An Everyday Story of Afghan Folk
I've been listening to a strange and amazing series on Radio 4, courtesy of BBC iPlayer. (I originally posted that this was only available to my UK-based readers, but apparently it's only TV replays you can't get from the BBC.) It's An Everyday Story of Afghan Folk, five 15-minute episodes of a soap opera written and directed by Liz Rigbey. It's based on the hit soap Da Pulay Poray, which is broadcast by PACT radio to bioth sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
I'm not sure what I'd expected from a Pashtun soap: probably a sanitised version of Afghan life in accordance with what the Americans and British imagine they are leaving. In the event, I got a warts-and-all picture of life in a tribal area. The family around which the drama is based is headed by Akbar Khan, who seems to be the local organised crime boss as well as a tribal leader. His younger son is heavily involved in his criminal business, and the first storyline has one of the son's old jail companions turning up asking for refuge: he's murdered two men whose relatives are after him. As the series goes on we have the inevitable arranged marriage drama, the superstitious old granny and the devout older son who is too upright to take part in the family business. We also have another murder, and a loan arrangement by Akbar which is not just un-Islamic, it's like something out of the Beverly Hillbillies' Drysdale Bank. In all, the series resembles EastEnders as scripted by Quentin Tarantino. It makes no attempt to whitewash the dodgy stuff that goes on in tribal areas, but it does make it clear that a lot of the locals are scandalised by it, as I'm sure they are in real life. As would undoubtedly be the case with an equivalent soap from Yemen, it's all about tribal loyalties: family right or wrong. More Al Capone than al-Qaeda, more Godfather than God-fearing.
It is tempting to divide Afghans into religious fanatics (the Taliban and their supporters) and peaceful law-abiding civilians. This series provides a salutary reminder that the situation is more complex, and that the tribal lands in particular are full of what we would term gangsters, neither religious nor honest. And of course the latter group is fantastic raw material for drama.
Here is the link to the first episode. It will be available until next Monday (25 June), with the other episodes a day behind. I recommend it.