without
seeing you. I came to see my daughter.” [The Pashtun] be-
came embarrassed. First he said: “That’s not our custom. We
are not allowed to show our wives to anybody, no matter if he
is her father or somebody else.” Then the man said: “But she is
my daughter. I cared for her, she slept at one place with me,
she got up with me, and after all she is my child! And now you
are hiding here from me.” The Pashtun said: “I do not hide
her. You may meet her behind a curtain.” Then they hung a
curtain in the room. The girl was sitting on one side and her
father on the other side. Well, they welcomed each other and
enquired after their health. The father asked his daughter how
she was doing, how her life was. The girl said: “You see how I
am doing, don’t you? Why are you asking?” Then the old man
went away from his daughter. He got on his old jackass and
came back. This is the way the Pashtun did. Over. The pro-
gram is over. [Laughs]18
This incident was reported like an ethnic joke to stereotype Pashtun
men as strong and uncompromising guardians of their daughters and
wives. Often this stereotype serves as an explanation for the harsh
Remembering the Taliban 195
policy of the Taliban toward women in all parts of Afghanistan where
they had power. In Nimroz, where a considerable number of Baluch
give their daughters to Pashtuns in order to strengthen economic ties
for drug trafficking, this was indeed a true-life story that had another
very topical message as well: never give your daughter to a Pashtun
unless you don’t want to see her anymore.
When Gholam Nabi told this story, he obviously tried to follow
the pattern of traditional folk stories. The main protagonist remained
anonymous. In this case the name of the protagonist was not impor-
tant for the final idea of the story. The fact that he was Baluch is suf-
ficient information. All singular events of the plot were combined in
precise chronological order. The narrator included details that were
not necessary for the plot, but that aimed to affect the listeners emo-
tionally and to keep them in suspense—for example, when he men-
tioned how the Baluch became exhausted when he was searching for
the house of his son-in-law, his characterization as a “poor man,” or
the pitiful statement that the Baluch came back on an “old jackass,”
although at the beginning it was said that he traveled by horseback or
Gholam Nabi told the whole story nearly to the end in Baluchi.
When he said the last sentence (still in Baluchi), “This is the way the
Pashtuns did,” he looked into the faces of the listeners and felt that
they were expecting something more. Then he suddenly switched to
Persian and added a phrase (“Over. The program is over”) that all
persons in the audience knew from Iranian television. He even said
this phrase with the typical pronunciation of Iran, one that sounds
quite funny from the lips of an Afghan. This code-switching created
the punch line that the story itself was missing, but that people none-
theless anticipated. The story had a rhetorical deficit, and the experi-
enced narrator knew how to compensate for it. Here the payoff of the
joke was in the narrator’s performance. This story can thus be re-
196 Remembering the Taliban
garded as a riwayat in nascent state. For successful transmission in
the tradition of riwayat, the story still needs a punch line that would
express the metaphorical idea and that would be an irredeemable part
of the narrative structure of the story.
The following narrative about an incident that happened during
the reign of the Taliban was given by a Persian-speaking officer of the
local intelligence agency at a gathering of elders and tribal chiefs in a
private house. It also contains a riwayat in nascent state, but this
riwayat remained imperfect for other reasons.
The matter was that in sixty...eighty one [a.d. 2002] I went
to Kabul. I joined a tribal meeting like we are sitting now.
[There was] a doctor whose name was Doctor Abdullah and
who was from Kabul, of course, and I was acquainted with
him before....Inthecourse of our meeting he said: “At the
time of the Taliban,” he said, “one Friday I left my home to go
to a mosque and say the Friday prayer and to go to the house
of my daughter after the Friday prayer.” He had married off
his daughter, and “every week,” he said, “on Friday I went to
see my daughter always.” “When I was walking on the way,”
he said, “there was a congregation, a prayer; I went to join the
prayer, the Friday prayer. I said my prayer, the Friday prayer.
The prayer was finished and I left the prayer. I was walking on
the way [again] in the direction of my daughter’s home.” It
happens that in Kabul at some mosques the prayer lasts ten
to fifteen or twenty minutes up to half an hour, it may dif-
fer from other mosques. He said, “When I was walking on
the way there was another mosque with a congregation, peo-
ple were standing and praying.” “The Taliban were stand-
ing with whips and bludgeons and said to me: ‘You didn’t say
your prayer.’ I swore: ‘Leave me! I have said my prayer at
Remembering the Taliban 197
that mosque already, but at that mosque the prayer was ten
minutes earlier.’” Well, he said: “They whacked me so much
and they said: ‘You must say your prayer. You didn’t say your
prayer. You are lying.’” He said: “I went again to this mosque.
I had performed twelve bows of the afternoon prayer at that
mosque, and I performed twelve bows at this mosque.” “The
prayer was over. When I was walking on the way I came to a
third mosque, where people were praying, and a Talib was
standing there with whip and bludgeon. He said:‘Look at this
guy, who is not praying now,who does not go to mosque, does
not join the prayer. He has forsaken God.’ I said: ‘Leave me,
because I have said my afternoon prayer at one mosque al-
ready, a second time a Talib criticized me, and I said my prayer
at a second mosque. Now you are asking me for the third time
to say my prayer.’” He said: “They whacked me so much and
said that I had to say my prayer.” He said: “I was offended,
and I said that I wouldn’t say my prayer.” “Three or four per-
sons,” he said, “took me and brought me to the local com-
mander, to that commander of the Taliban whom they had at
checkpoints. He asked me: ‘How many bows is a prayer?’ I
said: ‘For Muslims an afternoon prayer is ten bows, for Tali-
ban thirty.’ He [the commander] said: ‘Why is a prayer for
Taliban thirty bows?’ [I answered:] ‘It is thirty bows because I
have said my prayer two times and performed twenty bows,
and now you are forcing me to say my prayer for the third
time.’” Well, he said: “He whacked me so much there. He hit
the whip upon my foot, on my back and on my shoulder.
