For a good number of years Kabul had a Literary Society. In fact, some prominent employees of the Royal Afghan Government Department of Press and Information were also members of the Literary Society. The Society’s beautiful monthly magazine, Kabul, almost entirely in Dari language, had adopted a policy around 1321-22(1922-23) to also print articles and poems in Pukhto, the other national language of the country.
I was acquainted with the magazine because my father, in his literary capacity, was a contributor to the magazine and regularly received complimentary copies. I myself had some Pukhto poems published in the magazine by the time I was in the l2th grade. This seemed to me as highly prestigious.
Right about then, also in Kabul, a movement was afoot to establish a Pukhto Literary Society under the auspices of the Department of Press and Information. It was argued that there were not enough Pukhto writers in the Capital to enable the new Society to publish a magazine entirely in Pukhto language. Somehow, the enthusiastic and energetic personalities of the Capital finally did establish the Society, and, in fact, took over the beautiful Kabul magazine. In my eye, this takeover was a loss to the country’s Dari literary circles and the Dari language itself. For, not only did the Capital lose its beloved Dari language magazine, but the Pukhto magazine also never rose to the same literary heights as the magazine it replaced. This was a very unfortunate situation for the country and I am puzzled to this day why no hue and cry and demand was raised from any quarter of the society about reestablishment of the Kabul Literary Society with Kabul as its organ.
Pukhto Literary Society at the time sought out employees from among the graduating students. . Someone even told me that because of my published pieces in the Kabul magazine, I was a marked candidate but I paid no attention. I knew I was going to
the Medical Faculty of Kabul University and that was that. Writing was only my hobby. It was not going to become my profession.
Later in the year, another rumor ran strong and loud in the school corridors that the Ministry of Defense was again picking a good number of new graduates for enrollment in the Military Academy. This was a three-year military program providing highly specialized second lieutenants for the military service of the country. They had already done this for a couple of years.
Several reasons were advanced for this decision:
One was that almost all the student body of the only military high school in the country came from the provinces. For many years it was only the graduates of the provincial elementary schools who went first to the military high school in Kabul and then to the Military Academy and, later, made up the bulk of the junior officer corps of the Defense Ministry. There were those who saw certain limitations in the outlook of these provincial students as compared to the views and opinions of those born and raised in Kabul. Also the senior military staff, mostly long-term residents of the Capital, seemed to have much wider and more profound views on national and international affairs to the detriment of the junior officers.
Another reason was that students graduating from the Kabul schools were considered to be better trained by highly educated Afghan and foreign teachers than their provincial brethren and would, given the opportunity, make well-rounded officers upon graduation from the Military Academy. Why then should the Defense Ministry, a Ministry equal to all the other Ministries, not be allowed to pick a few promising young would-be officers from among the graduates of the Kabul high schools? The other Ministries were doing it. The latter could also take a pick of the graduates, not only of Kabul University but also, of those who returned home from studies abroad on government scholarships. Granted, the Defense Ministry could not always use foreign graduates in its military cadres. But they could be usefully employed as teachers in the military establishment and be highly qualified at that. Perhaps it was all these factors that brought about the policy allowing the Defense Ministry to pick out some graduates from all the city high schools for registration in the Academy.
Well, this rumor really made me afraid. Physically, I was a person of rather small build and knew I would not be able to withstand the rather harsh military rigors and practices that I had heard about. As it was, I was dreading the day when I would be drafted into the army for my one-year compulsory military service. To be forced into a permanent position in the army was out of the question. I would do anything to avoid being chosen for the Military Academy.
But what could I do? One advice I got from some fellow students was to drop my grade point average. This would not work because the authorities could find the truth by checking my earlier records. Another was to, somehow, drop out for the rest of the year and maybe they would not take next year’s graduates for military training. This, too, was fruitless. What if it did happen next year and I got selected then? My lot would be the worse for having lost a year for nothing. Some said that perhaps lots would be drawn among the graduates for different destinations. The various faculties of the Kabul University also needed good students for their freshman classes. Maybe I would be lucky and go to the Medical Faculty rather than the Military Academy.
Such disturbing thoughts bothered me for some time. But then I realized that it was a hopeless state of affairs and did not merit much concern. There was nothing that anyone could do about it, least of all I. So, let the chips fall where they may, I will face the issue when I have to. It was necessary, for the time being, to attend to the day-to-day scholastic affairs. The thought, however, did linger in the recesses of my mind.
