Women and Nonviolence in Pakistan — a different story

Pretty interesting opinion piece in the NY Times today by William Dalrymple, author  of Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, 1839-42 I was caught thrice, once by the mention of line of poetry with which Malalai of Maiwand rallied Pashtun forces against the British.  Though Dalrymple does say so it is surely a landay, women’s two line couplets which have survived for centuries in Pashtun Afghanistan, often re-mixed to suit contemporary events, many of which have recently been collected and translated for readers of English. See here for a review.

“My lover, if you are martyred in the Battle of Maiwand,
I will make a coffin for you from the tresses of my hair.”

Secondly, he makes much of the female tradition of leadership and power in Pashtun areas, from where Malala Yousafzai has recently become so well known.  And thirdly, by a mention of nonviolence in the Gandhian tradition.  People often dismiss such efforts because “non violence doesn’t work.” Of course it can been seen around the world how well violence is working for one and all.

The region also has a great tradition of peaceful resistance. In the 1930s, the North-West Frontier, under the Pashtun leader Badshah Khan, became an unlikely center of Gandhian nonviolence against the British Raj. A prominent group of activists called the Khudai Khidmatgars, or Servants of God, drew direct inspiration from Gandhi’s ideas of service, disciplined nonviolence and civil disobedience to defy the colonial authorities. They also championed education, in order to marginalize the influence of the conservative ulema — the religious scholars. As the leading modern writer on the movement, Mukulika Banerjee, has shown, the Khudai Khidmatgars have been virtually erased from the nationalist historiography of post-partition Pakistan.

NY Times: Dalrymple

Poetry In Afghanistan

A very good piece in the NY Times about girls writing poetry, in Afghanistan, secretly.

Lima stood to recite her latest poem: a rubaiyat, the Arabic name for a quatrain, addressed to the Taliban.

 You won’t allow me to go to school.
I won’t become a doctor.
Remember this:
One day you will be sick.


Meena’s father pulled her out of school four years ago after gunmen kidnapped one of her classmates. Now she stays home, cooks, cleans and teaches herself to write poetry in secret. Poems are the only form of education to which she has access. She doesn’t meet outsiders face to face.

“I can’t say any poems in front of my brothers,” she said. Love poems would be seen by them as proof of an illicit relationship, for which Meena could be beaten or even killed. “I wish I had the opportunities that girls do in Kabul,” she went on. “I want to write about what’s wrong in my country.” Meena gulped. She was trying not to cry. On the other end of the line, Amail, who is prone to both compassion and drama, began to weep with her. Tears mixed with kohl dripped onto the page of the spiral notebook in which Amail was writing down Meena’s verses. Meena recited a Pashtun folk poem called a landai:


“My pains grow as my life dwindles,
I will die with a heart full of hope.”

Read all

Truth, lies and Afghanistan

In the Armed Forces Journal no less…

How military leaders have let us down

I spent last year in Afghanistan, visiting and talking with U.S. troops and their Afghan partners. My duties with the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force took me into every significant area where our soldiers engage the enemy. Over the course of 12 months, I covered more than 9,000 miles and talked, traveled and patrolled with troops in Kandahar, Kunar, Ghazni, Khost, Paktika, Kunduz, Balkh, Nangarhar and other provinces.

What I saw bore no resemblance to rosy official statements by U.S. military leaders about conditions on the ground.

Entering this deployment, I was sincerely hoping to learn that the claims were true: that conditions in Afghanistan were improving, that the local government and military were progressing toward self-sufficiency. I did not need to witness dramatic improvements to be reassured, but merely hoped to see evidence of positive trends, to see companies or battalions produce even minimal but sustainable progress.

Instead, I witnessed the absence of success on virtually every level.


More on Davis in the NY Times