The following is an article that appeared in The News Pakistan and was written by Rahimullah Yusufzai.

The Afghans possess a strong sense of history. They are justifiably proud of their heroes, who are referred to as ‘qahraman’ in native languages Pashto and Dari (Afghan Persian). Most parents, even if uneducated, make it a point to name their offspring after some of those great personalities from the past.
It was, therefore, not surprising that President Hamid Karzai named his son as Mirwais. Those familiar with Afghanistan’s history should know that Mirwais, a Pakhtun warrior from Kandahar, was the founder of the original Afghan state. Subsequently in 1747, Ahmad Shah Abdali founded the modern state of Afghanistan, which was built on the edifice created by Mirwais. No wonder then that Mirwais is revered by the Afghan people, and it shows when they commonly refer to him as Mirwais Neeka, a Pashto term used for a respected fatherly figure. His mausoleum near the city of Kandahar is often visited by grateful Afghans to offer prayers and refresh memories of their glorious past.
Mirwais is a common Afghan name. Though Mirwais Neeka was a Pashtun, the name is not confined to Pashtuns and one frequently finds Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkmen, etc named Mirwais in every part of Afghanistan. Such is the Afghan pride in this genuine hero who took the first strong steps to establish the state of Afghanistan.
The Afghans are also proud of Mahmood Ghaznavi and Shahahuddin Ghori, the Afghan conquerors of India. Many Afghans weren’t amused when the government of Pakistan named some of its missile systems after Ghaznavi and Ghori because they consider them as their heroes and are possessive of everything Afghan. Former Afghan information minister Makhdoom Raheen, now ambassador to India, had used a different argument to oppose Pakistan’s naming of its nuclear-capable missiles after Afghan heroes. In his view, Pakistan was being jingoistic by naming its destructive new weapons after the much-adored Afghan heroes. It wasn’t a very convincing argument because Ghaznawi, Ghori and Abdali were all warriors and naming weapons after them wasn’t something unique. The reason for his opposition to the Pakistani move was none other than the Afghans’ possessiveness for Afghan heroes. Many of them don’t want to share those heroes from the past with other nations.
The Afghan ‘qahramans,’ or heroes, aren’t always male. The name of Malalai as a popular Afghan heroine immediately comes to mind. She was the brave girl who took part in the battle of Mewand, fought near Kandahar, in which the Afghans under the leadership of Wazir Akbar Khan defeated the formidable British army. She nursed the injured and gave water to thirsty Afghan fighters. She did all this in the thick of the battle and fought off enemy soldiers. Malalai of Mewand as she is often referred to became a household name in Afghanistan. Every Afghan village and street has girls named Malalai. Being named Malalai instantly confers pride on girls and prompts every acquaintance of theirs to know more about Malalai and the battle of Mewand. History is thus told and retold and memory of that memorable Afghan victory over the British troops is kept alive. Zarghoona is another Afghan heroine and there are more recent ones as well.
During a recent visit to Kabul, President Karzai spoke to me about attempts by ‘inimical” forces to erase Afghan history. He didn’t name those forces but nothing was left to imagination that he meant Pakistan when he alleged that the Taliban during their rule omitted teaching of Afghan history and heroes from the school syllabus in Afghanistan. In support of the argument that the Taliban deliberately removed portions of Afghan history from the curriculum, he recalled asking questions about past Afghan heroes from two young men with vastly different backgrounds. One was his cousin Izzatullah, an expert in computers but not much familiar with Afghan history. The other was the nearly illiterate Abdul Wahid, who lost 17 members of his family in Nato bombing of a village in Panjwai district in Kandahar during a big anti-Taliban offensive last year.
According to Mr Karzai, there were gaps in the knowledge of the two young men about Afghan heroes and history. He said Abdul Wahid, who was invited by him to come to Kabul to offer him assistance and share his pain after having lost almost all his family in the aerial strikes, knew about Mirwais Neeka and Ahmad Shah Abdali because their names were familiar and their graves were in Kandahar. But he was unaware of past Afghan heroes such as Ghaznavi, Ghori and Wazir Akbar Khan because he lacked formal schooling. More disturbing for President Karzai was the inadequate knowledge of his cousin Izzatullah about Afghan history and heroes. The reason for this as he saw it was the Taliban policy to omit texts of the glorious Afghan history from the syllabus when Izzatullah and other youngsters were growing up and studying at school. Mr Karzai felt this was unpardonable and the Taliban must answer as to how such a thing happened.
When pointed out by this writer, President Karzai conceded that children of Afghan refugees were taught Afghan history in schools run by the Pakistan government with help from foreign donors in camps for refugees in the NWFP and Balochistan. If Pakistan wanted the Afghan kids not to learn Afghan history it could have changed their school curriculum in the refugees’ camps. Still Mr Karzai insisted that the Taliban policy not to allow full teaching of Afghan history in Kandahar and other provinces under their control was something deliberate and dictated from outside. There is no way one could remove Mr Karzai’s misgivings about Pakistan at a time when he believes Islamabad is once again backing the Taliban and undermining his beleaguered government’s efforts to extend its writ to southern and eastern Afghan provinces hit by Taliban-led insurgency. But if one looks at the issue differently, his concern about the preservation of Afghan history and heroes in the minds of the coming generation of Afghans explains the heightened sense of the Afghan pride in their past. And that is the reason that one comes across so many Afghans named Mirwais, Babrak, Zalmay, Malalai and Zarghoona.

To read more Afghan/Pashtun names and their meanings please visit: