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Main Kabul city during the 70s. - Photo by Asad Danish (private collection).

Hailing from Nangarhar, Jalalabad, Muhammad Asif Dagarwal, a retired Afghan civil servant, graduated from Kabul Air Force School way back in 1949 and joined Kabul Airport service as In charge of Logistics and Supply of Ration. He is an eye-witness to many tragic and bloody events in Afghanistan during the last four decades.

“For every Pashtun Kabul is like a soul, one cannot imagine life without a soul. The superpowers attacked our soul many a time, depriving us the right to live. I spent my youth in Kabul during King Zahir Shah’s reign; there were 14 cinema houses and many Sahnahs (drama theatres) in different parts of the city. Though Kabul did not have its own film Industry (still doesn’t have one), mostly Indian and English movies were screened; some cinema house owners even smuggled reels of Pashto films in the early 70s. Peace, kishmesh [raisins] and Kabul were synonymous at that time,” Dagarwal recalls.

He regrets that Islamabad always boasts of enjoying social, historic and cultural ties with Afghanistan but never bothered to establish a cultural exchange programme so that at least Pashtuns on both sides of the Durand Line could get to know each other in a better way as they are the two sides of the same coin. A famous Pashto maxim says: Water cannot be ripped through a stick; it means Pashtuns across the border share a common history, as well as social, literary and cultural values, hence they cannot be separated by an imaginary line.

The history of Kabul spreads over 3,000 years; the city is considered an ancient city of Pashtun culture after Kandahar, Jalalabad, Quetta and Peshawar. Though Pashtun are in the majority, people belonging to various ethnic and cultural backgrounds lived in Kabul which was once a favourite tourist destination in this part of the world. Tourists would easily cross over the Torkham border and drive up to the beautiful Swat Valley. “Those were the golden days, people were prosperous in King Zahir Shah’s rule, and everything was in abundance.

They enjoyed dance, music and a variety of seasonal fruits. The tribal life in and around Kabul was peaceful and full of literary and cultural activities,” Dagarwal fondly reminisces.

Young Afghans move to the beat on Jashne Istiqaal in the early 60s in Kabul. -Photo by Asad Danish (private collection).

He goes on to add that even Rahman Baba has praised the fruits of Kabul in his verses:

Those who have not relished raisins of Kabul / May take it like black berries which cannot be compared to it in taste Khushhal Khan Khattak also bewails the wastage of fruit in Kabul when Mughals took over its control:

The tasteful fruits of Kabul fell to parrots/ when the black Indian crows [Mughals] began flying around it.

The third Anglo-Afghan war of 1919 forced the British to reaffirm the Durand line and abandon their imperialist ambition and Afghanistan declared its independence. To commemorate this, Afghanistan’s Independence Day (Jashne Istiqlaal) has always been celebrated with great enthusiasm on August 19 throughout the country; on this occasion Afghan culture and national pride is also celebrated.

During his rule, on this day, King Zahir Shah used to mingle with the common people and walked through the streets of Kabul without any royal protocol; anybody could easily access all high officials in Afghanistan. Afghan sports like Buzkashi and many cultural events attracted victors from the neighbouring countries. Those were the days when tourists visiting Afghanistan in summer used to sleep in the open lush green gardens and parks to enjoy the cool breeze of Kabul nights without any fear of being robbed.

The wedding ceremonies in the early 70s were celebrated for many days in villages; music and Attan (a traditional tribal dance) used to be part and parcel of these ceremonies. Guests were served with a variety of food and fruits. Young girls unfortunately, were not taken into confidence while their marriage was being arranged with their cousins (cousin marriage is still very common among Afghans). Inheritance in land property for women is unthinkable even today among most rural Pashtun folk.

“Fortunately, my father-in-law was an enlightened person. At the time of my wedding he advised me to let my wife continue her education;

I accepted his advice, and now my wife is a school teacher. I am very happy that she is contributing to the Pashtun society by educating Afghan women,” Dagarwal says.

However, social life of Pashtuns has changed a lot; Pashtun woman’s participation in general activities was insignificant during the 60s but now they have come out of the shuttlecock (a type of burqa) and are playing an active role in national life. Now there are Pashtun woman parliamentarians, diplomats, pilots, doctors, engineers, human rights’ activists, journalist, poets, artistes and intellectuals.

