An Afghan Poet Shapes Metal and Hard Words



KHOST, Afghanistan — The poet guided a strip of sheet metal into the ancient steel clippers, cutting shimmering triangles that fell with a dull clang on the shop floor.

In the background, a workman’s chorus filled the yard: a handsaw planing a log beam; a generator humming and catching; the groan of a giant diesel truck idling.

The harsh music of the workday welled up around Matiullah Turab, one of Afghanistan’s most famous Pashtun poets, in the garage where he earns a living repairing the colorful Pakistani caravan trucks that transport goods around the countryside.

The cadence of his nights, though, is his own: shaping poetry as hard and piercing as the tools he uses by day. Nature and romance carry no interest for him.

“A poet’s job is not to write about love,” he growled, his booming voice blending with the ambient noise of the workshop. “A poet’s job is not to write about flowers. A poet must write about the plight and pain of the people.”

With his unflinching words, Mr. Turab, 44, offers a voice for Afghans grown cynical about the war and its perpetrators: the Americans, the Taliban, the Afghan government, Pakistan.

War has turned into a trade

Heads have been sold

as if they weigh like cotton,

and at the scale sit such judges

who taste the blood, then decide the price

Taped versions of Mr. Turab’s poems spread virally, especially among his fellow ethnic Pashtuns, whom he unabashedly champions — a tribal affinity that alienates some Tajik and Hazara listeners. His close affiliation with Hezb-i-Islami — part Islamist political party, part militant group — has put off others.

But even as his social affiliations are narrow and divisive, his poetry has mass appeal. Mr. Turab reserves his charity for ordinary Afghans, weighed down by the grinding corruption and disappointment that have come to define the last decade of their lives.

Many see his poems, some of which were translated from Pashto for The New York Times by Mujib Mashal, as a counter to the daily spin showered on Afghans by the government, diplomats, religious leaders and the media.

O flag-bearers of the world,

you have pained us a lot in the name of security

You cry of peace and security,

and you dispatch guns and ammunition

Seated on a makeshift bench, his wool pakol hat tilted slightly and his clothing stained with grease, Mr. Turab surveyed the evening beyond his concrete workshop bay, a landscape of rags, wires and waste. The squalid heat was broken intermittently by a standing fan connected to a car battery. A neighboring vendor hammered a glacier of ice, cleaving chunks to sell to drivers passing by.

“There is no genuine politician in Afghanistan,” he said, briefly cracking a rare smile. “As far as I know, politicians need the support of the people, and none of these politicians have that. For me, they are like the shareholders of a business. They only think of themselves and their profit.”

He continued: “The Taliban are not the solution, either. Gone are those old days when the Taliban way of governing worked.”

He has no patience for preciousness in his own work or in others’, and he is particularly merciless with government officials. He ridicules them, saying they should stitch three pockets into their jackets: one to collect afghanis, one for dollars and a third for Pakistani rupees.

For all that disdain, however, Mr. Turab has remained popular in influential corners of the government. And President Hamid Karzai recently invited him to the presidential palace in Kabul.

“The president liked my poetry and told me I had an excellent voice, but I don’t know why,” he said. “I criticized him.”

In fact, he is quite widely in demand. Though he prefers to be home in Khost, Mr. Turab’s travel schedule still far outpaces the average metalsmith’s. People flock to his rare personal readings, and new poems posted on YouTube quickly become among the most-watched by Afghans. He is planning a trip to Moscow soon to receive an award from members of the Afghan diaspora there. And he visits the governor of Paktia, a friend, to perform on occasion.

Mr. Turab is the latest in a long roll call of poets cherished in Afghanistan, among the most famous of them Rumi, the Sufi mystic whose works of love and faith remain popular across the world. In this country, poetic aphorisms are woven into everyday talk, embraced by Afghans from all walks of life. In pockets of Kabul, it is not uncommon to see men bunched together as they transfer audio files of readings over Bluetooth from one cellphone to another.

Though poetry is loved, it seldom pays. Some writers have taken government jobs, finding the steady paycheck and modest responsibilities conducive to their work. Mr. Turab, for his part, has stuck to his dingy garage on the outskirts of Khost City.

