From 1995 to 2001, Afghanistan suffered from unrelenting drought, bringing great difficulty for many of the country’s most vulnerable populations–predominantly its poor farmers. In her poem “Appeal,” Nadia Anjuman pursues the horrible reality of drought in earnest: the earth’s “lips are dry, her heart on fire / It is like looking at death.” Every stanza provides another image that links the parched land with fire, with death, with upheaval. The most remarkable image in the poem appears in the second stanza, where Anjuman writes: “Come, for the emerald mountains of the city / have worn mourner’s clothes for ages.” She offers us the beauty of verdant hills, only to take them away from us in the next line–the dead flora itself providing the signifier for the mountain’s (and the people’s) mourning.
A rough sequence of events in Afghanistan from 1995 to 2001 indicates that the incredible drought the country suffered coincided with Taliban rule:
1995: The Taliban begin to gain power and support in Afghanistan
1995: An extensive drought throughout Afghanistan begins
September 1995: The Taliban take over Herat
September 1996: The Taliban take over Kabul
October 2001: The United States begins “Operation Enduring Freedom”
November 2001: The Taliban falls from power
Winter 2001: The drought ends with a major snowfall
It’s hard not to read the timing of these events as more than mere coincidence, or at the very least, a terrible one. Indeed, they influenced one another, as the combination of violence and lack of rain often led to displacement within the country. The many-year droughts, which only began in recent history after the rise of the Taliban, continue to plague Afghanistan. The most recent finally abated in 2011.
Nadia Anjuman wrote a handful of poems that address the drought, and my inclination is to read them as metaphors for the more sinister issue of Taliban control. This is not to say that the drought was not terrible and very much worthy of lamentation in verse; its effects were indeed vast and devastating. Yet the drought, as metaphor, may have enabled the poet to address other sources of oppression indirectly. We can only speculate. At the very least, a direct link between the perpetual terrors imposed upon the population by its government and those imposed by its environment was forged in many of the people’s minds.
– Diana Arterian
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