King Amanullah Khan in early 1919 had for the first time introduced many educational and social reforms in Afghanistan, which greatly impacted the general Afghan psyche towards women’s education; although some conservative Pashtun tribal elders and religious clerics put up a strong resistance at the time but he overcame the resistance with his broad vision and power. “Life has become better for Afghan women now but a lot has to be done for her complete emancipation,” Dagarwal suggests.

Talking about the Jirga, Hujra and other Pashtun traditions in Afghanistan, Dagarwal says that Hurja, Jumaat and Jirga are still intact in Pashtun majority areas. He says with contempt that the Taliban era was the worst for the Afghan women as they were denied freedom in any form, which was not only against Islam but also the celebrated Pashtun social norms as in a traditional Pashtun set up women are allowed to work along with men in the fields.

He also condemns the destruction of the world’s largest standing Buddha sculptures in Bamiyan in central Afghanistan by Taliban regime, and says that it was an unforgivable crime as it roused the wrath of the international community towards the Afghan nation. “Those Buddha sculptures existed even during the time of Mahmood Ghaznavi who did not break them because he never disowned our past Buddhist heritage. Burning of the Kabul Museum was another black scar on their face,” he says remorsefully.

The British, Russians and Americans have played havoc on Afghan’s peaceful social and cultural life. “Pashtuns are being exploited on different pretexts; the main reason in my view is their lack of education. Some have exploited them because of their good attributes, others denounced them for their bad qualities,” Dagarwal says. He quotes Rahmat Shah Sail, the noted Pashto poet from Malakand:

From time to time I [Pashtun] have been swallowed up [exploited] by world powers/ because I am sweet, crispy and Pashtun Dagarwal says, “Afghans are peaceful; war has always been thrust upon them. Pashtuns — a big factor in the region — can bring about a positive change if supported by power players; all they need is unification, freedom of expression, education and economic prosperity.”

Dagarwal concludes while reciting a famous Pashto tapa:

Don’t think ill of the Kabul [Afghanistan] /There are dwelling the hospitable and prideful Pashtuns