“This is my life, what you see here: banging iron, cutting it short, making it long,” he said. “I still don’t call myself a poet.”

After the Soviet invasion in 1979, Mr. Turab, a teenager at the time, moved with his family to Pakistan. He came of age there, returning to Afghanistan only two decades later, with a trade, a wife and a modest following as a poet.

He kept refining his craft after his return, cultivating a broader audience. Under Taliban rule, he dared to publish a book of his work — a grave mistake.

“The Taliban beat me very badly,” he said, shaking his head, then proffering a smile. “After that, I decided publishing wasn’t such a good idea.”

Though he is an unabashed Pashtun loyalist, he has no love for the Taliban, who are closely identified with Pashtun tribes. He says he loathes the terror they cultivate and the way they have destabilized Afghanistan. And he excoriates them, for being as inept and out of touch as the Western-backed government.

O graveyard of skulls and oppression

Rip this earth open and come out

They taunt me with your blood,

and you lie intoxicated with thoughts of virgins

The dirt road outside his shop runs all the way to Pakistan, and its traffic is an economic lifeline. Vendors line the highway, selling everything from snow to keep the blistering heat at bay to seasonal fruit. Periodically a convoy of American vehicles passes, breaking the spell of an otherwise Afghan scene.

“Sometimes I’m amazed that things aren’t falling apart,” he said, clasping his hands together as he reflected on years of war and foreign presence here. “But then I realize there is a social law here that holds the country together, even if there is no governmental law.”

Though he has been critical of the American occupation, he does note the progress that has come with it: roads, electricity and schools. It is other parts of the Western legacy in Afghanistan that he worries about.

“Democracy will hurt and eliminate our tribal laws,” he said. “The medicine prescribed by democracy was not suitable for this society’s sickness.”

There is something else, which even the plain-spoken Mr. Turab seemed reluctant to confess: He is nearly illiterate. Though he can, with difficulty, read printed copy, he can neither write nor read the handwriting of others, he said. He constructs his poetry in his head, relying on memory to retain it and others to record it.

Mr. Turab grew up in a small village of Nangarhar Province, poor even by Afghan standards. His father was a farmer, and grew just enough to feed the family. Though they had little, he fondly remembers his youth — particularly the days spent learning from the village poet, a man he grew to love for his sharp words and honesty.

Assassinations and CIA Drug Money

Bruce G. Richardson

CIA: Global Drug Trafficking, Terrorist Affiliations, Political Assassination…Resolution by other (Unlawful, Unethical and Immoral) Means

Assassination is one of the oldest tools of power-politics, dating back as far as recorded history.

Osama bin Laden: The execution-style killing of Osama bin Laden on May 1st in Abbottabad, Pakistan has raised objections and outrage among acclaimed jurisprudents worldwide. Referring to the killing as “murder” and or “political-assassination,” debate among jurists has fueled the fires of criticism against the Obama Administration’s extra-legal foreign policies. To deflect international criticism, and to preserve the American people’s support for a seemingly senseless and endless war, the Obama Administration and their accomplices in the media have embarked on an amorphous game of legal-semantics. Assassination proscribed under U.S. and international law, is now cast in terms of “targeted killing” in administration-legalese. “Targeted killing” is the more recently- coined euphemism for sanctioned murder, and as was “collateral damage”, devised to blunt criticism for the unwarranted and indiscriminate slaughter of civilians by the U.S. military.

Self Defense?: Administration lawyers using highly-questionable legal interpretations that as yet have not been adjudicated in a court of law, as with the latent controversy over torture, have taken the position that so-called “targeted killing” is lawful under national and international statutes as a tool of self-defense in the war on terror. Under this Draconian self-serving legal interpretation, civilian casualties and deaths have risen 23% over this same period one year ago according to a UN report. This, a frequent tactic of Israel and the U.S. raises complex questions and leads to contentious disputes, as to the legal and moral basis for its application. Would history and the rule of law have not been better served with a public trial of Osama bin Laden in a court of law?

