Taliban Humour: Death by a Thousand Jokes

By Arif Ayub

Taliban Humour II – Death by a Thousand Jokes, by Arif Ayub

Apart from making jokes, the mullahs’ second favourite past time was marrying young girls, wheedling the bride price (a common practice among tribal Pashtuns) from Mullah Omar, who used to keep his treasury in a large tin box under his bed. While congratulating one of them on his recent marriage to an eighteen year old I discovered he had paid Rs 30 lakhs to the bride’s father. After recovering from the sticker shock I told him he must be out of his mind, since no woman was worth that much and he should have bought a Toyota Land Cruiser instead. He replied that I had spent too much time abroad and lost touch with reality. A young bride was better than a Land Cruiser and he just had to ask Mullah Omar for more money and buy the Land Cruiser as well. Moreover, if the wife was worth over Rs 30 lakhs the daughters would be worth even more.

Since Kabul was an important posting the Foreign Office had sanctioned a generous sumptuary allowance for a prescribed list of gifts which we usually used for providing lungi sets (six yards turban cloth plus mullah regulation size, ten yards for shalwar kameez). While thanking me for the gift one of the mullahs asked me if I had any Viagra
as he had just married for the second time. Since I did not have the medicine I gave him a lecture on the dangers of using it, especially for heart patients. The mullah was not impressed so I wrote to the Foreign Office asking for permission to purchase medicines from the sumptuary allowance. Unfortunately our Foreign Office did not have the same sense of humour as the Taliban and I never received a response.

The Talibans’ knowledge about Pakistan’s ethnic balance was quite limited. Once I was checking in a delegation in a hotel when I noticed the daily room rental list showing $5 for Afghans, $5 for Pashtuns, $25 for Punjabis and $50 for ‘farners’. I went to the Tourism Minister and complained about the discrimination and not mentioning our Baluchi, Sindhi and Kashmiri ethnic groups. While ignoring my demarche about discrimination the Minister declared that apart from the Pashtuns, everyone else from Pakistan would be considered as a Punjabi.

The Taliban came in for considerable criticism for their handling of other ethnic groups in Afghanistan, their preferred method of dealing with dissent being similar to the Russian tactics of genocide coupled with a scorched earth policy. However, towards religious minorities they were extremely considerate. In Kabul there was a functioning Gurdawara which they had helped to renovate and the 200 Sikhs left in Kabul invited me as chief guest for Baisakhi. After the ceremonies, while we were leaving, the Taliban Chief of Protocol told me I had gone too far today. I was surprised by his reaction and replied that my presence would help publicise and demonstrate how well the Taliban were treating religious minorities. He said that was all right but in the one year I had spent in Kabul he had never seen me in the mosque but was now meeting me in a Gurdawara.

The topic came up again when Rustam Shah Mohmand (by now a complete fundo with a long beard) was appointed as my successor to the Northern Alliance Government that replaced the Taliban. The Mullahs questioned the sanity of the Government of Pakistan in appointing someone like me to deal with the Taliban and someone like Rustam to deal with the Northern Alliance. According to them it should have been the other way round.

On my lack of beard issue the Taliban were much more relaxed. During an official dinner they introduced me to the Head of the Department for Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue who was carrying a beautifully embroidered whip complete with tassels. They explained that the whip was for people without beards and who did not pray. Then while two mullahs held his arms they told me they would give me a five minute head start before they released him. This joke generated so much hilarity among the mullahs that the Head had to shrink slink away out of embarrassment. However they were pretty rough with the ISI on this issue. An ISI official complained to them about my being the only person in the country without a beard and their response was that at least I was not a hypocrite like them who kept their beards in Kabul and shaved them off as soon as they returned to Islamabad.

I met the Head of Vice and Virtue again when I was asked to make a demarche against his policy of making the Hindus in Kabul wear yellow arm bands. While lodging the protest I mentioned that Hitler had done the same to the Jews and international opinion was therefore was linking the two issues. The Head seemed genuinely confused about the fuss generated by his action and asked ‘Who was Hitler?’ I told him to forget Hitler and explain the reasons he thought it necessary to issue the edict. He said the problem was that his foot soldiers were ‘sons of donkeys’ and while forcing the Muslims to pray in the mosques were also forcing the Hindus as they could not tell them apart. The armband was therefore necessary to save the Hindus from the overzealous guardians of Islam. I suggested that perhaps his religious police could check for circumcision before forcing people into mosques but he did not think it would be practical. Luckily better sense prevailed in the Foreign Ministry and the law was changed.

I normally used to wear shalwar kameez in Kabul but while proceeding on leave by UN aircraft via Kabul airport I usually dressed in a three piece suit, leading invariably to taunts from the Mullahs who saw me on the tarmac, shouting ‘ Mr Ambassador, it seems the Islamabad air has already touched you at Kabul airport.’

Getting back to the Taliban imposter, I hope Ali Zafar is getting his cut from the money doled out since the story is very similar to his movie 'Tere Bin Laden', a case of truth imitating fiction at best or copyright infringement at worst. How the Americans can even think of winning against an enemy who refuses to take them seriously is difficult to imagine.

The Taliban have the measure of the Americans and seem to have decided that this is a cash cow that is better to milk than to slaughter. The US better get out before they change their minds.


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©Jules Stewart 2010