Comments (40) Closed

ahmed saeed May 20, 2012 03:20pm
He is in love with his country. Every one wants to be independent.
naeem khan May 20, 2012 01:28pm
“For every Pashtun Kabul is like a soul, one cannot imagine life without a soul'. Strange because Kabul was never and is not a push tun city. its a Tajik city and although the population has seen a dramatic rise in the last ten years those who have come to Kabul are there because of work and they don't call it their home the retired bureaucrat is probably haunted by his background and so like most elitist has run away from his home town to Kabul
miramshah May 20, 2012 04:34pm
Great article. Kabul remains the soul of the Pushtun populace. It will remain so inspite of the various world powers conspiring against this identity. It was the capital of the Pushtun's from Aibak's time to Ahmad Shah's time and then even now. Tajik settlers or the Parchami,s mostly settlers after being ousted by Stalin from Russia, came over to settle down in Shehr e Nau.' Before Islam, it was the capital of Buddhist Pushtuns. If you don't like it, take a lesson in history again, and not from a Pakistani or Tajik school.
Manzoor Elahi May 20, 2012 04:52pm
Very true.. the fruit of Afghanistan is treasured in India. Diwali in Bombay was a time when it was in high demand and commanded higher than normal prices. In fact, the best dry fruit store in Bombay is called "Afghan Dry Fruit" and buyers used to go there from all parts of the city.
Sikander May 20, 2012 08:06pm
Oh the poor innocent Push toons (of Afghanistan)! It's always someone else's fault. How about doing away with your irredentist claims against Pakistan? A peaceful and normal border could've existed if Kabul hadn't started its propoganda on Pakistani Pashtuns. If the Pakistani Pashtuns actually wanted Afghanistan they would've done something by now themselves. For Afghanistan's sake, get a clue. Also, how about not asking for foreign invasions and then complaining about it. It wasn't foreigners that invited the Russians, British, and Americans to come into Afghanistan, it was Afghans themselves. Reminiscing about an imaginary past will do Mr. Dagarwal no good. The disconnect with the Kabuli elite and the rural masses is THE reason for Afghanistan's situation. The elite run after communism, secularism, marxism, and now democracy. They are hopelessly out of touch with reality. From a well-wisher.
Afghan May 20, 2012 01:32pm
i would like to say that this article is not the word of an Afghan, which says the soul of Pushtuns, because of this kind of comments ans lies which you as a pakistani media do to show your support not for all muslim afghans but just pushtuns, why because this has been the policy of Pakistan Government from the 08.1947 till now. this is the main reason Afghanistan is going through civil wars. durring 1979--2001. pakistan allways wanted to use Afghanistan to seek help in case of a war with india. but they did not know that Afghanistan is not only Pushtuns its the land of Afghans an Pakistan should and need to understand this and try not interfere in afghanistan if it can not support all Afghans. and if this is going to continue like it is right now it will back fire and it will too late for Pakistan.
Shafiq May 21, 2012 12:47am
I do not know how Kabul is the a pushtun cultural city while most people in Kabul do not speak Pashto. it is a false claim.
almzeb May 20, 2012 11:20pm
I do not think pashtoon share the same views with him on the pakistani side, thanks and we are more pakistani than anything else
Mohsin May 20, 2012 11:21pm
Kabul remained the city of Tajiks for long long time...Pushtoons don't own Kabul as they are sometimes forced to but Pushtoons never owned or yet own it. The article is based on emotional believes. When it comes to the soul of Pashtoons then Kandhar, Paktia, Paktika, Ghazni and Peshawar should have been mentioned.
John Arbuckle May 20, 2012 08:37pm
"The British, Russians and Americans have played havoc on Afghan’s peaceful social and cultural life. "...wait where is Pakistan..the accomplice to ills that Afghanistan faces today
Afghan May 20, 2012 09:48pm
be real Pakistan stop your evil policies towards Afghanistan and Afghan people. Be a real Muslim and try to help your brother not destroy him.
Khan May 21, 2012 04:50am
Now Kabul is not the soul of Pashton any more, they were killed by British, Russians and now they are killing by Americans, now the great Pashton are become minority, The Tajik and Hazaras are concerned as a majority. Every one is afriad of this great nation now they are going demolish and destroy their history and culture, they are planning to deprive Pashtoon;s from education.
Rahmat May 21, 2012 08:07pm
You are misinformed. Islam arrived much later. read history
kakarie May 21, 2012 06:01am
@Miramshah, very well said. All Pashtuns around the world are proud of Kabul. It is our city & it will be. I am hoping that in my life time I will be able to travel to Kabul as if I am going to Kohat or Peshawar. If not at least my children will.
punjabi jatt May 21, 2012 08:01am
Miramshah, you are right not all Pushtuns follow the Islamic faith. even today some Pushtuns are buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs. kabul itself was the main town of the Tajiks back in the olden days. But Tajiks and Pushtuns are racially similar anyway. for those interested the last Pushtun Hindu King of Kabul was Raja Jai Pal.
