Abdul Bari Jahani is an Afghan poet, novelist, historian and journalist.
He was born in Ahmad Shahyee area of Kandahar city, in the south of Afghanistan. Jahani often recalls his old good days of childhood in Kandahar where he spent most of his teenage years and talks about how Kandahar was once a melting pot and a common home for all ideologies and beliefs. In his Raazo-Niyaaz book Jahani talks about how he grew up playing in Kandahar as a kid and how peaceful Kandahar was during his high school time. Jahani believes that before leftist communists began their public protests and demonstrations, Kandahar was a common home of religiosity; spirituality and intellectuality where people looked up to enlightened figures and respected them. Jahani says poetry is something that comes to him naturally as if it is a gift from God. He never had a teacher to train him in poetry. He regrets his negligence of not collecting his early poems when he first began writing Pashto poems during his secondary school years. He says if he had known early enough about how important those poems were for him and for the society, he would have had several other books besides what he wrote. Jahani believes in education of the society and considers pluralism and co-existence as the most important ingredients of a healthy, stable and secure society. His poems are inviting all Afghans from all walks of life to leave behind their historic differences and work for a united, strong, prosperous and stable Afghanistan – a country that all regardless of their ethnic orientation and language could call home and feel pride in.
Jahani is from the Hotak tribe, a sub-tribe of Ghilzai, one of the two main tribes of Pashtuns. Abdul Bahari Jahani considers the diversity of Afghanistan with various tribes and ethnic groups as the country's strength, and thinks that Afghans have shown throughout the history of their country that they are united and one hand. Their unity is better portrayed when they face an outside threat as a nation or when their country is celebrating a national victory.
Abdul Bari Jahani completed his primary, secondary and high school in Mirwais Nika high school of Kandahar city--- a well -known public school in the south. Kandahar University was not yet built when Jahani finished his high school. Upon completing his high school at Mirwais Nika, Jahani only had two options for his higher education. He could either move to Kabul to study what he wanted to study which was history and literature or move to Nangarhar province—home to the second Afghan university at the time in the country. He chose the former one because unlike Kabul University where students had the option to pursue various majors, Nangarhar University only offered education in the field of medicine. Jahani graduated from Kabul University in 1972 with a BA in Pashto literature and history. Upon his graduation from Kabul University, Jahani joined the Pashto Tolana which is a very prestigious literature body in Afghanistan whose members have been prominent Afghan philosophers, historians, poets and writers. Getting into Pashto Tolana is the equivalent of getting into Harvard Law Review if someone was pursuing legal education in the U.S. Pashto Tolana approves the entrance of new terminologies into Pashto language and is tasked to develop Pashto language to be richer in terms of new vocabulary. Jahani had tremendous contribution to the development of Pashto language while at Pashto Tolana.
Besides being a member of the Pashto Tolana (Pashto Society), Jahani served as the Managing-Editor of a well-known Afghan magazine, Kabul Magazine. Under his leadership, Kabul Magazine witnessed considerable increase in its readership. In his capacity as the Managing Editor of the Magazine, Jahani oversaw the flow of hundreds of informative and educative social, economic and political articles aimed at keeping the Afghan public aware of the state of affairs of their country. Subsequently, Jahani served in the Afghan Ministry of Education (MoE) for two years before he was forced to leave the country during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Jahani’s mission from the very beginning was to inspire Afghan society to walk towards knowledge and education and for that noble goal he join the Afghan government’s education sector. Communists and leftists feared voices of prominent figures like Jahani and began a government planned campaign against influential and intellectual figures. Jahani migrated to Pakistan as a refugee and after two years of living as a refugee there, Jahani was offered a job with the Voice of America in Washington DC. Jahani accepted the offer and joined the Voice of America’s Pashto service in 1983 as an International broadcaster. He has contributed extensively to Pashto language programing of the Radio. Jahani hosted political talk shows, news hour shows and poetry shows at the Voice of America. His poetry show of late 11PM called “Da Ashnayaano Adabi dera” had listeners in the entire South Asian region and the Middle East. His poetry show had listeners from different age groups including youths and elders. One of his most famous poem which had a huge demand and continues to have, was the story of “three cows and one wolf” that was written in the language of poetry. The moral of the poem is unity. Like most of his other poetry, in his “three cow one wolf” poem Jahani speaks to his audiences in a plain, natural and understandable language. He warns them of what is at stake if Afghans remain divided and what could be achieved if Afghans leave behind their differences and get united behind a common goal of building a prosperous, stable and peaceful Afghanistan. Jahani continued to use his able mind and pen and VOA provided him the platform to convey his message of enlightenment to various parts of Afghanistan. With Jahani’s contribution and dedication to excellence and his prominence and popularity amongst Afghans, VOA’s Pashto service ratings and listeners have soared. Jahani’s career as a journalist with the Voice of America has earned him several recognitions and medals from the leadership of the Voice of America. He retired from the Voice of America in 2010, but never ceased to end his advocacy for Afghan unity, Afghan education and Afghan prosperity. He regularly gets offers to speak at various Afghan events held in Afghanistan, Middle East, Europe and the United States and regularly gets interview request by various Afghan TV and Radio stations in Afghanistan and around the world. Not only that Jahani’s articles about social, political and economic situation of Afghanistan are well received by various public and private print and online media outlets in Afghanistan and around the world. Jahani regularly visits Afghanistan and speak at various events including seminars discussing Pashto literature and education.
