Even though Afghans didn't take to the streets to protest the killing of Osama Bin Laden by U.S. forces last week, the mention of his name still carries a lingering sense of respect, even admiration, in some parts of the country.
Many are grateful for his role in repelling Soviet forces during the 1979-80 war, which pitted the mujahedin, or holy warriors, against the Soviet Union. Bin Laden, who as a child inherited a large sum (reports range from $30-300 million), used his resources to supply heavy weaponry and set up training centers for the Afghan mujahedin. Many around the country believe the Soviet forces would not have been defeated without his assistance.
Today, at least two generations of Afghans are sure to remember his name: the veterans of the 1979-1989 war and the survivors of the Taliban 1996-2001 regime, which idolized figures like bin Laden.
Still others credit bin Laden -- and by association, the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001 -- for making the country a new global priority. Before 9/11, the world saw Afghanistan as something of a backwater, a country torn apart by years of bloody civil war and mired in poverty. All of a sudden, after 9/11, everyone cared about what was happening in Afghanistan.
In 2004, I returned to my village, Khanai. There I met with girls of my age who couldn’t read or write but were talented enough to create songs and express their thoughts in poetry.
I remember listening to poems that portrayed bin Laden as a lion, fighting fearlessly against the Afghan National Army, forces referred to as "rats" in the poem. The verses both shocked and saddened me.
My village is located in Afghanistan's mountainous south-west, in Ghazni Province. A road still doesn't connect it to the rest of the world, and women still serve time for crimes their men commit. Its residents are still waiting for a hospital to be built. Moonlight nights are still reserved for family gatherings. People still don’t have electricity, and donkeys make for transportation. It's a place of simplicity, locked in the past.
Victims of extremism and terror, the young girls living there were almost aliens to the developed world. They had little understanding of their rights as human beings. In a way, by praising bin Laden they were making a statement about just how little the Afghan government had won their love and support.
From the 1996 rise of the Taliban until today, many poems about bin Laden have been memorized by these illiterate girls in small villages. Now that they have joined the canon of Afghan poetry -- an art form that remains integral to modern-day Afghan society -- it will probably take years to erase his name from popular culture.
Afghans, it is said, do not forget their friends or their enemies. Depending on your ask, Bin Laden is both.
-- Farishte Jalalzai