Finally white bearded men came and rescued me from their
hands, freed me.” He said: “When I was freed from the Tali-
ban I swore to God that I wouldn’t pray at all as long as the
Taliban were ruling in Afghanistan, that I would never turn
198 Remembering the Taliban
my face in the direction of the Qiblah.” “Finally,” he said, “I
came home and told my wife, my children and my family
what had happened. We decided that we had to leave Af-
ghanistan.” “We felt impelled to do so.We went to Pakistan. I
lived in Pakistan, in Peshawar for three, four, five years up to
the time when the Taliban disappeared in Afghanistan. Then
I came, I came back to Afghanistan.” “Now I am in Kabul,” he
said. He is an official servant. “I am a clerical worker,” he said,
“at the ministry of education. I am working there. My father
was religious [Muslim], I am religious [Muslim], I say my
prayer five times, and I go to mosque, because the fury which I
had with the Taliban, is over now when the Taliban have dis-
The main intention of the narrator was to describe the fate of one of
his friends under the Taliban. He wanted to show how this friend,
who had always been a good Muslim, lost his faith in God under the
Taliban because they treated him as an unbeliever and forced him to
pray again and again although he had done his prayer already volun-
tarily. In order to prove the authenticity and validity of the incident,
the narrator mentioned the name of his friend and explained in detail
where he had heard what had happened to his friend, what his friend
had done, and what he had thought before and after this incident.
This narrative contains a part that could be told separately without
mentioning the name of the protagonist. It recounts how ignorant
Taliban forced a good Muslim to perform his afternoon prayer three
times. The metaphorical idea of this story is given in the phrase “For
Muslims an afternoon prayer is ten bows, for Taliban thirty.” The
number of bows is prescribed for each prayer in a canonical way, and
for Muslims it is not subject to discussion or interpretation. Saying
that for Taliban an afternoon prayer is thirty bows instead of ten, the
Remembering the Taliban 199
narrator expresses the common idea that the Taliban had a very
strange understanding of Islam and that they forced people to prac-
tice a faith that was not their own.
This part can be seen as a successfully generated story that follows
the narrative pattern of traditional riwayat. It contains a metaphorical
idea that can reflect collective experience, because it resonates with
elements found in many individual biographies of the last decade in
Afghanistan. Of course, the narrator would not have related the story
of his friend if it did not contain an idea that all of his listeners could
share and that was expressed, moreover, in a rhetorical way that could
meet the aesthetic expectations of the audience.
The tradition of storytelling and especially the genre of riwayat
seem to be suitable to combine individual experience about the reign
of the Taliban and other events from the recent past into common
experience that in the future can become collective experience and
memory. Experienced narrators who are well acquainted with the
traditional genre of folk stories are appointed as guardians of histori-
cal knowledge. They are able to present their narrations in a pattern
where every part of the text has a clearly defined function for the
structure and meaning of the entire text. Thus stories can be gener-
ated that show common features of finality and that are aimed to im-
part a metaphorical idea about the recent past. The narrative struc-
ture of these stories still seems imperfect, but in general a narrator
knows that he should tell a story where an idea that is acceptable for
the collective memory can be handed down together with the narra-
tive form of transmission.
A similar narrative strategy appears in a manuscript written in Per-
sian by a local intellectual named Abdul Rahman Pahwal about the
reign of the Taliban in Nimroz.20 The manuscript gives a largely
chronological summary of the events that took place from the emer-
200 Remembering the Taliban
gence of the Taliban until the end of their rule in November 2001,
though sometimes the author refers to earlier events dating back to
the 1950s. From a regional point of view, the main focus is Nimroz
Province. The author often does not mention when a particular event
took place, because the date was not important for his way of re-
counting history. He does not intend to give a complete chronologi-
cal account with all temporal and causal links. For Abdul Rahman
Pahwal, many events were worth being preserved and kept in mem-
ory because they could represent a more general feature of the reign
of the Taliban. Thus, following the example of riwayat, he also gener-
ated more or less metaphorical short stories where the main message
is more important than the concrete story behind it.21
Together with prose stories, poetry is another important genre of folk
literature intended to keep events and experiences from the past in
memory. Epic poems like the Persian Shahnama or the classical po-
ems (shayr) of the Baluch present legends about the origins and acts
of great national heroes from the dim and distant past. However, in
Afghanistan there has always been a lively tradition of composing
poetry and songs about events from the recent past as well. The
French scholar James Darmesteter was the first European to notice
the importance of these historical songs in Afghanistan. When he
published a collection of historical songs from the Pashtuns in 1888–
1890, he was confident that no serious history of Afghanistan could
be written without taking notice of these historical songs. In the
foreword to this edition he pointed out, “The British historian Kaye
wrote a book about the first British-Afghan war, but he did not men-
tion the songs of the Pashtuns at all. He probably didn’t even know
that these songs existed. Imagine that a historian would write a book
about the French revolution without knowing the Marseillaise.”22
Remembering the Taliban 201
Indeed, in some historical songs, events from the past are re-
counted with so much detail that one can outline the essentials of
what happened, when, and where.In contrast to written literature on
historical subjects, historical folk songs of this kind are mostly dedi-
cated to local events that belong to the historical knowledge of a tribe
or of a single region alone. A Pashto song about the outbreak of
the third Anglo-Afghan war in 1919 illustrates this point. In the
genre of charbayta (Persian: chaharbayti; literally, “four verses”), this
song was recorded by the Afghan scholar Abdullah Bakhtani in the
early 1960s in Laghman Province, east of Kabul.23 Of course this war
was far from being a local event, but this song presents a quite com-
prehensible picture of how fighting took place in the region of Lagh-
man. Moreover, the song conveys an interpretation of the causes of
the war.
