Thank You, Afghanistan


Today, when the Indian media seems to be gripped with the “politically correct” bubble of Kanhaiya, the Lenin reincarnate and his rhetorical speech promising to bring back the dead skeletons of communist revolution, India conveniently forgets something extraordinarily chivalrous, something pristinely humane and something untouched from the political mud-slinging that is going on in the great Indian political theatre these days. Today, when from Guardian and Independent to New York Times, India is being portrayed as suffocating under some kind of Hindu dictatorship, which is yet to be seen, for somewhat “obvious”, somewhat hidden and somewhat mysterious motives, I, being an Indian, would like to take this opportunity to express my heart-felt thanks to those brave soldiers of Afghan National Army, who have fought bravely and, time and again laid down their lives defending Indian consulates.

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Since 2007, a series of lethal suicide attacks on Indian consulates have taken place. US and Afghan intelligence and Afghani Police have, on many occasions, furnished the evidence of the involvement of Pakistan and its proxies like Haqqani Network and Lashkar in these attacks. It so happens because Pakistan’s doctrine of cultivating Afghanistan as a “strategic Corridor” in the event of an Indian invasion gets shattered with the increasing Indian presence and the growing popular support for it in Afghanistan. However, these attacks will never deter the confidence of India and India must continue its post-conflict reconstruction and development work in Afghanistan.

Whenever I write about Afghanistan, it is a very special moment for me because there are myriad personal memories attached. During my MPA at Cornell University, I stayed with a Full Bright scholar from Afghanistan, Rafi Sherzad, and I also got a chance to interact with several Afghan students who had studied at Indian universities like Jamia Milia and Hyderabad under the scholarship programs run by the government of India. While interacting with them I felt the reality and robustness of the ancient civilizational bonds that have existed between India and Afghanistan since the dawn of civilization in the Indian sub-continent.

In my interactions with Afghan students I learned that when the famous Indian soap “Kyonki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi” was aired on television the entire country glued to the television and the maximum number of car thefts occurred when the aforesaid soap was telecasted!!!

Here the love of Afghans for Bollywood movies and music needs a special mention. Rafi told me that during Taliban days when there were hardly any outlets for recreation, their main source of little fun was having Kahva (tea) with old Bollywood songs like “Yari Hai Imann Mera, Yar Meri Zindagi”. Hikmat informed that when Khuda Gawah was being shot the sturdy Pathans would wait for hours to have one glimpse of their loved hero, Amitabh Bachchan alias Badshah Khan.“The Afghans rejoiced to their heart’s content on seeing Sunny Deol smashing the entire Pakistani state in his film Gadar, for more than obvious reasons”, said Rafi on one evening while treating with Afghan raisins and Kabuli Pilao. I also came to know about the Afghanistan of 1960s and 70s when legendary singers like Zahir Ahmad, Ustaad Nash e Nass and Ustad Sadrang reigned and ruled the hearts of Afghans. Today, it is quite difficult to imagine the Kabul of 1970s, when youth indulged in politically charged debates over Marx, Lenin and Mao, the women wore mini-skirts and European hats.

Interestingly, Ahmad Zahir who was a mosaic of Elvis Presley and the Bollywood actor Feroz Khan sang beautiful melodies in Persian which had the music of old Bollywood songs of Rafi. But when Ahmad Zahir used the Hindi music with western beats and Persian compositions like “Khab Az Chashmanam Raboodi”, they sounded absolutely refreshing, pristine and heavenly. Similarly, Ustad Nashenass has sung the songs of K L Saigal like “Gam Diye Mustaqil, Kitna Nazuk Ahi dil” in his own unique style which sends you into a meditative trance. Whenever, I listened to melodies of Ahmad Zahir and Ustad Nashenass in the snows of Ithaca with my ginger tea on lazy weekends, I could feel the essence of Afghanistan which lies in commingling and cross-fertilization of different cultures viz. Hindustani, Baluchi, Arabian, Iranian, Syrian and Central Asian. Afghanistan was the holy land where Panini wrote the Ashtadhyayi Vyaakaran (first Sanskrit Grammar).It was in Afghanistan, that the Gandhara style of Buddha sculptures developed which was a combination of Greek and Indian styles. Gandhara and Kamboj, the earliest Mahajanpadas of ancient India were in the modern-day Afghanistan and the famous Gandhari of Mahabharata came from Afghanistan.  Rafi told me that even now one of the common names in Afghanistan is Ulukh Khan, which interestingly was also the name of the son of King Shakuni, chief conspirator of the battle of Mahabharata and the brother of Gandhari. Northern Afghanistan (Bactria) was the place where Mauryan king Chandragupta was married to Princess Helena, the daughter of Selucas Nikator, the Greek Lieutenant of Alexander. Kandhar in Afghanistan was the place where Ashokan inscriptions of peace and non-violence were written in Aramiac for the local Greek population.Similarly, in India also Afghans have been immortalized as legendary fighters “Frontier Gandhi” Badhsah Khan, Hakim Khan Suri (Rana Pratap’s General), as Kabuliwala in the stories of Tagore and as the eternal Sher Khan Pathan of the famous Hindi film Zanjeer.

Then, I also felt the trauma of living in a conflict-ridden nation where years of Pakistani interference and export of Jihadi extremism have ruined the last shreds of stable and safe human life when Rafi told me how his father who was a Colonel in Afghan army had to resign and flee to Peshawar as refugees when Taliban took over. His brother who was a fighter pilot migrated to Russia, not to be ever seen in life again and he spent his childhood selling cigarettes and water-bottles. Until the moment, Hanif told me that his brother was killed in the blast outside Indian consulate in Jalalabad; I had never felt the pain of losing your near-and-dear-ones in an act of terrorism, from such close quarters.

These interactions inspired me to found International Affairs Forum at Cornell University, which is a unique organization in its mandate for spreading awareness on the issues of religious extremism and promoting “soft power”. Its first event “Agaaz” was a talk by Rafi Sherzaad which presented to the world community, the hitherto unreported facets of Afghanistan like its music, the dance Attan, and secular tribal code of “Pashtunwali” which dominated the social-political life for last 2000 years.

In the end, I wish a good luck to Afghanistan in her fight against barbaric forces of Taliban and send warm regards and love from India to Afghanistan with a strong hope that this ancient friendship will grow stronger and stronger with the passage of time.

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