Afghanistan wants its cultural heroes back

Wed Jun 27, 2012 7:05pm EDT
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By Sanjeev Miglani and Mirwais Harooni

KABUL (Reuters) - - Interred a quarter century ago in Pakistan, the remains of Afghan poet Ustad Khalilullah Khalili now lie in a forlorn corner of Kabul University, brought here to be reburied so that no one else can lay claim to the revered poet-philosopher.

He has no epitaph; only a few wilted bouquets lie at the grave of Afghanistan's most prominent 20th century poet. Three policemen guard the site.

But if President Hamid Karzai - who ordered the remains be disinterred from a grave in the Pakistani city of Peshawar last month - has his way, the reburial will become an assertion of Afghan culture over encroachment by Pakistan and Iran.

"We brought him back from Pakistan because he was our poet and scholar," said Mohammad Hussain Yamin, head of the Persian and Dari department at Kabul University.

"We don't want someone in future to say that he belonged to Pakistan just because he lived the final years of his life there."

The assertion of cultural sovereignty is part of an effort to unite Afghanistan and prove it can stand on its own after most foreign troops leave at the end of 2014.

The government says it wants an end to "foreign interference", usually a reference to Pakistan, but also Iran with which it is locked in a fierce debate over ownership of some of the greatest poets and philosophers in the region.

Poetry is big in Afghanistan, from the time of the kings of the 10th century to the present day, permeating every level of society from children in school to warlords and even the austere Taliban who study long works of classical Persian poetry as part of their education in religious schools.   Continued...