Lost Voices of Afghanistan.
Written by ACM   
Saturday, 22 January 2011

An Afghan woman and boy. Getty

Apart from the beauty of much of the content, two things struck me about this BBC programme about war poetry by civilians in Afghanisatan.

One was that at least one is critical of British troops there, his voice being protected by those same British troops.

The other was the recollection of the constitutional monarchy under King Mohammed Zahir Shah as a golden age. The King  was overthrown in a coup which led to the Soviet invasion and a series of increasingly extremist regimes.

With the current Western military intervention, the American government made a serious error in their  ideological decision to eliminate the Afghan monarchy from any role in the new Afghan Constitution.

As we mentioned here, two thirds of the delegates to the loya jirga in 2002 had signed a petition to make  King Zahir Shah the interim head of state.

As an opinion piece in a prominent US newspaper  pointed out, only  “massive US interference behind the scenes in the form of bribes, secret deals, and arm twisting got the US-backed candidate for the job, Hamid Karzai, installed instead.”


...the programme: Lost Voices of Afghanistan ...


When the BBC's War correspondent Jonathan Charles made an appeal for Afghan civilians to send in their war poetry, little did he anticipate the flood of writing it would inspire.

Here, he explores a selection of those poems and interviews the authors.

The writers have many stories to tell which have inspired haunting poetry. Verse has, for some, become the best way of expressing not only the sights and sounds of the war, but the emotions.

This is poetry of witness, of anger, propaganda, and it's a catharsis.

While Jonathan was interviewing one poet, the writer suddenly revealed that he had been the finance minister of Afghanistan in the 1970s and later lived under house arrest. He has turned away from politics and is now writing poetry.

Most shockingly of all, Jonathan talks to a woman now in exile in Canada who witnessed a couple trying to sell two of their children to feed the rest of their family. Her powerful poem The Queen of the World sees her imagining having the power to stop such awful events.

With the back-drop of a great poetry tradition in the area, there is an explosion of new poetry in Afghanistan.

In each state, we hear that poetry reading evenings are flourishing.

There is even a story of British troops transporting people to these events and guarding them, while inside the poets recite angry verse about the visiting soldiers.

[ To hear the programme  while it is available on the BBC World Service , click on the image at the top of the page]