BreakingNews 13/2/16 - Towards A Peaceful Afghanistan: `Learning From Her Heritage & Wisdom`

[ Masterweb Reports: An Interview With Dr Kusum Gopal by Iftikhar Ahmad ] -  Many of us Afghans are extremely fearful of what the next day will bring. The bombs and shootings continue to cause us great anguish. Our entire region has been desecrated, there is so much suffering and sadness caused by the ongoing forty years of civil wars, political catastrophes beginning with the Soviet occupation and natural calamities such as the drought, famine which has forced over ten million of us to seek refuge outside.  Our religious leaders, tribal chiefs, Elders and our parents, those of whom are alive and whom we respect and love are not being consulted although we know their wisdom is priceless. We have deep love for our land, and we want to regain our glory. We want to become once again strong, independent and in control of our destinies. We want to go to bed waking up with the knowledge that not just the next day, but the weeks, months, decades if not the century will bring hope and joy in our hearts and our mothers can smile again! We want to live together in peace and harmony as we used to, to return to the certainty we value. In this context I spoke to Dr. Kusum Gopal after an informative lecture she gave at Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi. She believes that peaceful governance and prosperity in this region can only happen if correct political solutions are applied through a deep understanding of our history, our culture, our hopes and dreams.  Dr. Kusum Gopal, an anthropologist who has served as a United Nations Expert and Technical Advisor to government agencies, is also revising her previously published manuscript on Afghanistan, now tentatively titled “Charting Afghanistan, the heart of Asia; learning from her heritage and wisdom”.  


Q: Why Do You Say That Afghanistan Is The Heart Of Asia? And Could You Elaborate On Our Early Culture, Our Heritage As You Describe It?


A: That Afghanistan is the heart of Asia was observed since the earliest recorded history. Written accounts since Plutarch to the Emperor Babur and more recently, for example by Allama Muhammad Iqbal indicate how this region has been held with great sacredness and respect. For over two thousand years, the open-frontier traditions of Afghanistan have determined the pulse, the rhythm of the Indian Subcontinent-- whatever is happening here affects the rest of the region, profoundly. The Khyber Pass has remained the main conduit for the movement of peoples, trade, armies and, new communities across this ancient terrain. Indeed, its civilizations have been powerfully influenced by the geography and historical affinity with the Indian Subcontinent to which it is tied to in perpetuity reflected in customs, belief systems, the common cuisine, attire, indeed, dance such as the attan, and music. Straddling the Hindu Kush makes for significant connections between inner and outer Asia, thus with the Iranian plateau and, unified cultures of Central Asia. These powerful confluences led to pluralistic engagements  informed by syncreticism unique to the Subcontinent. Balkh, for example was the birthplace of Zoroaster: Zoroastrianism flourished alongside Buddhism.  Indeed, Balkh was also the birthplace of Jalauddin Rumi. There are valuable written sources such as the Pata Khazana, containing Pashto poetry from over two thousand years. Some other  famous poets from the region are Khushal Khan Khattak, Rahman Baba, Ahmad Shah Durrani,Timur Shah Durrani, Shuja Shah Durrani, Al-Afghani, Ghulam Muhammad Tarzi, Ghulam Habib Nawabi, Massoud Nawabi and women poets such as Rabia Balkhi and Nazo Tokhi. These compilations are a testament to the powerful written traditions and pluralism of this region. Indeed, the tragic fates of Laila Majnun and Sohrab Rustom are an integral part of the folklore of India as much as Afghanistan. 


Archaeologists working in this region have noted that this region – 5000 years ago had  integral connections with the Indus Valley civilisation.  As a matter of fact many ancient temples and mosques can be found in this region from the Hinglaj in Baluchistan formerly part of the Afghan territory -- and extending into Sindh. This region remained connected with all Empires in India whether it was the Indo Greeks, the Indo Bactrian Empire or Mauryan rule --Emperor  Asoka  placed stupas here with inscriptions in Aramaic, the official language of the Achaemenid Empire) and build palaces, libraries, gardens in Kandahar; also, building roads from Kabul to Punjab connecting to the Gangetic plains. This region has been significant to the Silk  route. During the Mughals knowledge transmission and cultural syncreticism remained characteristic of the Subcontinent where inspite of later political dissensions – collapse of the Mughal Empire -- boundaries did not exist.