Jahani often refers to the hardships of leaving behind the place where he was born and learned how to walk. His obsession with his homeland, Afghanistan and his constant commendation of all parts of Afghanistan in his poetry has earned him a special place in the hearts of all Afghans from all walks of life and from all ethnic groups. Through his poetry, he commends the beautiful rivers, mountains, ranches and deserts of Afghanistan and how expresses pride in them. In his Wraka Mena ( lost home) poetry collection, Jahani expresses his deep love and compassion for his homeland Afghanistan. The title of the book means lost homeland. In Jahani’s words this book is dedicated to those who have been convicted by fate, whose mouths have been forcibly shut by the unjust rulers and whose pens have been limited by the people of the time.
Jahani is a prominent Pashtun poet of the 21st century. He is considered to be the contemporary Rahman Baba and Khushal Khan Khattak who are two prominent Afghan warrior poets of the 17th century. Jahani’s poetry has various themes including epic, romance, patriotism, bravery and a message of enlightenment. He has published dozens of books in poetry and has translated several Persian poetry books from Farsi into Pashto in the language of poetry which is a difficult task to undertake. Besides that Jahani has translated several English books into Pashto. His main poetry books include:
The Moshko Karwaan (د مشکو کاروان)
Wraka Mayna (ورکه مېنه)
Razo-Niyaaz (رازو نیاز)
Da Sabawoon Pa tama (د سباوون په تمه)
Koi toor (کوه طور)
Jahani’s novels and history books include:
Da Pashto pa soor aw taal ki da gharbee sandaro shrang ( د پښتو په سور او تال کي د غربي سندرو شړنګ)
Herat, Pashtana aw Stara Loba ( هرات، پښتانه، ستره لوبه)
Da Khiyam Robayat da Pashto Pa Taal ki ( د خیام ربایات د پښتو په تال کي)
Jahani is considered the most prominent Pashtun poet of the contemporary era. Because of his prominence in Pashto literature and poetry, he was officially requested by the President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai to write the Afghan National Anthem in late 2006. Prior to that, Jahani also advised the Afghan commission tasked with writing the new constitution in 2004. Jahani's anthem (Pashto: ملي سرود - Milli Surood; Dari: سرود ملی - "Surud-e Milli") was adopted and officially announced at a meeting of the Loya Jirga in May of 2006. The English translation and the Pashto transliteration of the Afghan National Anthem are as follows:
Jahani is considered a very influential person in Afghanistan and politicians often rely on his influence over all Afghans particularly Pashtuns in the South and East of the country. Presidential hopefuls during both 2005 and 2009 elections have tried to get Jahani to back their bids for presidency to attract more voters from the south and the east of Afghanistan. Jahani is believed to be in favor of politicians who work for all Afghans regardless of their ethnicity and political affiliations. Jahani believes in a united Afghanistan and often backed leaders who represent all Afghans from all ethnic groups. Jahani backed Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai in the 2009 Afghan presidential elections. Ashraf Ghani is amongst the potential candidates to be the next president of Afghanistan in the April 2014 presidential elections.
Jahani was supported by a large number of Afghans, particularly youths to run for president himself in the 2014 elections, but he chose not to and his favorite candidate for the presidency is yet to be determined. Whomever Jahani sides with will have a better chance of victory in the southern region of Afghanistan. If one person could unite Pashtuns of the south in the contemporary era, it will be Jahani because there is a lot respect in Afghanistan particularly in the south for his sense of patriotism, his pride in the Afghan history and his intellectual abilities. Jahani is a strong critic and opponent of corruption in Afghanistan and his intellectual crusade against the rampant corruption of the Afghan government has impacted his relationships with President Karzai who has a long-standing friendship with Jahani. Their friendship witnessed further rift when Jahani backed the bid of Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai for president in the 2009 elections of Afghanistan in which Hamid Karzai won a second term in office.
Jahani is criticized by some for basing some of his poetry on an epic theme which according to critics invites people to war and violence, but his proponents not only defend his epic poetry and his efforts to depict Afghan history in the language of poems, but also claim that Jahani’s poetry invites Afghans to unity, solidarity, peace, education and progress. His recent poem that sparked a national debate amongst scholars about what role intellectuals could play in conflict resolution efforts was about a suicide bomber and his mother in which he depicted good through the role of a desperate mother and bad through the role of a brainwashed son who wanted to carry out a suicide attack for a quest to earn heaven and salvation. Some critics viewed the poem as recognition of suicide attacks as a legit and glorifying act while others viewed the poem as informative and educative for those people who fall victims of terrorists and extremists. The poem lets mother mercy and humanity win over the hatred, violence and evil of the to-be suicide bomber son. The poem is written in a dialogue form between a mother and a son.