Benazir Bhutto: An assassin’s bullet took the life of former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto on December 27, 2007. On September 28, 2009, General Mirza Aslam Beg, Pakistan’s former Army Chief of Staff said that CIA contractor Blackwater was directly involved in the assassination of former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. He said that Pakistan’s President Musharraf had given Blackwater permission to carry out terrorist operations in the cities of Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Peshawar, and Quetta. In an Al-Jazeera TV interview the general said that the U.S. killed Benazir Bhutto when she violated an agreement she had with the CIA… to not return to Pakistan. General Beg was Army Chief of Staff during Bhutto’s first administration. See: (Washington Post, 1/18/08 and Al-Jazeera, 9/28/2009). A highly controversial figure, the Prime Minister was thought a corrupt official and was known to traffic in stolen antiquities. Some of Afghanistan’s most rare and historic treasures were in her possession. Among her collection of rare antiquities were the world-renowned “Begrami-Ivories”, but to the chagrin of Afghan antiquities curatorial activists, without benefit of legal title. The Begrami-Ivories are believed to date from the Kushan period.

Notwithstanding the fact that Baitullah Mehsud is the alleged shooter, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, M. Shah Mahmoud has asked for a full investigation of CIA complicity by the United Nations. A recent poll of the people of Pakistan indicated that a majority believe President Musharraf ordered the assassination of Benazir Bhutto at the behest of the CIA. (See: South Asian Analysis Group, #287, Pakistan’s ISI, B. Rahman, 2001, and Dawn, Yousaf Nazar, 1/31/2008).

Ahmad Shah Massoud: Assassinated on September 9, 2001. Well-informed political commentators have long held that the assassination of Ahmad Shah Massoud at the hands of Tunisian/al-Qaeda operatives was but self-serving propaganda, a tactic of the information-war. Representatives of the Northern Alliance lost no time in accusing the Taliban and al-Qaeda of the incident. But as the recent Oslo terrorist attack clearly demonstrates, there are those who seize what they view as an opportunity to accuse their enemies for political advantage. The Western media and President Obama, for example…immediately accused Muslims for the carnage that turned out to be by the hand of a deranged right-wing Christian fundamentalist.

Truth however, in time, is generally revealed. In the years following Massoud’s death, Belgian and French investigators arrested various individuals for the complicity in the assassination. However, the European investigators did not address critical questions about how the operation played out on the ground. How did two al-Qaeda operatives gain proximity to Massoud, bypassing the rigid screening process routinely employed and required to reach Massoud? How did they get the explosives through various layers of physical screening and bring them into Massoud’s presence? The assassin’s cameras were allegedly “stuffed with explosives.” Yet it has recently been shown that Massoud’s security apparatus was in possession of the latest incarnation of high-tech “explosives sniffers,” a gift from his CIA handlers, technology that would with certainty reveal [any] presence of explosives. We know too that Rasul Sayyaf facilitated the entrance of the assassins into Northern Afghanistan and that Mohammad Qasim Fahim failed to vet the foreign visitors as was his responsibility. So, it would seem that two imposters, fake journalists from Tunisia, posing as Moroccans with Belgian passports, along with their equipment , including the cameras they proposed to use to record their interview with Massoud…were never physically screened.

A lone assassin survived the blast that took the life of Ahmad Shah Massoud and one of the alleged assassins, but curiously…was shot while allegedly trying to escape… conveniently taking his secrets along with himself to his grave… forever silenced.

As heretofore reported; in June of 2007, Ambassador Massoud Khalili, as sole survivor, told the (Indian Press) that he observed a “bright streak of light”, a telltale, recognized-signature generated by super-heated exhaust gasses emanating from a rocket’s motor, just moments before the explosion. (See: Afghanistan, a Search for Truth, Bruce G. Richardson, 2009, p.47 and Jane’s Defense Weekly, Missile Signatures, 11/27/01).