That year’s graduation ceremony took a long time to be held. The Principal, with the consent of the Ministry of Education, sent our class to Bamian for a two-week excursion. Then again another month or so went by with no word as to how we had done in the exams and what was to happen to us from that point on.
Then it happened. I graduated third in my class. The number one had a half point higher score than my cousin and I. We two had an overall even score of 97%. The number one and number two both went to the Faculty of Science. I was to be introduced to the Press and Information Department of the Government as a much-needed employee in the newly established Pukhto Academy.
I immediately appealed to the Ministry of Education to be permitted to go to the Medical Faculty of Kabul University. I was turned down. I was told that only the Department of Press and Information could agree to let me go. I went to the latter and was sent to the head of the Pukhto Academy where a Dari speaking official of the Ariana encyclopedia section warned me that my insistence to quit my employment would surely land me in the Military Academy rather than the Kabul University. He further informed me that the Pukhto Academy needed to create an encyclopedia in Afghanistan to be called Ariana and I had been chosen to assist in the vocabulary unit mainly to help create a new dictionary first in Dari and then in Pukhto for Afghanistan.
We already had two Pukhto dictionaries and I was rather fond of one of them, a work done by an author/administrator known as Mohammad Gul Khan Mohmand, Governor of a northern province. It contained some 30,000 words and was printed beautifully by the Government Press in Kabul. In fact I had selected my own pen name from it many years ago. Apparently those dictionaries were not considered sufficiently comprehensive.
My fear of the rigorous Military Academy life, I think, was the main motive behind my decision to go along with the job at the Press and Information Department. A further consolation was the incentive to be able to be one of the compilers of a new dictionary for the Pukhto language. We were to use Webster’s collegiate dictionary of the English language as a main reference source for scientific and technical terms.
But the hurt of being unable to continue with my higher education persisted. The pain was even sharper when I found out that my classmates were all doing very well in the various Faculties of the Kabul University. I knew I would do likewise, if only I were there!
My salary was one hundred Afghanis more than that of my rank, seventh, in the Government employee hierarchy, which ranged from the eleventh to the first. Ironically, my rank was just one rung below that of my father who had reached the 6th rank in the Third Section of the Royal Secretariat after many years’ work in different establishments. My first salary, thus, turned out to be almost equal to that of my father. This was because of the value that the Government placed upon high school diplomas, one hundred Afghanis over the monthly wage of an employee’s rank. I later discovered that a B. A. or B. S. degree merited Afs. 200, an M. A. or M. S. degree Afs. 300, and a Ph.D. or M.D. Afs.400 per month over the base salary of the employee’s level that the holder of the degree occupied.
The next couple of months of officialdom changed my life style considerably. Father would not take any of my salary. I had more money than I knew what to do with. I purchased several tailor-made suits and karakul hats as it was required of me to dress well during office hours. We were offered lunch by the Department as it went with the job. I began to bring home fruits and delicacies which Father could rarely treat us to except during religious holidays or when we had some guests. I brought home articles of apparel and other household items as gifts to family members. I also had more dinner guests and went on weekend picnics with my new friends and colleagues. When it was my turn, I brought home what needed to be cooked for the picnic. With two salaries coming home, it really was a time of abundance as we could afford to enjoy most of life’s ordinary conveniences.
My immediate boss, the Director of the Section, was a former graduate of my school. He had gone on to the Law Faculty and had spent some time abroad afterwards. He had a better knowledge of English than I did. There also was a Ghazi high school graduate who had applied for a job and had been accepted as an employee in our Section with the same rank as I. Two other colleagues gave our Section a staff of four. Our Section undertook the task of compiling the dictionary. We divided the first four letters of the alphabet between us and began work. We would refer to the existing Dari and Pukhto dictionaries, as well as, the Collegiate Webster and write first the most appropriate word and then give a precise and concise meaning or meanings of the same on sheets of paper. By the end of the week we would revise the week’s work, write all the material neatly in longhand and present same to the Director. He would take his time to go over what we had done, make necessary alterations and corrections and then hand the finished papers over to secretaries who would type them. These would be gone over once or twice again for any flaws before being sent to the Government Press for the final step. However, it was soon decided that the printing should be delayed until the work was completed. I found out several years later, that this was a poor decision. Most of the work on the encyclopedia and the Dari dictionary was destroyed in a fire at the Pukhto Academy when thousands of pages of hard and serious work done by hundreds of people were turned to ashes, most of it never to be retrieved.