Ghazi Pacha [“the king, religious warrior” (King
Amanullah)] is the ruler of all of Afghanistan.
Even in London the parangi [the British] are afraid of
The parang was unfair in Peshawar;
Indians, Sikhs, and Muslims lost their houses [there].
Then Ghazi pach [King Amanullah] announced his de-
And he sent his troops [from Kabul] against them.
Our weapons droned and were accompanied by thunder
when the parang sent bombs from the sky.
202 Remembering the Taliban
Our fallen heroes were beautiful like roses,
[but] uncountable was the number of parang whom they
had killed.
Sardar Muhammad put on the uniform of the commander
in chief.
Coming from Dakka he rushed to Jalalabad.
Brigadier Anwar was with him.
Both made a deal and appropriated the treasury.
From the bridge near Dargunt the way [of the troops]
goes upward, oh my Lord!
First comes Charbagh, then [comes] Mandrawar, and
then the town of Torgaray,
And in Qala-ye Seraj the sardar holds power.
A brave man lives there—Muhammad Zaman.
Let God give power to our ruler!
Let his throne become even more powerful!
Muhammad Yaqub will praise him everywhere.
Praise to the Almighty, who gave us the true faith.24
Like most charbayta, this song starts with a refrain (sar or kasr), which
is followed by usually five or six verses (band). In the first verse we
hear that the war broke out when King Amanullah sent his troops
to punish the British for quelling a riot in Peshawar in 1919. As
we know, the real reason for this war was a letter in which King
Amanullah demanded that the British viceroy in India recognize the
independence of Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the explanation given in
this song must be regarded as a true historical fact as well because the
complex diplomatic background to the war was obviously unknown
Remembering the Taliban 203
in the remote mountainous province of Laghman. On the other hand,
the striking news of a bloody uprising in Peshawar, which really did
take place at the same time, could spread like wildfire even without
any modern mass media.25 It is not surprising, therefore, that peo-
ple thought this incident had caused the war against the British ag-
In the second verse the author remains close to historical detail,
hinting at the fact that the British for the first time used bombers in
the war and that they were superior to the Afghans in technical
equipment. The third verse recounts how Sardar Salih Muhammad
Khan from Dakka became the commander in chief of the Afghan
army and how he stole the treasury together with Brigadier General
Muhammad Anwar Khan from the Asaki tribe, thereby misusing
their official positions. This is a verifiable detail as well. Sardar Salih
Muhammad Khan was, in fact, later imprisoned.26 In the fourth verse
the local color becomes salient in a very special way. It describes the
route along the river Alingar to Qala-ye Seraj (the former center of
the province) that local troops took during the war. The last verse
contains praise of God and King Amanullah. The author’s name,
Muhammad Yaqb, is mentioned here as well.
The information about historical events presented in these songs
remains close to verifiable details, without further metaphorical mean-
ing or other symbolic features. Sometimes the date may be included
as well. The protagonists are not idealized, but described as honor-
able or contemptible persons. The language is rather prosaic, the
form inflexible.27 It is a special feature of these songs that they deal
with local events or present a local interpretation of an event. This
can be explained by the practice of performance. These songs were
performed by their authors. They sing these songs for a limited local
audience, and none of these songs is composed for written transmis-
204 Remembering the Taliban
sion or for recording, of course. The local viewpoint of the author
and his audience define the local perspective of the songs.
Most songs of this kind deal with fighting and war,be it tribal feud
or war against foreign invaders. The meaningful messages handed
down and kept in the cultural memory with these songs can be
seen in the maintenance and strengthening of the fighting spirit.
Thus the British wars against Afghanistan inspired Persian authors
as well. Many of them composed battle poems (jangnama) in the tra-
dition of the epic poem Shahnama. The most famous of these battle
poems from the nineteenth century are the “Poem about Akbar”
(Akbarnama) by Hamid Kashmiri and the “Poem about the Battle of
Kabul,” written by an unknown author from Kabul. Hamid Kashmiri
even used the unique meter of the Shahnama in his poem.28 The fact
that the British also hired Persian poets to compose similar poems
advancing British military interests reflects the popularity of these
battle poems and their importance for wartime propaganda.29 Other
historical songs are about local feuds, heroic victories in the tradi-
tional game of buzkashi, or other domestic happenings. Songs about
disasters such as earthquakes and floods are meant to express pain
and sorrow and can be interpreted as prayers of supplication or invo-
Originally these historical songs were as ephemeral as the lives of
their authors and the events they describe.30 When a song contained
a verse of high poetic quality, this part could be handed down by oral
transmission and become common folk heritage. Other authors may
incorporate such verses into their own poems later on. Today we
know selected songs about historical events from the nineteenth or
early twentieth century only because they were collected and written
down by linguists, ethnologists, or folklorists. Although European
scholars made the first of such publications, by the 1960s Afghan in-
Remembering the Taliban 205
tellectuals also became interested in folklore and did their own lin-
guistic and ethnological fieldwork. They gave these songs a second
life as the folkloric heritage of Afghanistan that is no longer trans-
mitted orally but kept in memory in written form.
