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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