Afghanistan and Kabulitis

by Aoife Carolan, Cultural Dramaturg

Amanullah Khan

Amanullah Khan

Kabulitis is set, in part, when the playwright’s Afghan father, M.H. Anwar, returned to Afghanistan with his American wife in the 1940s, during a period of great upheaval in Afghan history. After the abdication and exile of the progressive monarch, Amanullah Khan, in 1929, Afghanistan endured a prolonged and difficult state of transition as different tribal leaders battled for power. Nadir Khan, who had been Amanullah’s Minister of War, finally triumphed, founding the Musahiban monarchy, Afghanistan’s last royal family. After Nadir Khan’s assassination in 1933, his son ascended to the throne at nineteen years of age. His uncle Hashim Khan took on the role of Prime Minister for the next two decades and effectively ruled on his nephew’s behalf.

Hashim Khan

Hashim Khan

Hashim Khan established the Musahiban’s reign by prioritizing border stability and military strength. He abolished Amanullah’s Soviet policies, which had sought to improve the rights and education available to women, and grew closer to Germany. Afghanistan benefited greatly from increased trade, training and friendship with Germany before World War Two but remained neutral to appease Britain and the USSR and stave off the ever-looming threat of invasion. Amidst this external pressure, progress within Afghan society ground to a halt as Hashim Khan relied on religious law to govern the people.

MAP OF AFGHANISTAN’S MAJOR ETHNIC GROUPS

MAP OF AFGHANISTAN’S MAJOR ETHNIC GROUPS

“[Hashim Khan] sedulously curried the toleration of the khans and mullahs, particularly among the dominant Pushtuns, by excluding foreign influences, reining in modernization and acceding to tribal prerogatives at the local level. The ulema (Islamic clergy) enforced Koranic law throughout the country. During this period, young men who returned to Afghanistan from their studies abroad armed with notions of forging a unified republic to lead Afghanistan into the modern world ran up against a mud wall of resistance.” [Keith Anwar, Afterword, Memories of Afghanistan]

M.H. Anwar

M.H. Anwar

M.H. Anwar was called before Hashim Khan regularly to defend his wife, who refused to wear the chaderi or live in seclusion. Eventually, it was clear to the Anwars that their efforts to introduce new ideas were not being heard and their safety was becoming increasingly threatened. They were finally forced into exile in 1943.

In the 1970s and 1980s, after the collapse of the monarchy, a civil war and the Soviet invasion, Afghanistan began to make some serious progress with women’s rights under a Soviet-supported Communist Party government . These reforms gave women, the opportunity to work and greater control in issues of health, marriage and education. But the brutal Soviet occupation, which had killed over a million Afghans, tore the country apart and created the conditions for religious fanaticism and terrorist groups. Another grueling civil war led to the fall of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan and the seizure of power by the Taliban regime, a militant Islamist group notorious for their brutality and terrorism, in 1996.

Phyllis Anwar

Phyllis Anwar

The Taliban maintained the policies the Mujahideen, a union of seven parties of fundamentalists, had put in place as the interim government during the civil war. They had systematically dismissed all female public figures, television presenters and civil servants and closed down the schools for girls. The laws and prohibitions they put in place, based on their interpretation of Sharia Law, were more severe than any other regime in Afghanistan’s history or any other Muslim state. They also established a Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice which mandated that “Women do not need to leave their homes at all, unless absolutely necessary, in which case they are to cover themselves completely; are not to wear attractive clothing and decorative accessories; do not wear perfume; their jewelry must not make any noise; they are not to walk gracefully or with pride and in the middle of the sidewalk; are not to talk to strangers; are not to speak loudly or laugh in public; and they must always ask their husbands’ permission to leave home.” [Hafizullah Emadi, Politics of the Dispossessed: Superpowers and Developments in the Middle East, p. 44]

The Anwar Family

The Anwar Family

Most of Kabulitis is set in January 2002, in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre. For the Anwar family, who were deeply invested in the social progress of Afghan society, the Taliban’s reign in Afghanistan would have been a tragic obliteration of their hopes for its people. The subsequent war between their two countries would have surely been a sad and conflicting affair. Afghanistan is a country always in flux, which has not yet been privileged with the stability and independence necessary to found and nurture a united society.

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