It has been therefore concluded in many circles that Massoud’s death was advanced by the personal and political ambitions of key figures in the Northern Alliance. High-profile figures such as the wily Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, so adored by the Western media, and “Marshall” Fahim, now serving as President Hamid Karzai’s First Vice President, both of whom now well-positioned for upward political mobility as a result of Massoud’s assassination. In addition, other casus belli are present: a long-standing and vitriolic disputation surrounding vast financial holdings in real-estate and bank accounts have been a major bone of contention between Ahmad Shah Massoud and others of Jamiat’s-hierarchy. (See: The Real Winner of Afghanistan’s Election, Foreign Policy, H.M. Leverett, Afghan Post, 2008).

Dr. Abdur Rahman: Assassinated on February 14, 2002. In an article entitled: The Assassination of the Man with Two Names, Bruce G. Richardson, (See: DAWAT, English Edition and Afghan/German Online, Pashto edition: translation by Rahmat Arya, July, 2011),and according to Abdul Hai Warshan, a close friend of Massoud, “the motive behind his assassination was linked to the fact that Dr. Abdur Rahman was opening up and revealing details of Ahmad Shah Massoud’s past contacts and cooperation with the KGB, CIA, India, Iran, and other intelligence agencies. He did not support Massoud in his war against the Taliban and was opposed to the pro-Russia policies of Shura-i-Nizar.” (See: War without end, Behroz Khan, Newsline, March, 2002, and see: Afghanistan, Political Frailty and External Interference, Dr. Nabi Misdaq, 2006, p. 212, and American Raj, Liberation or Domination, Resolving the Conflict between the West and the Muslim World, Eric S. Margolis, 2008, p. 196).

Relatives of the slain minister believe that Muhamad Younis Qanooni, Muhammad Qasim Fahim and Dr. Abdullah-Abdullah were responsible for his death in order to silence his criticism and expose over their respective participation in and collaboration with the Soviets, and as well, with India and Russia. (See: Afghanistan, a Search for Truth, Bruce G. Richardson, 2009, p.104, and American Raj, Liberation or Domination, Resolving the Conflict between the West and the Muslim World, Eric S. Margolis, 2008, p.196).

In addition to previously cited sources, S. Frederick Starr, chairman of the Central Asia Institute at the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at John Hopkins University and Martin Strmecki, President of the Roosevelt Foundation, wrote in the (February 26, 2002 edition of the Wall Street Journal under the title: Time to Ditch the Northern Alliance), “that it was the Northern Alliance themselves that successfully engineered the assassination of the slain Minister of Civil Aviation and Tourism.”

War on Drugs: From American War Machine, Former diplomat, internationally acclaimed political scientist and Professor Emeritus of English at the University of California, Berkeley, author Peter Dale Scott writes:

“Beginning with Thailand in the 1950s, Americans have become inured to the CIA’s alliances with known terrorists, drug traffickers (and their bankers) to install and sustain right-wing governments, The modus- operandi has repeated itself in Laos, Vietnam, Italy, Mexico, Thailand, Nigeria, Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Panama, Honduras, Turkey, Pakistan and now Afghanistan. The relationship of the U.S. intelligence operations and agencies to the global drug traffic, al-Qaeda, and to other criminal networks deserves greater attention in the debate over the U.S. presence in Afghanistan. After World War II, the United States, along with Britain and France, recurrently used both drug networks and terrorist groups as assets or proxies in the Cold War. By backing these groups, the great powers greatly increased the power and scope of both the drug traffic and terrorist groups. As a result, in the long run, they contributed to powerful forces that weakened the rule of law internationally and domestically.”

America’s wars on terror and drugs consist of both an amorphous structure and hypocritical DNA. When Obama visited Afghanistan in 2008, Gul Agha Shirzai was the first Afghan leader he met. The (London Observer reported on July 21, 2002), that in order to secure his acceptance of the new Karzai Government, Gul Agha Shirzai, along with other drug and warlords, had been “bought off” with millions of dollars in deals brokered by U.S. and British Intelligence. (See: American War Machine, Deep politics, the CIA Global Drug Connections and the Road to Afghanistan, Peter Dale Scott, 2010).