The tradition of writing songs about current events is still alive in Af-
ghanistan today. Local authors and singers can be found in every part
of the country. Most songs about the recent past are songs about the
wars that dominate the recent history of Afghanistan. They have a
lot in common with older historical songs in terms of form and sub-
stance. As in the past, they are performed by their authors at concerts
for a limited audience, but today performance and transmission are
not limited to live concerts.
The first song about the civil war that I heard during my visit to
Afghanistan in 2002 was an invocation performed by a young man.
When I asked him if he wrote this song himself, he answered that he
knew this song from a tape recording and that it had been written by
a local singer, Zaher Baluch. Although he had never been at one of
Zaher Baluch’s concerts, he had heard him singing on television and
in radio broadcasts. Like many other Baluch, he owned more than
one cassette with recordings of this singer.
In this song (liko) the singer appeals to local saints, begging them
to stop the war. Khajgir, Ghaltan, Amiran (“the Amirs”), Shai San,
Bala Nosh, and Mir Iqbal are the names of saints whose graves are
famous places of pilgrimage in southwestern Afghanistan. Invoca-
tions are a very popular genre of folk literature in Afghanistan, and it
was no coincidence that, of all songs, this young man sang this one.
O holy Khajgir! Help us, holiest of all saints!
O holy Ghaltan. O holy Sultan!
206 Remembering the Taliban
Hoist your flags! Afghanistan was destroyed.
There is much war and bloodshed in the land of the Af-
All this war and dispute comes from America.
O holy Khajgir! Eliminate our hatred!
Destroy the enemies with your spear!
Bring peace to the land of the Afghans!
Muslims are fighting for money and dollars.
One says seven, the other says eight.31
Land of Afghanistan, you are unprotected.
We remember the saints, Khajgir and the Amirs,
Shai San and Bala Nosh, bring the war to an end!
Sayyed Mir Iqbal, don’t forget about us!32
Electronic media have radically changed the way modern historical
songs are transmitted. In the bazaars of Afghanistan one can find
hundreds of cassettes and compact discs (both audio and video) with
recordings by local singers. Sometimes songs about the civil war are
transmitted via radio and television as well. Especially in the first year
after the fall of the Taliban, one could hear such songs on radio and
television as an expression of joy about the newly resumed liberty.
Modern electronic mass media have created a secondary mode of oral
Afghans nonetheless treasure the merits of live concerts. The fol-
lowing song was recorded in 2002 during a concert by Zaher Baluch
in a private home in Zaranj. From Zahedan in the Iranian part of
Baluchistan, Zaher Baluch is the most famous Baluch singer in Af-
ghanistan. Since the Baluch do not recognize the frontier between
Iran and Afghanistan, events from Afghanistan are as topical as what
happens in the Iranian part of Baluchistan for Zaher Baluch. Some
Remembering the Taliban 207
Pashtuns from Helmand and Kandahar provinces were also present
at the concert and were obviously trading partners of the host. Guests
ordered songs from Zaher Baluch, writing their wishes on small
sheets of paper,which were passed on to the singer. Although the fol-
lowing song (liko) had been ordered from the very beginning of the
concert, Zaher Baluch sang it only when the Pashtun guests had left
the concert. He apparently did not want to offend them. The song is
about the famous mujahed, Ahmad Shah Masud, who managed to
resist the Taliban until his death at the hands of Arab terrorists on
the eve of September 11, 2001. Popular mass media may disseminate
such songs widely throughout the country, but not all Afghans en-
dorse the messages they convey. Only those persons who have strug-
gled on the same side of the front line or who share the same politi-
cal experience can embrace the themes of a battle song. This applies
to the following composition about Ahmad Shah Masud in a spe-
cial way.
Masud, the hero, commander of Panjsher
Masud, the hero, declared [war] on the Russians.
Afghanistan must not be ashamed of him—Masud, the
He warned the Russians with his struggle and with his
physical appearance.
He hit the Russians and he killed them, [he] made them
look foolish before the whole world—Masud, the
208 Remembering the Taliban
Masud was a lion (Sher) in the valley of the five lions (panj
He hit the Russians and made their eyes cry—Masud, the
Brave Masud frightened the Russians away.
He had a hundred commanders [in his power] against the
Russians—Masud, the hero.
When the brave Masud, commander in chief of the jihad,
hit the Russians,
the whole world was looking at Afghanistan—Masud, the
But then two brothers, Afghans [Pashtuns] and Tajiks
made the day turn dark.
The enemy misused his friends and brothers—Masud, the
Being masked as journalists these two terrorists came,
and [they] killed Masud, those wild animals—Masud, the
God called Masud to himself. He said Goodbye to this
May God let him meet his fate! May God reward him
with virgins (horis) and slaves—Masud, the hero.
