A friend just gave me the great news that their group in New York is going to go interview Malalai Joya and asked whether I could suggest any questions. This is partly because, about 18 months back, in December 2011, a group of leftists I was involved with in Lahore organised the somewhat ambitiously named “Pak Afghan Peoples Dialogue for Peace and Progress“. The guest of honour (at least, in the minds of us young’uns) was Malalai Joya, whose story of heroic, genuinely grass-roots struggle we were/are all in awe of.

So, after a few hours in which I only came up with one interesting question, I had to admit, once again, that I know so little about Afghanistan… its geography, its tribes, their cultures, really, very, very shallow level of understanding.

and it’s effing next door, they’ve been living among us all my life (literally) and I have never engaged with them as a culture.

fuck American TV – or at least my absorption in it. it’s the same with India, China and Iran. come to that, with Sindh and KPK too.

I feel totally inadequate trying to come up with interesting questions for the interview. All of them are in some sense instrumental – I want her to reaffirm what I want to hear. aah, this is too bad. got to do better.

luckily, this country has lots of Afghans too. gotta go find me a nice, friendly one who can educate me.

and in the meantime, let’s start assembling a basic info-pack:


Major geographic features, rivers, mountain ranges, deserts, watersheds


  • What is the population of the country?
  • Urban/rural distribution?
  • Major cities by population
  • Distribution of the population by tribes, by languages, by religious (and, naturally, sectarian) affiliation, with associated geographic mapping
  • Overall population density map showing provincial boundaries


  • Per capita GDP, since 1970, compared over same time period with neighbouring states and with a couple of recently independent states with comparable populations
  • Major products
  • Major industries
  • Biggest exports and imports
  • Proportion of population surviving on subsistence-level farming or hunting-gathering
  • Significant tariff barriers encountered and put up, by product and trading zone
  • Major trade partners by country
  • Trends over time as well as absolute and relative values of:
  • arms trade
  • illegal drugs trade
  • legal drugs trade
  • foreign aid
  • foreign direct investment
  • An accessible yet thorough essay on the war economy from 1977 to now


  • languages and dialects
  • traditional occupations
  • societal structures and institutions, e.g., family, clan, tribe, castes
  • particular customs
  • clothing
  • food
  • traditions of music and dance
  • … and of other crafts
  • husbandry
  • nomadism
  • festivals
  • sports

Photos, lots of photos. And videos and song and poetry recitation recordings. And cooking recipes!!

So, to all the Afghan and Afghan-friendly people out there, lend me a hand!!

I’ll keep updating the information on this post and I suppose eventually it could become a good set of pages. A mini-project.

Meantime, you could do worse than listen to the fearless and outspoken Malalai Joya:

Maybe then, one could begin to ask sensible questions.

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