Unbeknownst to many Americans, and as a casualty of the information-war, the Taliban had virtually eliminated the production of opiates and heroin manufacture. Yet with the homogenized rendering of nightly newscasts across America, both the Bush and Obama Administrations alleged that the principal source of funding for the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan was derived from drug trafficking. An obvious dalliance with the truth with the intent to further demonize and de-legitimize the Taliban and others who resist the American occupation in the eyes of the American public, and to justify a war against a country and a people that cannot by any measure or reasonable standard be justified… and furthermore; a country and a people that had not [ever] threatened nor harmed the interests and or security of the U.S.

In addition to and in spite of America’s murky anti-terrorist and drug-DNA, manifest with the recruitment of known war criminals such as Rashid Dostum and others of the nefarious Northern Alliance, who were recruited and bribed with $500,000 in “stacks of newly-printed $100-dollar bills”, a first installment of a multitude of cash incentives by CIA operatives to further America’s grip on Afghanistan. And in recognition of the ancient proverbs: “don’t do what I do, do what I say, and the end justifies the means”, contrary to their public stance and rhetoric, America, throughout its history, has allied itself with the dregs of society, i.e., war criminals, drug lords, communists and terrorists. (See: First In, An Insider’s account of how the CIA Spearheaded the War on Terror in Afghanistan, Gary C. Schroen, 2005, p. 92, and Ghost Wars, Steve Coll, 2004, pp. 467 and 494).

American officials, however, were cautious, concerned over the fact that the Northern Alliance engaged in “major drug trafficking”, and worried about the potential political fallout once the obvious hypocrisy incorporated in their statecraft bridged the public’s-information chasm, a chasm that exists between professed and actual government policies. Yet, in the final analysis, history attests that the Northern Alliance, allied with their co-ethnic proxy-mercenaries from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, were utilized in a combat-support role (war crimes and drug trafficking notwithstanding) to provide both target coordinates of Taliban positions and troops to fight alongside American forces against the Taliban. (See: The Main Enemy, Milt Bearden, and James Risen, 2003 and American War Machine, and Deep Politics, the CIA Global Drug Connection, and the Road to Afghanistan, Peter Dale Scott, pp. 23,25, 236, 2010).

Beneficiaries, real as opposed to imagined and or alleged from opium trafficking:

On November 21, 2005, Uzbek President Islam Karimov evicted the American military from their base of operations in Kush-Khanabad under a status-of-force codicil incorporated in the “tenant” basing agreement. The airbase had been used by the U.S. for operations against Afghanistan. The reason given for the expulsion was that American aircraft bound for Europe and other destinations were known to be laden with opium. Sources speculate that this move by Karimov, under extraordinary pressure from Russia, itself worried about the burgeoning illicit drug activity in their own backyard, and the close proximity of NATO forces, may have also been in retaliation for the U.S. calling for a UN special investigation into the Karimov’s Administration’s brutal response to demonstrators by their security forces during the uprising in Andijan. (See: Global Research, 11/21/05).

Witnesses have revealed that American military aircraft flying out from Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan have as well been observed transporting drugs. Author of (American War Machine), Peter Dale Scott, and Alfred W. McCoy, author of (The Politics of Heroin, CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, 2003), provide a detailed listing of major American banks that have made billions by laundering drug profits from opium originating in Afghanistan. In addition, allegations have surfaced that the U.S. is financing its war in Afghanistan with drug profits. From a former Russian general with Cold War experience in Afghanistan:

“Americans themselves admit that drugs are often transported out of Afghanistan on American planes. Drug trafficking in Afghanistan brings them about 50 billion a year…which fully covers the expenses tied to keeping its troops there. Essentially, they are not going to interfere and stop production of drugs.” (See: Afghan Drug Trafficking Brings U.S. $50 Billion a Year, General Mahmut Gareev, Russia Today, 8/20/09).

The blatant hypocrisy extant with America’s wars of terror and drugs are profoundly manifest with the widely published recruitment of known war criminals, and with irrefutable photographic evidence as published on the cover of Peter Dale Scott’s book, American War Machine; a provocative photograph depicts a contingent of U.S. Marines engaged in guarding, as opposed to destroying, a poppy field in Afghanistan.

Bruce G. Richardson