Ahmad Shah Masud inflamed our hearts.
May our pure Lord forgive you all your sins—Masud, the
Remembering the Taliban 209
May Allah be close to you. Paradise will be your destiny.
May your head be higher than the throne of the Lord on
the Day of Judgment—Masud, the hero.33
This song about Ahmad Shah Masud was written in the same pat-
tern as traditional historical songs. It consists of a refrain repeated af-
ter every one of the ten verses. Like older historical songs, it gives a
more or less detailed historical account of the struggle carried out by
the main protagonist. Verses 1 to 5 treat the war of the mujahedin
against the Soviet invaders. Masud is introduced here as the out-
standing leader and army commander of all mujahedin. This can be
seen as a legitimate interpretation because in 1992 Masud was ap-
pointed as minister of defense in the mujahedin government. Verse
6 hints at the civil war that broke out sometime later, concluding
that foreign enemies brought the ethnic war to Afghanistan. In ac-
cord with the actual chronology of events, the terrorist attack against
Masud is described in verse 7, even noting that the terrorists came in
the guise of journalists. Verses 8 through 10 celebrate the main pro-
tagonist in traditional forms of praise.
In contrast to traditional historical songs, however, the events de-
scribed in this song are not limited to one region only. Today news of
all kinds is spread by modern mass media, and people are integrated
into the political life of the country in quite novel ways. Their view is
no longer confined to a single region. Zaher Baluch performed this
song on Kabul television with great success. Far from Kabul, many
Baluch knew the refrain and some verses. For them this song about
Masud was a hymn about the end of a lengthy war. It figured as a
kind of Afghan “Marseillaise.” Common fate and historical experi-
ence forged shared heroes such as the protagonist idealized in this
song. In 2002, Masud was regarded as a national martyr (shahid-e
milli), at least for all non-Pashtuns.
When I visited Nimroz again in 2005, however, I didn’t hear this
210 Remembering the Taliban
song. I brought my hosts a compact disc with songs of Zaher Baluch
that I had recorded two and a half years before. This present was very
welcome, and my hosts listened to the CD more than once. But usu-
ally they skipped the song about Ahmad Shah Masud and preferred
the lyrical and epic songs. Today modern electronic media may pre-
serve historical songs forever, but in the communicative memory of
the people they are still as transient and ephemeral as the events these
songs recount.
There is another important dimension of the role played by mass
media in shaping communicative memory in Afghanistan. Concerts
by local singers are organized in private houses. On such occasions,
many guests are invited and feasted. People regard such concerts as
meritorious deeds. As mentioned above, guests can order songs and
write their wishes on small sheets of paper. Before a singer performs a
song ordered by some guests, he gives a short introduction noting the
identity of the guest who ordered this song and also offers a prayer of
supplication for the host.34 When recordings of a concert are sold
later in the bazaar, the name of the host is spread together with the
songs. Such acknowledgments increase the patron’s reputation as a
generous and noble person. Thus the songs are preserved and kept in
memory together with the name of the singer’s benefactor.
As in the past, songs about the past and present remain very popu-
lar in Afghanistan. Like their predecessors, these songs capture de-
tailed chronological accounts of historical events. And some of these
songs are still intended to inspire a fighting spirit. In contrast to the
past, however, historical songs are now spread by electronic media
as well and may be preserved for ever. Yet the popularity of histori-
cal songs is still as fleeting as the events they depict. In a context
marked by widespread war-weariness, songs that convey invocations
and prayers of supplication enjoy special popularity.The same applies
to satirical songs that ridicule, in equal measure, all political parties
and military groups.
Remembering the Taliban 211
units in Pashtun-inhabited areas for relatively small numbers of people
while creating fewer such electoral units in non-Pashtun areas with
larger populations. Hamid Karzai’s attempt to appease his Panjsheri
partners in the Transitional Government by proclaiming that the Pan-
jsher district will be elevated into a province was another example of this
36. Lahouari Addi, “Religion and Modernity in Algeria,” Journal of Democ-
racy 3, no. 4 (October 1992): 4.
37. For a discussion of this general tendency in Islamist political movements
and the history of Islamic states, see Fatima Mernissi, “Arab Women’s
Rights and the Muslim State in the Twenty-First Century: Reflections
on Islam as Religion and State,” in Faith and Freedom: Women’s Human
Rights in the Muslim World, ed. Mahnaz Afkhami (Syracuse: Syracuse
University Press, 1995), 36.
38. For earlier manifestations of similar movements in the country, espe-
cially during the 1920s in opposition to King Amanullah’s reforms, see
Nawid, Religious Response to Social Change.
39. The Taliban also demonized their opponents’ foreign patrons, Muslim
and non-Muslim, such as Shiite Iran, Russia, and the Central Asian re-
publics (with the exception of Turkmenistan).
40. When the so-called “Iron Amir,” Abdul Rahman, assumed power in
1880 at the end of a long war of succession, and when Nader Shah came
to power during the civil war of 1929, both drew on patronage from
British India and the discourse of jihad against their real and presumed
enemies. For details on the involvement of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and
others in the region, see Rashid, Taliban; and Maley, Fundamentalism
5. Remembering the Taliban
1. Both travels were sponsored by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft.
2. Nurzi are Pashtuns by origin. Members of this tribe still regard them-
selves as Pashtuns in regions with a predominantly Pashtun population.
In regions like Nimroz, where the majority is Baluch, however, most
Nurzi switched over to the Baluchi language and even adopted a Baluch
identity. Here only elderly Nurzi still use Pashto as their primary lan-
guage and will specify their ethnicity as Pashtun if they are asked.
3. Historical publications about the Taliban offer no information about the
events that took place in the remote province of Nimroz. The chrono-
logical overview presented here was compiled according to informa-
tion given by local informants and in a Persian-language memoir about
the reign of the Taliban. See Lutz Rzehak, ed. and trans., Die Taliban
Notes to Pages 179–185 383
im Land der Mittagssonne: Erinnerungen und Notizen von Abdurrahman
Pahwal (Wiesbaden: Ludwig Reichert Verlag 2004). For information
about the historical and socioeconomic development of the province be-
fore 1978, see Erwin Orywal, Die BalÉÍ in Afghanisch-SÅstÁn: Wirtschaft
und sozio-politische Organisation in NÅmrÉz, SW-Afghanistan (Berlin:
Reimer, 1982); and Gholam Rahman Amiri, Taswir-e az zendegani-ye
mardom-e Baluch dar Nimroz wa Hilmand-e sufla qabl az inqelab-e saur
(Kabul: Akadimi-ye ulum-e j. d. Afghanistan: 1365 [1986]).
4. The border between these provinces has since been redrawn: Dilaram
now belongs to the province of Nimroz. There is no passable road be-
tween Dilaram and Zaranj; one has to know the way across the desert.
5. In 2004, Karim Brahui became the minister of tribal and frontier affairs
in the government of Hamid Karzai and moved to Kabul.
6. Barbara Johnstone describes such an aesthetic model of language and per-
suasion for Iran, contrasting it with an instrumental model in Western so-
cieties, where language is seen mainly as a tool. The contrast is not that
in countries like Afghanistan or Iran beauty of language works instead
of logic, but that aesthetic of oration is an important additional factor of
persuasion. See “Arguments with Khomeini: Rhetorical Situation and
Persuasive Style in Cross-Cultural Perspective,” Text 6, no. 1 (1986):
171–187, esp. 181–182.
7. Performance as well as political and rhetorical aspects of traditional sto-
rytelling in Afghanistan are described by Margaret Mills, Oral Narrative
in Afghanistan: The Individual in Transition (New York: Garland, 1990);
and Mills, Rhetorics and Politics in Afghan Traditional Storytelling (Phila-
delphia: University of Pennsylvania Press,1991).
8. See M. Nazif Shahrani, “Local Knowledge of Islam and Social Dis-
course in Afghanistan and Turkistan in the Modern Period,” in Turko-
Persia in Historical Perspective, ed. Robert L. Canfield (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1991), 167.
9. I heard this story several times when talking to Afghans inside and out-
side of Afghanistan. It is given here as published in Raushan Rahmani,
Afsanaha-ye dari (Tehran: Sorush, 1374 [1995]), 394.
10. Such tales seem to be pure fiction. Indeed, similar stories were recorded
in Rhineland, Germany, in the 1930s. In these versions, the German
king Frederic the Great takes the place of Amir Abdul Rahman Khan,
and the woman was ordered to put a sword into a revolving sheath
instead of threading a needle. See Heinrich Dittmaier, Sagen und
Schwänke von der unteren Sieg (Bonn: Ludwig Röhrscheid Verlag, 1950),
11. The word riwayat is used here in its popular meaning, denoting a genre
384 Notes to Pages 185–189
of folklore. See George Morgenstierne, “Volksdichtung in Afghanistan,”
Afghanistan Journal 1, no. 4 (1974): 2–17; Simadad, Farhang-e estelahat-e
adabi: Wazhanama-ye mafhim-wa estilahat-e adabi-ye farsi wa orupayi
(Tehran: Morwarid, 1378 [1999/2000]), 253–254. For Muslim jurists,
this word (mostly in the original Arabic form, riwaya) is a technical
term in the study of the traditions (hadith); see G. Schoeler, “Die Frage
der schriftlichen und mündlichen Überlieferung der Wissenschaften im
Islam,” Der Islam 62, no. 2 (1985): 201–230. Zoroastrians use the word
riwayat to denote certain kinds of juristic texts ( Jan Rypka, Iranische
Literaturgeschichte [Leipzig: VEB Otto Harrassowitz, 1959], 43).
12. In Pashto, typical opening formulas of such prose stories are yawa
wradz, yaw wakht, yaw dzal (once) or hal da da che (the matter is that).
Baluchi equivalents are yak maughe, roch-e (once) or hal esh int ke (the
matter is that). Fairy tales start with wu ka na-wu (literally: “there was or
there was not”) in Pashto and with yak-e bud, yakk-e nabud, chap sha
khuda chiz-e nabud (literally: “there was one and there was no one, with
the exception of God there was nothing”) in Baluchi.
13. The term cultural memory is used here according to Jan Assmann, Das
kulturelle Gedächtnis: Schrift, Erinnerung und politische Identität in frühen
Hochkulturen (Munich: Beck, 1992). See also Lutz Niethammer,
Lebenserfahrung und kollektives Gedächtnis: Die Praxis der “Oral History”
(Frankfurt am Main: Syndikat, 1980); and J. Straub, “Geschichten
erzählen, Geschichte bilden: Grundzüge einer narrativen Psychologie
historischer Sinnbildung,” in Erzählung, Identität und historisches
Bewusstsein: Die psychologische Konstruktion von Zeit und Geschichte, ed. J.
Straub (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp 1998), 81–169.
14. In Afghanistan the informers of the intelligence services are usually dis-
dained. In common speech the word shaytan (devil) is used to denote
these persons. In a given context, shaytan means “informer.” This is not
extended to the officers of the services, who command proper respect,
however, at least as long as they are working for only one institution. All
the same people believe that the job of an intelligence officer requires
some education.
15. In colloquial Persian the consonant hof the plural suffix -ha may be
omitted, and the plural of talib may be formed simply as taliba.
16. Informant: Gholam Nabi Sherzi, 27 years old, herdsman from Kang,
illiterate, Baluch; date and place of the recording: August 23, 2002,
Zaranj, province of Nimroz, Afghanistan (recorded during a gathering
in the house of Gholam Sakhi Sherzi); language: Baluchi.
17. How people in Afghanistan generate stories in a quite similar way when
they are talking about saints and holy places is shown in Lutz Rzehak,
Notes to Pages 189–194 385
“Narrative Strukturen des Erzählens über Heilige und ihre Gräber in
Afghanistan,” Asiatische Studien 58, no. 1 (2004): 195–229.
18. Informant: Gholam Nabi Sherzi, 27 years old, herdsman from Kang,
illiterate, Baluch; date and place of the recording: August 23, 2002,
Zaranj, province of Nimroz, Afghanistan (recorded during a gathering
in the house of Gholam Sakhi Sherzi); language: Baluchi, Persian.
19. Informant: Ahmad Shah Khan, about 40 years old, head of the intelli-
gence agency of the province of Nimroz, Farsiwan; date and place of the
recording: April 16, 2005, Zaranj, province of Nimroz, Afghanistan (re-
corded during a meeting of male elders of the Nurzi tribe in the house
of Gholam Nabi Sherzi); language: Persian (farsi-ye kaboli—colloquial
standard of Afghanistan).
20. See Rzehak, Die Taliban im Land der Mittagssonne.
21. A more detailed analysis of the narrative structure of this 191-page
manuscript is given in ibid., xvii–xxv.
22. James Darmesteter, Chants populaires des Afghans (Paris: Imprimerie
Nationale E. Leroux, 1888–1890), cxcix. The history of Afghanistan to
which he refers is John William Kaye’s History of the War in Afghanistan,
3 vols. (London, 1857).
23. See ‘Abdullah Bakhtani, Turbresh ya melli sanderi (Kabul, 1347 [1968]),
78–79. A literary analysis of the genre of charbayta in Pashto folk litera-
ture is given by G. F. Girs, ed. and trans., Istoricheskie pesni pushtunov
(Moscow: Nauka, 1984), 30.
24. The song is published here as given by Girs, Istoricheskie pesni pushtunov,
25. See L. R. Gordon-Polonskaia, “Voina Afganistana za nezavisimost’ i
uchastie v nei pogranichnykh pushtunskikh plemen (1919–1921 gg.),”
in Nezavisimyi Afganistan: 40 let nezavisimosti (Moscow: Izdatel’stvo
vostochnoi literatury, 1958), 253.
26. See L. W. Adamec, Historical and Political Who’s Who of Afghanistan
(Graz: Akademische Druck- und Verlagsanstalt, 1975), 122–123.
27. For further details, see Girs,Istoricheskie pesni pushtunov.
28. See L. A. Stroptsova, ed., Kratkaia istoriia literatur Irana, Turtsii i Af-
ganistana (Leningrad: Izdatel’stvo Leningradskogo universiteta, 1971),
29. See [Duktur] Asadullah Habib, Adabiyat-e dari dar nima-ye nakhustin-e
sada-ye bistum, 2nd ed. (Kabul: Nasir Ahmad Multahib, 1381 [2002]).
30. Very few scholars can prove the transience of such folklore within their
own scholarly careers. George Morgenstierne started his linguistic field-
work in Afghanistan in the early 1920s. When he went to Afghanistan
in 1970, he read some historical songs in the Parachi language that he
386 Notes to Pages 195–205
had recorded in 1924 to the direct descendants of his informants from
the 1920s. They knew not one single song and regarded Morgenstierne
as the greatest bard of their people. “Volksdichtung in Afghanistan,” 7.
31. “One says one thing, the other another.”
32. Informant: Gholam Sakhi Sherzi, about 30 years old, trader (author of
the song: Zaher Baluch); date and place of recording: August 28, 2002,
Zaranj, province of Nimroz, Afghanistan; language: Baluchi.
33. Informant: Zaher Baluch (author), 40 years old, poet and singer, Baluch;
date and place of recording: September 12, 2002, Zaranj, province
of Nimroz, Afghanistan (concert at a private gathering); language:
34. Zaher Baluch accompanied his songs and these introductions with a
stringed instrument, called a suroz, played with a bow. Both of his hands
were occupied, so he held with his toes the sheet of paper with the
names he had to mention.
6. Fraternity, Power, and Time in Central Asia
I am indebted to Sami Siddiq for comments on an earlier draft of
this paper. Nothing in the paper, however, is his responsibility.
1. John Kifner, Through the Serbian Mind’s Eye,” New York Times, April
10, 1994.
2. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Caucasus Report 7, no. 29 (July 23,
3. Vicken Cheterian, “Where Is Juma Namangani?” Eurasia Insight, July
17, 2000.
4. Admittedly, in many cases the leaders of these movements were ur-
banites and essentially secular in their orientation; Franjo Trudman in
Croatia and Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia were notable examples. Also,
the leaders of the radical Islamist movements in Central Asia were
something other than they appeared. Social movements are in fact com-
plex in their moral inspiration.
5. Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities (London: Verso, 1991), 36.
6. Kathryn Verdery, The Political Lives of Dead Bodies: Reburial and Post-
socialist Change (New York: Columbia University, 1999), 104ff. Each
“people” should have a place, a land of their own. It was, for instance,
Richard Wagner’s vision for the German people of Europe: In his diary
he wrote: “the incomparable magic of my works...itisGerman. But
what is this German? It must be something wonderful, mustn’t it, for it
is humanly finer than all else?—Oh heavens! It should have a soil, this
German! I should be able to find my people! What glorious people it
Notes to Pages 207–214 387
Ikim bob dar borai Afghonistona way paywastagii ziv at jam’iyat murakabiyaten and uf joi islohoti maorif, aznaw virextowi jami’iyat, osoixi, at tar yakdidaryatowi mardumeni Afghoniston bora andi naql kixt. Ilmi adabiyot dar borai ziven, jam’iyat, ma’orif, digarsawuch gap and kor dar sohai ziven, at ik-hozira imkoniyateni qonuni dar jodai ziven gunoguni at lapzivak ma’orif- andi yand undi tahlil sach. Ba’d az dai, ikim bob, Afghoniston at tashkiloteni bainalmilaliya uf uhdadoriyen bahs kixt. Khulosa ikididi yordam baroi lapzivi at lapzivak ma’orif ghalath sust.
1888–1890), cxcix. The history of Afghanistan to which he refers is John William Kaye's History of the War in Afghanistan
  • James Darmesteter
James Darmesteter, Chants populaires des Afghans (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale E. Leroux, 1888–1890), cxcix. The history of Afghanistan to which he refers is John William Kaye's History of the War in Afghanistan, 3 vols. (London, 1857).
Voina Afganistana za nezavisimost' i uchastie v nei pogranichnykh pushtunskikh plemen (1919–1921 gg
  • L R See
  • Gordon-Polonskaia
See L. R. Gordon-Polonskaia, " Voina Afganistana za nezavisimost' i uchastie v nei pogranichnykh pushtunskikh plemen (1919–1921 gg.), " in Nezavisimyi Afganistan: 40 let nezavisimosti (Moscow: Izdatel'stvo vostochnoi literatury, 1958), 253.
A literary analysis of the genre of charbayta in Pashto folk literature is given by
  • See 'abdullah Bakhtani
  • Turbresh Ya Melli Sanderi
See ' Abdullah Bakhtani, Turbresh ya melli sanderi (Kabul, 1347 [1968]), 78–79. A literary analysis of the genre of charbayta in Pashto folk literature is given by G. F. Girs, ed. and trans., Istoricheskie pesni pushtunov (Moscow: Nauka, 1984), 30.
Where Is Juma Namangani?
  • Vicken Cheterian
Vicken Cheterian, "Where Is Juma Namangani?" Eurasia Insight, July 17, 2000.
Adamec, Historical and Political Who's Who of
  • L W See
See L. W. Adamec, Historical and Political Who's Who of Afghanistan (Graz: Akademische Druck-und Verlagsanstalt, 1975), 122–123.
Kratkaia istoriia literatur Irana, Turtsii i Afganistana (Leningrad: Izdatel'stvo Leningradskogo universiteta
  • L A See
  • Stroptsova
See L. A. Stroptsova, ed., Kratkaia istoriia literatur Irana, Turtsii i Afganistana (Leningrad: Izdatel'stvo Leningradskogo universiteta, 1971), 75.
Through the Serbian Mind's Eye
  • John Kifner
John Kifner, "Through the Serbian Mind's Eye," New York Times, April 10, 1994.
For information about the historical and socioeconomic development of the province before 1978, see Erwin Orywal, Die BalÉÍ in Afghanisch-SÅstÁn: Wirtschaft und sozio-politische Organisation in NÅmrÉz
  • Im Land Der Mittagssonne
im Land der Mittagssonne: Erinnerungen und Notizen von Abdurrahman Pahwal (Wiesbaden: Ludwig Reichert Verlag 2004). For information about the historical and socioeconomic development of the province before 1978, see Erwin Orywal, Die BalÉÍ in Afghanisch-SÅstÁn: Wirtschaft und sozio-politische Organisation in NÅmrÉz, SW-Afghanistan (Berlin: Reimer, 1982); and Gholam Rahman Amiri, Taswir-e az zendegani-ye mardom-e Baluch dar Nimroz wa Hilmand-e sufla qabl az inqelab-e saur (Kabul: Akadimi-ye ulum-e j. d. Afghanistan: 1365 [1986]).
Local Knowledge of Islam and Social Discourse in Afghanistan and Turkistan in the Modern Period
  • M Nazif See
  • Shahrani
See M. Nazif Shahrani, "Local Knowledge of Islam and Social Discourse in Afghanistan and Turkistan in the Modern Period," in Turko-Persia in Historical Perspective, ed. Robert L. Canfield (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 167.