Integral to open –frontier traditions has been acceptance,  for example is suli or bond brotherhood is to forge voluntarily kinship relations between different ethnic groups and individuals through formal adoption of one by the other mainly by the offer of sanctuary, intermarriage, offer of material goods, of land made explicit through sophisticated ceremonial rituals of mutual hospitality of Pukhtunwali.  For example, Alexander the great was offered a wife whom he married called Rukhsana as indeed later on the Arabs such as Osama Bin Laden who came here during the Cold war. Pukhtunwali is based on ancient principles of moral authority and etiquette founded on several interrelated institutions and concepts: traditions of hospitality, melmastia contained in Mehrman Palineh defining meraneh or codes of manhood such as imandaari (righteousness), sabat (steadfastness), ghairat (of property), namus protecting women and purdah. Purdah is incorrectly interpreted as seclusion of women- it refers to virtuous living and good domesticity. These belief systems extended far beyond Pakhtun cultural arena into the Subcontinent—zan, zar zameen.  The connectedness with the rest of the Subcontinent is reflected in its belief sytems: nasib or fate is seen to depend on the divine who is paramount: everyone’s fate nasib is determined by Allah on the basis of his merit, circumstances, and capabilities. . . Each one stands in his own place and position, and hence all people should be grateful to Allah...The proper attitude of every Afghan should be gratitude, for it is Allah who has determined one’s position in life and gives blessings --ni`mat. Arrogance or kibr cannot be respected as such people are gharur. These forms of etiquette were accepting of other  tribes and peoples while strengthening their own. They also required a vast command of material and social resources and an egalitarian polity in which to flourish. Indeed, immanent traditions are key to understanding the heart of Asia theme. 


Q: Yes, We Have Pakhuntwali In Our Hearts And Minds And We Expect Those Who Come Here To Understand And Respect That. There Is So Much Misunderstanding Of Our Culture In Official Policy Making Even If The Intentions May Be Good. For Example, ‘Ethnicity’ Is Not How We See It!   Explain This?


A: Yes, many Afghans have been at pains to point out that Ethnicity (as it is currently wrongly interpreted using colonial and Euro-American terms of reference,) needs to be qualified within the context of the history and syncretism of this region, for instance, the nomenclature Pathan and Afghan have been used synonymously; however there are over twenty different groups that had coexisted, interacted, intermarried and assimilated for over three thousand centuries. Nowadays, Pashtuns are referred to as Pathans; whilst they are in the majority, many other minority groups exist such as Tajiks, Turks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, Baluchis, Aymak, Farsiwan, Brahui, Turkoman Arab, Nuristani, Kohistani, Pamiri, Pashae, Kyrgyz, Gujjar, Mongol, Arab, Qizilbash, Punjabi, Sindhi, Sikh, Jat etc each having contributed to a rich linguistic diversity, with Pashtu and Dari is spoken by the majority; all have adopted Pakhtunwali with ease. The interconnectedness among all people forged through interdependence and centuries of interaction needs to be emphasised and colonial interpretations of exclusion, boundaries and difference must be challenged for Afghans to once again forge a peaceful existence.


To understand how people relate to each other in time and  place requires humility accompanied by unhurried, long term engagement in the field with the people as also philosophical rigour and scholarship of their history going back a thousand years if necessary. And, it is indeed not just a tragedy but counterproductive when people’s cultures and belief systems are not treated with the respect and dignity that they deserve. This is because the received wisdom deeply embedded in the structures of governments and Powers- that- Be seeks immediacy, wants quick solutions,  favours fixed structures of thinking by imposing an overarching order,  a formal logic and coherence when such an order, indeed logic cannot reflect the realities, frustratin

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