Noble Lucifer May 21, 2012 08:07am
The Americans would not have done this if Pakistan had guts to say No!
r.s.soni May 21, 2012 09:36am
all correct about pushtoons. except , they are peaceful. see the fate of ahmed shah masood, president najibullah, president buradudin . female pushtoon artist killed by her brothe rand pushtoons. flogging of innocent girl by pashtoons.many more such incidents.those killed , were they not afghanis?
maha May 21, 2012 11:47am
if someone wants to know about kabul Afghanistan or their regional areas please check out Episodes of Extereme Tourist : Afghanistan Documentry by Sabour on NAT GEO adventure
n.qureshi May 21, 2012 08:08pm
afghanistan is the only country which voted against pakistans membership in the un.we supply you with the use of our land,our ports,our roads.we keep your people as refugees and you talk bad about pakistan.most of our problems were started because of the war you guys had with the russians and the establisment of the training camps for your freedom fighters.i can go on and on
Nazir Ahmad Cheema May 21, 2012 01:53pm
It is very good article. About the pride , culture and good old days of Afghan. Unfortunatel the writer blames the British.Russian,The American and Pakistan about their ills. Howerver, he is forgetting the tkeir own Sardars who always sold their pride of the Afghan people for their own greed for a few Afghanies. If your own house is not in order, do not blame other put your house in order the Pushton Brother. Pakistan is always stood with our Pshtoon brothers but not Afghans. When there is bad time created by your own Sardars the poor run to Pakistan NOT to India. You un-thankful brother Karzai. NAZIR CHEEMA. USA
Javed Afridi May 21, 2012 02:06pm
Er.. what are you talking about. Pakistan hosted 5 million plus Afghans as refugees and the country has suffered quite alot from instability in Afghanistan. Watch what your saying and dont be ignorant of facts May 21, 2012 02:08pm
That is not true. Pashtuns were predominantly Muslim with a few minority that were buddhist, zorastrian and jewish. None were ever hindu. Your thinking of the turkish Shahi kingdoms. Stop distorting history
Sayyar Khan May 21, 2012 03:39pm
Its Pahstun ...and when did Kabul become a Tajik city. Seems like you are haunted by your background.
Sayyar Khan May 21, 2012 03:45pm
I totally agree with you. Pashtun are of many relegions. But Tajiks and Pashtun are NOT similar.
John Doe May 21, 2012 04:26pm
@Javed, I don't deny the humanitarian role Pakistan played when Russia invaded Afghanistan. At the same time, one of the backers of Taliban government was Pakistan. Can we deny that ?? Why else US would be in Afghanistan now ? Half-truths and lies have landed Pakistan, Afghanistan where they are today. It is time to move forward and progress is the only way and poverty and terrorism are the major stumbling blocks.
jehanzeb May 21, 2012 04:32pm
Punjabi Jatt sahab you're probably coming from Indian punjab, well you sound so :-). Nevertheless, let me correct you that your Raja Jai Pal never ruled Kabul (that was a millenia ago with no proof that he was Pushtun) I am just reminding you so that in future you don't boast about him ruling Samarkand and Bukhara. He ruled this part of the border in present day Pakistan. I hope you'll be mindful of this fact in future. As for Kabul, had it not been for the Soviets it would never have been destroyed but for that they had Afghans supporting the communists from inside. Only aristocratic, power hungry Afghans have to blame for themselves, Zahir Shah wasn't toppled by outsiders. Mujahideen and Taliban came much much later.
manish May 21, 2012 04:45pm
how come you know this. rigveda mentions them as aryan tribe some 3500 years ago, when there was no buddhism, no zorostrainism, no judaism, and certainly no islam. there mention in a hindu religious book, is indicative of what? even your sirname afridi is derived from sanskrit "aprits". what was the religion of your rulers when mahmud ghazni's father captured kabul from him. or if you feel that your ruler could have been a hindu but pashtoons were not, then doesn't that mean you were ruled by people of other ethncities? if so, it is even more sinister as most pashtoons feel that they have never been ruled by foreigners. do come up with solid facts, and not emotionally or religiously charged statements.
Avtar May 21, 2012 05:25pm
The whole area is in the Hindukush mountains range. That is why Arab historians used to refer the inhabitants as Hindus. People use to have religious and customs. Hindu or Sindhu or Indus River as it is now known is due to the Hindukush mountains, the geographical marker. Kandhar used to be known as Ghandar or Ghandara school of Art, Even Peshawar was renamed during the rein of Akbar.
tikki May 21, 2012 06:03pm
I guess like all cultures,countries and the people that make the region,you always have outsiders come in and try to change the culture to better fit their ways resulting in the loss of thousands of years.The current situation is by far the worst on this earth.Unless the real Afghans take real interest in their land,people to restore the culture,traditions,and sense of belonging,non of the foreign boots will ever be able to change it.Why does it take or allow an outsider to come in and make you realize or see the reality thru their eyes,which is based on the last 2 decades,not 3000 years of taditions.Non of them can ever understand that.