The loss was great but not irreparable. The Department forged ahead with the work on the Encyclopedia of Afghanistan but had to cut down on the Afghan Dari and Pukhto dictionaries. In the end the day came when the Encyclopedia was published and presented to the public.
In my new capacity as a government official, I came to know other officials and was instrumental in having a couple of my schoolmates get part-time jobs in our Section. This meant some additional work as I had to supervise their translation work.
Some days we would not eat at the Department’s dining facility. A few of us would just go out to a local restaurant and have seekh Kabab or kabab-i-tandori or kabab-i -Shami or some other delicacy.
That summer we often went to such resorts as Paghman or Istalif or Gulbahar or charikar, mostly within fifty to seventy miles of Kabul. We would sit around, chat, play cards, chess and enjoy the season’s fruits and our own cooking. The latter consisted sometimes of fish but mostly of choice lamb. We all conceded that women were the better cooks, but, faced with a predicament, we also turned out delicious soups, roasts and broiled meats. For drinks we used fresh river or spring water and hot tea. Coffee and soft drinks had not yet been introduced in Afghanistan and locally made carbonated drinks were, generally, considered unsafe. Our transportation to these picnic areas were either arranged by the one or two officials who had cars or by the public bus system and by bicycles. It did not bother us if we had to walk a few hundred yards to the picnic spot after alighting from a bus.
If you traveled about ten miles out of Kabul on the great trunk road toward northern Afghanistan, you actually entered a kind of heaven on earth. The region is called Kohdaman, literally meaning ‘mountain-foothills’. In reality it is the lush green and fertile valley abounding in vineyards boasting of dozens of grape varieties, orchards of various fruit trees such as peaches, apples, apricots, pears, walnuts, cherries, mulberries and all kinds of shade trees such as willows and poplars and the like. Those who lived in the region were financially well off for they were able to feed the Kabul markets with their products and, in fact, exported some to India and Pakistan.
If you had ‘an acre of land in Kohdaman, you were virtually a rich man. Those of us Kabulis who picnicked in Kohdaman, considered it a blessing for the region to be so close to us. We all enjoyed the hospitality of owners of the vineyards and orchards who let us picnic on their properties, even though it was customary to present the hosts with some monitory compensation.
Just beyond Kohdaman there were more lush valleys in an area known as Kohistan meaning the “mountain region”. This, too, attracted residents of the capital as a favorite resort area, but being more distant, only those who owned or could rent a vehicles, would go there.
Some famous villages and valleys of Kohdaman and Kohistan were: Gul Dara (flower valley), Shakar Dara (sugar valley), Istalif, Kah Dara (hay valley), Saray Khoja (Khoja Caravansarai), Qalai Muradbeg (Muradbeg Fort), Karezemir (Mir’s underground watercourse), Qarabagh (garden village), Gul Ghundi (flower hill), Charikar, Jabal Seraj (Seraj mountain), Gulbahar (spring flower), and more.
Little did I, and most of the rest of us, know that the smallest amount of dissatisfaction among a minute number of the youth in Kabul will one day attract the attention of the enemies of Afghanistan, the Red Bear to our north. The communists of the Soviet Union wanted to somehow have our country in their control. How fortunate that they found the nucleus for the pursuit of their evil plan within the Afghan capital to encourage discreetly and very carefully to expand their activities toward making Afghanistan a communist country if not a part of the Soviet Union. It took many years, but the sad day did come which resulted in the loss of almost two million Afghan lives and the destruction of the country to the extent that rebuilding the then existing infrastructure alone would require billions of dollars and years and years of hard work. It was during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan that the beautiful Kohdaman and Kohistan valleys received such devastation in the hands of the Soviets that nothing and no one can bring back what the region was at any time in the future.
Our conversations covered diverse subjects. We often discussed the day’s events and past, present, and future situation in the country. We discussed our own ideas about things. Some of us who had lived abroad, made comparisons and expressed hopes to see some of the positive conditions abroad also prevail in our society, some day. Perhaps not all of us realized that we were voicing the feelings of the period’s intelligentsia on all kinds of subjects. We were not politicians. The Constitution did not allow political parties. The government was in charge and had to do everything for the betterment of the people. More directly, it was up to the various ministries to draft plans, and to the ministers to bring them to the Council of Ministers for approval or amendment. If the measures needed to be made into law, then it was up to the government again to present them to the National Assembly for passage or rejection. After all, we were a part of the government and whenever we could, ask our superiors for improvements in our work environment. Oftentimes, we got it. So, our final position on the subjects needing attention, was to, somehow, bring them to a responsible source of the Ministry most directly involved and hope that proper attention be given to them. We seemed to be content with what was happening and did not contend for extraordinary things to be done for us and for our country overnight.
