Jeffrey Black | Middle East Diaries


Pushtunistan: Riyadh, 19th January 2008
January 19, 2008, 2:12 pm
Filed under: Saudi Arabia

My taxi driver this morning proudly claimed to be from Peshawar and that he was a Pashtun. Of course. He loved it when I said he was from Pashtunistan. After half an hour of trying to explain in his rotten Arabic that Islam was the seal of the prophets and so on and that I ought to accept it, he then said that Benazir Bhutto was a Shia, and not a muslim, and that it was from her mother’s side. I looked surprised. He was right, of course. I had forgotten that.

Prayer time at Diraa’. Fifteen minutes before prayer time, the gate of Masmak Fort is resolutely shut, never mind that there is Ibn Saud’s arrow head faithfully embedded in it. It’s shut, and there is no entrance until after the prayer. So I sit in the vast, vacant, and low-lit Diraa’ Square while the call goes out. Slowly a stream of men from all directions proceeds calmly through the massive portals. They come from the clothes market, the gold souq, the police station, the honey merchants, the barber shops.

North of Sq Dira, North of Masmak Fort, where Ibn Saud’s companions fought so bravely (I found out it was largely by deception that they gained entrance to the compound, as one of them dressed up as the woman that normally brought al-Rashid his breakfast in the morning..), there is a subtle but definite transformation: from the heroic exploits of Arabia to the streets of Pushtunistan. Al-Dhahirah Street, which is mostly lined with textile vendors, is suddenly Chitral, or Gilgit. Flat bread and cheap textiles. Toeless plastic sandals on a cold night, worn with woollen cloaks, the chitrali caps.

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