Taliban De-Persianizing Afghanistan Culture: Roots and Ramifications
Story Code : 1099442
In this connection, a member of the Taliban who was recently appointed as president of Takhar University called on his employees to avoid using “foreign” words like “daneshgah and daneshkadeh, Persian words for university and college. He called their use “running against the national culture of Afghanistan.” Kamaluddin Munib requested his office to avoid using such words as transcript of scores, diploma, certificate, pishnahadat and makateb (Persian words for proposals and offices). The letter contains Pashtun and Arabic words which are not considered foreign.
Recently, the Taliban destroyed the statute of Mollana Jallaluddin Balkhi, a Persian poet, in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif. Last week, Mollawi Diaulhaq Karimi, the Taliban member who was appointed the president of Balkh University, blocked a graduation ceremony set for the Persian literature students and even refused to sign their graduation certificates.
The group even recently removed the Persian sign of a Herat clinic, replacing it with a Pashtun and English-language one. According to Afghanistan women news agency, the move drew widespread reactions from citizens in Herat who said that the Taliban intends to eliminate the Persian language in Afghanistan with such measures while each language has its own speakers and place. A majority of Herati people speak Persian, also called Farsi.
Gaps between government and people
The efforts to eliminate the Persian language and replace it with Pashtun is not limited to the Taliban and over the past century various Afghan rulers, mainly Pashtun, have countered Persian in Afghanistan. However, under the Taliban this aim is being followed more seriously.
Taliban’s efforts to de-Persianize Afghanistan culture in today’s modern world is based on no correct logic. To support this argument, we can refer to the words of the Austrian-British philosopher Karl Popper who said that disproving the theory of others does not prove your hypothesis and theory. This can be generalized to politics, culture, and society. Considering these words of Popper, we can argue that the Taliban’s efforts to strengthen Pashtun by eliminating Persian will not work since if a culture and language is rich, it unconsciously finds its place in the society and no language can be imposed on the society. Afghanistan society has spoken Persian for centuries and it is a difficult job to destroy such a culture and language.
Despite seizing the power for more than two years, the Taliban have failed to gain legitimacy among Afghans and have further fueled social divisions with their strict laws. And now if they want to remove the Persian language from the Afghan society, they will expose themselves to cultural accusations of the minorities. Because changing the language and culture means breaking away from the history and past of a country, and Afghans will take a stand against it.
Persian is one of the oldest languages in the world, which, along with some famous languages, has a high position among the people of some countries. So, along with this noble and rich language, Pashtun speakers can interact with other nations. The Taliban may remove some statutes or ban correspondence in Persian, but they cannot remove the poem and other books people have at their homes.
Escalation of tensions with Iran
Having in mind that Persian is the common language with Iran and Tajikistan, the Taliban’s measures will trigger some tensions with the neighbors.
Ostensibly, the Taliban leaders claim that they are seeking to strengthen relations with Iran in all fields, and they recently traveled to Tehran to sign commercial agreements to pave the way for bilateral cooperation in the future, but with the actions they are taking, they are actually moving opposite to their promises.
Struggling under the Western economic sanctions, Afghanistan needs the help of neighbors like Iran to solve some of its internal problems. Tehran has repeatedly expressed its willingness to cooperate with the Taliban interim government, but Kabul’s countercultural policies not only do not strengthen relations, but also send the bilateral relations in chill.
From another aspect, countering the several-thousand-year-long Persian cultural and language will further isolate the Taliban government. Actually by such measures, this group burns its bridges which are now available and help it interact with Persian-speaking nations.
The Taliban claims that its new rule is different from that of the past and it intends to interact with the world this time. But in action it has shown that it still clings to its beliefs of three decades ago. The Taliban should learn from Tajikistan, a country which was under Soviet dominance for 70 years and where the communists tried to eliminate Persian language and culture but still has Persian as its main language and still cherishes this language 30 years after its independence from the Soviet Union. Even Turkey, which has no major bonds to Persian, lays claims to such Persian poets like Mowlana, whose all poems are in Persian, to enrich its culture using this Persian culture symbol. But the Taliban push to eliminate the Persian language despite the fact that a majority of Afghans speak Persian and this language accounts for a major part of the nation’s identity and history.
The Taliban advertise English despite recognizing the US as their top enemy, but at the same time do not tolerate Persian which is according to the constitution the country’s official language beside Pashtun.
The Persian language has existed for several thousand years in Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan and has become a part of the history of these countries. Therefore, confronting this rich culture is a futile measure that will go nowhere as did not the measures of its predecessors.
Hassan Rezaee, an Iranian translator and sociologist, in an interview addresses the historical similarities of counter-Persian actions in Afghanistan and Tajikistan, saying that both the Taliban and the Soviets as ideological regime share much. The radical ideological regimes do not tolerate cultures, views, and histories different from those of them. Under communism, the identities were suppressed in favor of communist cosmopolitanism, and as a result, all other identities were excommunicated. The communism disappeared at the end of the road, however. The Taliban, likewise, are fighting their identity that is thousands of years old and are doomed to fail. Persian is the language of administration and history of Afghanistan and Afghan rulers ruled the country for centuries with this language and a group as rootless as the Taliban cannot fight it and if they do, they will certainly fail.
Foreign scenarios and anti-Shi’ism of radicals
In many plans the Taliban design for Afghanistan, the foreign actors and hardliners can be tracked. Although the US does not recognize the Taliban government and has even blocked $7 billion of Afghan assets, it is making great efforts to pit the Taliban government against Iran and other regional rivals of Washington. By fueling the divisions in the region, the US intends to use the Taliban for its evil purposes. In the meantime, Persian as a strong cultural bridge between the history and identity of the two nations of Iran and Afghanistan is a great obstacle on the way of these evil schemes. This project was even observed in the dispute over Helmand River water share between the two countries.
In addition to foreign plots, some Taliban hardliners are following an anti-Shi’ist agenda. Haqqani Network, for example, has taken many measures against the Shiites in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Hazaras, a Shiite minority in northern Afghanistan, are not immune to the hostile actions of this radical group. The Hazaras speak Persian and the efforts to remove Persian from Afghanistan’s culture and society is regarded a kind of hostility to the Hazara Shiites.