On the lighter side, we read poetry, made jokes, and recounted some of the jokes of Mula Nassruddin, which always caused hearty laughs, and generally had a good time.
When we were students, we were advised not to openly and directly concern ourselves with political and social developments. We were told that these were matters for when we finished education and started life independently. But it was clear that our studies opened up venues of thought about many things and we found it impossible to keep our thoughts to ourselves. We, therefore, resorted to finding bosom friends with whom to discuss such subjects even if only in private.
There also was a gradual, even though, not openly noticeable, change in public opinion regarding all that was, or was not, happening in Afghanistan. People had reached a point in their social and political consciousness when they thought it was not exactly correct to leave everything to the government and then to blame it for its shortcomings.
In the final analysis, was it not the government, consisting of a few select individuals from amongst us nationals who were given the responsibility to serve the rest of us to the best of their abilities? Was it not that the government also had the responsibility to check and balance our net deeds? Maybe we also needed some hints in doing our jobs better! The intelligentsia could no longer sit back and be mere observers of unfolding events. Times had changed drastically. It was no longer the 1920’s or 1930’s. We had already entered the Forties and our thinking pattern had also altered from mere observers to partners, however diminutive, in the nation’s progress. There were elements of discontent, carefully disguised and kept away from the majority of officialdom, as well as, from the general public, who would rather uproot the system and bring about change in the status quo. These were the underground leftists, the communists, who were led by outside interests to disrupt everything quite suddenly. We generally were unaware of them and if some elements in the government knew of/or about them, they didn’t think much of them and carried on as if everything was all right. It seemed so to us.
After the overthrow of Bachai Saqaw and the confirmation of Mohammed Nadir Khan as the next legitimate king (Loya Jirga of l930), Afghanistan again witnessed a period of development. The pace, however, was perceptibly slow, too slow, for the politically-conscious intelligentsia, while the masses were content that peace had finally returned and it was possible to eke out a living without bloodshed.
The first major measure undertaken by the new King was a new Constitution for Afghanistan.
The last Loya Jirga of the reign of King Amanullah revised the Constitution of Afghanistan (1923) to the point that not much matter of real import was left in it. A new Constitution had to be drafted (1931) for the country. It turned out to be somewhat similar to that of 1923. The drafters saw to it that it did not reinstate controversial subjects. For example, it did not abolish, outright, the traditional, religious and tribal more’s and rules. The National Assembly was to have 125 members elected from amongst tribal and local and religious authorities with a sprinkling of people of independent political affiliation. The Government, nominally under a prime minister, but actually with the direct involvement of the King, presented bills to the National Assembly for passage into laws.
The King was given the right to sign bills into law when Parliament was not in session. After such recesses, these laws were then presented to the National Assembly during its first few sessions for passage or modification.
The Constitution stated that Sunni Hanafi Islam would be the religion of Afghanistan and that the King shall always be a Sunni Hanafi Muslim. It went on to say that because of his role in the deliverance of Afghanistan, the crown of the land would be held by King Mohammed Nadir Shah’s family in accordance with the selection of the King himself and the people of Afghanistan.
All Afghan nationals were to enjoy equal rights in the eyes of the law. The Hindu and Jewish minorities were to enjoy the freedoms that the Muslims did. There would be no imprisonment without a legal and religious court’s decision. It was unlawful to take over private property unless a court of law or a legal authority ordered its investiture. Slavery was abolished. Forced labor was abolished. Elementary education was made compulsory all over the land. Appeal to a higher court was permitted in case of dissatisfaction with the decision of a lower court. Freedom of the press, whether governmental or private, was guaranteed. In line with this, the reporting of the National Assembly proceedings was free, statements by members, even those that were against government policies, were free to be published. There was to be a Senate of 45 members, mostly appointed by the King, who also had a role in the passage of laws.
There was to be Advisory Councils in every province of the country whose duty it was to advise the Provincial Governor in the conduct of his duties. In practice, however, the members of these councils were mainly directors of the provincial branches of the ministries of the central government who met regularly with the Governor to sort out their various problems locally. And when solutions could not be found, then the matters were referred to the ministries in Kabul for resolution. The Governor’s consent was always required by the central government in such cases.
