There are Non-Taliban Poets in The ‘Poetry of The Taliban’

There are non-Taliban poets in the 'Poetry of the Taliban’


By Hanan Habibzai

It is truly a matter of controversy as it appears that non-Taliban Afghan poets are presented as Taliban.  It is a matter of shock to read in the Independent that Ezatullah Zawab, a permanent journalist and poet, is a Taliban poet. It is still unclear how many more (non-Taliban names) are there in the ‘ Poetry of the Taliban’.

Nawab is not a Taliban but a critic of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan and the continuous political and social corruption within Karzai’s government. He studied at the Nangarhar University, working as a freelance journalist since 2001 in eastern Afghanistan. His reports were mainly published by IWPR and the Pajhwok Afghan News.

He was among the first journalists who covered the killing of tens of civilians in June 2008 when an American-led air strike bombed a wedding convoy in Shinwari district in eastern Nangarhar province killing more than 55 civilians including the bride. Most of the victims were children and women.

In the aftermath of this atrocity, he mourned the killings by reciting his poetry at a rally where including local officials thousands gather:

I have a long history and long story

I have a holy opinion

I believe in the books from the heavens

I pray five times to God

So, respect my culture

For this, is it fair to consider him a Taliban just because he criticizes the US atrocities in Afghanistan? If that is the case there are many politicians, scholars, academics, and civil society organizations that criticize the US policies, in particular its military interventions. Should all these critics be termed as the Taliban instead of being critics of the US policies?

Devji’s article is a clear indication of his ignorance of Afghan society and their very sentiments. Military poetry exists in the literature of the Pashtuns (on both sides of the border: Pakistan and Afghanistan) for centuries because they have always been the victims of powerful invaders of the time, Alexander, the Mongols, the Persians, the Moghuls, the British, the Russians and now the Americans.

Among them, the poems of the 16th-century Afghan poet Khushal Khan Khattak are the most prominent. He has also written extensively on the subject of leadership and politics however we will present some of his poems on war and bravery:

I tied the sword in the dignity of the Afghans

I am Khushal Khattak the brave of the age

In another instance he prefers the death of honor over the life of disgrace or of being occupied when he says:

Life’s no life when honor’s left
Man’s a man when honor’s kept

Nation’s honor and nation’s fame
on life, they have a prior claim

With thoughts of these, I do remain
Unvexed with cares of loss or gain

In the 19th century, British occupation of Afghan was shocked by similar poetry when an intellectual of the time Mahmoud Tarzi began to publish anti-colonization verses in his newspaper, the Siraj-ul-Akhbar.  According to modern-day Afghan historian Habibullah Rafi a poet of the time Maulavi Salih Mohammad’s work, which was published in Siraj-ul-Akhbar on 16th April 1915, has provoked many against British colonialism:

The world has become furious

Shaken and angry

Big states in the world

In Europe and Asia

All of them are involved in the war

They are all stained with red blood

British are in grief

They are very upset

Look at the bravery of the Turkish

Romans and Othman,

In the 1980s when Soviets invaded Afghanistan poetry became a major tool of the information war against the Russian occupiers. Poets such as Ishaq Namgyal turned out to be a voice of anti-Soviet resistance:

If both eyes are excluded from me

If my chest is holed with bullets

If my tongue is cut off from the throat

If my red blood sheds from my veins

For the honor of the country, I accept all these

I am an Afghan, I fulfill my intentions

However, Mr. Devji looks at the complexity of Pashto poetry in a very simple way. According to him any poet criticizing an invader in Afghanistan is a Taliban.  Albert Einstein used to say that made things as simple as possible but not simpler probably because it can put one life in jeopardy.  Mr. Devji’s over the implication of the Pashto poetry seems to cause such harm by enlisting Ezatullah Zawab as a Taliban regardless of understanding the current geopolitical situation of Afghanistan where American and Afghan security apparatuses are on the hunt for the Taliban.  His article can potentially risk the life of Mr. Zawab and probably other non-Taliban poets criticizing the US policies and military operations in Afghanistan.

As a critique of foreign invasion, Zawab often reproaches high-ranking officials for their involvement in high-profile corruption, a reality which his fellow poets condemn too.  I wrote this in 2009 when many poets turned to the war of the words against foreign invasion.

But hybridity of the pro-Taliban and independent Pashtun poetic list means international and local allies have failed to tackle the informational battle against insurgency. Taliban have either succeeded to gain far-reaching support not only among Pashtun-speaking villagers but also among Pashtun intellectuals.

This is a similar opinion that evoked criticism against former US envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan  Richard Holbrooke: ‘‘The Taliban is woven into the fabric of Pashtun society on both sides of the border with Pakistan, and almost every Pashtun family has someone involved with the movement,’’ Holbrooke said.


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Hanan Habibzai, an investigative journalist with more than ten years of experience in global journalism has covered the US invasion of Afghanistan, the fall of the Taliban regime, and post-Taliban developments, including the rise of militancy in the country. MA in global journalism from Coventry University, Hanan writes on the conflict in Afghanistan and the regional politics, his work has been published by the BBC Afghan Stream, Pajhwok Afghan News, Reuter’s news agency, the Washington Post, Veterans Today, several local and the global media agencies, Including contribution in a journalism book Afghanistan War and the Media: Deadline and Frontline (2010), edited by R, Keeble & J, Mair, Hanan’s academic work is published around the world.