gtm May 21, 2012 06:12pm
Afridi77, try to understand HISTORY truthfully and accurately. What were ALL afghans before there was anything called Buddhism? Do you have any idea? Do you even know anything about Afghanistan as it was 5000 or 6000 years ago, so brainwashed you are by the Islamic hatred for the Vedic religion? Do you know anything about Zoroastrianism or what its relationship with the Vedic religion, or who the Prophet Zarathushtra's mother RbhA, was? You do NOT. So long as you wallow in self-deception you will suffer endlessly and garner the loathing the contempt of all humanity, as you now do. That contempt is also reflected i your own confusion, acted out in mindless violence and absence of goals and moral direction.
Shams May 21, 2012 08:33pm
Stop damaging history, no one can deny the fact that Pashtuns were one of the greatest nation in the world, brave, couragious, hopitiable and many many other qualities but the current fact is that Afghanistan is beautiful because of the presene of different ethnicities and we cannot deny that that Pashtuns and Tajiks are from same Arian origin, so please stop creating rift but rather work for national unity otherwise the enemies of this great country will not let us to live a peaceful life. Long life Afghanistan
s shah May 21, 2012 08:50pm
Pashtuns must face up to the defects in their own society and their own attitudes if they want to progress and have a peaceful future. They will not have peace if they are locked in battles with other ethnic groups and sects and if their response to any opposing idea or group is violence. The rest of the world cannot do this for them. They must take ownership of their own problems and bring about an attitude change if they want their circumstances to change.
iftikhargul May 21, 2012 10:42pm
Aghanistan has been a fat cash cow for Pakistan for the last two decades. They will milk it as much as they can. As far as refugess etc. are concerned, they all bring foreign aid and so ignorant ones who talk about sheltering Afghans need to first understand this before opening their mouth.
Muhammad Ahmed Mufti May 22, 2012 12:05am
There is nothing wrong in someone loving and being nostalgic about their homeland. I think instead of arguing about history it would be more fruitful and enlightening if the discussions are geared towards the future. Will we be able to see a modern tolerant subcontinent, trade routes spanning from Kulkutta to Kabul or Karachi and beyond ? or will this region remain trapped in the past. In my opinion this will depend on Pakistan and India's ability to set their differences aside on Kashmir and for Afghanistan to shed its obsession with the Durand line.
Ali May 22, 2012 01:10am
@ John Doe: Taliban were supported by many governments including the USA. Also, the people of Afghanistan were fed up when young boys and girls were raped. Watch documentary on youtube and also documentary when Taliban envoy went to USA to ask for funding and invited every one to support in girls education. The whole thing turned on them after 911 and it could have very well happened to the other party as well. There were many issue with the Northern alliance the biggest being no control.
Ali May 22, 2012 01:14am
As a Pakistani Pashtoon, I love Afghanistan including Kabul but Pakistan is always first no doubt.
Ahmed orakzai May 22, 2012 02:08am
Hmmm... Of course most of Afghanistan was Hindu, then Buddhist, then Islamic in that order. The first mention of the Kabul river is in the rig Veda from 1500 bc. The first mention of Afghanistan (upaganastan in Sanskrit), most place names like Kandahar (from gandhara in Sanskrit) and people names such as afridi (called aprit by the great Sanskrit grammarian panini who himself was a Pashtun). Basically afghanis were part of the greater indian civilization then. Please don't rob us of our ancient history. We can be proud of it and be Muslims and Pashtun at the same time.
NORI May 22, 2012 03:36am
Mr.Nazir, going by the same argument, the current situation is Pakistan can't be attributed to US or war on terror. Hope you agree. Pakistan's military, Civilian administration and politicians brought the country down given their lust for American dollars. I am surprised how conveniently you forgot the 'Strategic depth' concept and its impact on Afghan.
Punjabi Jatt May 22, 2012 06:04am
Jehanzab meray betay there is no Indian Punjab or Pakistani Punjab for us Punjabi Jatts. For us Punjab is Punjab. For us Punjabis we consider Pushtoons as our cousins who live in the mountains. We Punjabis have no problem accepting our ancestors as being Hindu or Buddhists. Today 60% of Punjabis are proud Muslims and 40% are Sikhs, Hindus and Buddhists. We Punjabis Jatts have no problems we respect all religions. A Hindu Jatt or Sikh Jatt is still my Jatt brother. Blood is thicker then water meray Jaan. We Punjabi Jatts proudly use our Surnames such as Cheema or Gill or Malhi or Pannu even though our religions may not be identical.
John Doe May 23, 2012 04:28pm
@Javed, So your argument is Taliban are good people ? What about Bhamiyan, stoning deaths, whipping of women who have not covered their legs with burkha, sheltering Osama and al-qaeda and bringing countless death on afghan people