Education made a slow but steady start. Wherever feasible, elementary schools were established to which only boys were enrolled, some times forcibly. All educational facilities were provided free. In some provincial centers middle and high schools were also established to eliminate the need for transferring graduating students to Kabul for higher education. In time, some high school graduates from these provincial centers were sent to boarding schools in Kabul to receive special education as teachers. They then returned to their provinces to carry on educational duties. Later, even girls’ schools were also established, first in Kabul, and then in some provincial centers, but this took many years to be accepted by the nation. Again, all expenses for education was provided freely by the government and this included University education whether in Kabul or in the Provinces.
The matter of building highways, even unpaved ones, with intent to interconnect all major towns and cities of Afghanistan and make truck transportation possible, was taken up seriously. For this, a department of road construction was created in the Ministry of Public Works with a Work Force, composed of army conscripts who served their compulsory military duty helping build roads all over the country. It is interesting to note that decades later, the Iranian Government created a ‘Green Force’ to help in the agricultural development of that neighbor country and the method of its creation was the same as the Afghan Work Force.
Public hospitals were established in all provincial centers and free treatment was offered everyone with any health complaint. A Medical Faculty was established in Kabul in 1932 which formed the nucleus of Kabul University. Other Faculties were such as: Law and Political Science (1938), Science (1942), Letters and Humanities (1944), Shar’iat or Islamic Tenets (1951), Agriculture (1956), Economics (1957), Education (1962), Home Economics (1962), Engineering (1963) and Pharmacy (1963) followed, over a long period of about thirty years, to make up the Kabul Pohantoon (university) of the sixties. Another Medical Faculty was established in Jalalabad, as a branch of the Medical Faculty of Kabul Pohantoon in the late sixties. This, too, was to be the nucleus of another University in Afghanistan some day.
King Mohammed Nadir Shah, however, did not live to see these developments. He was cut down brutally, in the fourth year of his rule, by someone attached to the family of his military rival, Ghulam Nabi Khan charkhi, whom, he was believed by some circles, to have ordered executed without any trial.
The 40-year reign of his son, King Mohammed Zahir Shah, took credit for most of the developments in the fields mentioned above and in many other fields of human endeavor to improve the lives of the Afghans throughout the land.
I see that I have digressed again. I was talking about myself and my colleagues, especially our section of Ariana Encyclopedia, and what we generally occupied ourselves with during our weekends.
I was not totally pleased with myself. In the back of my mind there was a feeling of uneasiness, anxiety and even uncertainty about my future. As just a high school graduate, I knew I could not easily climb the ladder of the official hierarchy toward a goal of better, more responsible service to my people. My education was also left incomplete while those classmates, with whom I was in tough competition during the high school years, were going ahead and achieving higher degrees and perhaps higher positions with the government at a later date. It would not be impossible that one of them one day would become my superior. To me, that was unbearable.
As the days and months passed by, my desire for higher education and my restlessness and a kind of lethargy in my daily work at the office increased. Finally, one day I sought the advice of a family acquaintance who was also a senior official of the Department. He told me that, as I already knew, he himself had no university degree but that was not going to stop him from attaining his goal, which was to work at the United Nations one day. He said he was certain that the Press and Information Department was providing him the venue for achieving his goal. He assured me that I could do the same. He was certain I would be where I wanted to be one day. He talked to me at length and almost convinced me not to follow up with my determination to go back to school.
[It pleases me to fondly recall that he did achieve his goal. He represented Afghanistan at the U. N. for many years and went on to also become President of the UN General Assembly.]
But that was not be for me. Barely a year had passed since my employment, when the Ministry of Education and the Department reached an agreement between themselves that I be separated from the Department in order to join the newly established Faculty of Letters and Humanities of the Kabul University as one of its first year students. Suddenly, I remembered that, in turning my appeal down a year ago, the Ministry had stated that I could only go to the Faculty of Letters if the Press Department permitted me to.
Once again my fate was sealed by the Government of my dear Afghanistan, without my knowledge or any consultation with me. I was sent to the Faculty of Letters and Humanities. Once again, I was a student in a field that I liked only as a hobby.
Higher education had been my goal. Here it was. Perhaps this was my only chance. I had better take it. I went without any anguish.