Center for Strategic Communication

Western authors commenting on various mujahidin leaders involved with Usama bin Laden often seem to go out of their way to make the individuals in question seem extra villainous. This has been especially clear in the case of Yunus Khalis. In English works on al-Qa’ida, we learn little about Khalis except that he a) helped to host Bin Laden in Jalalabad in 1996, and b) he apparently married a much younger woman when he was already an old man. There is disagreement about her age, but estimates range from 14-18 or so, with several homing in on the age of 17 years.

Westerners are not the only ones who have discussed the issue of Khalis’s age at his second marriage (his first marriage occurred decades earlier); his tribute Facebook page has been home to some arguments about this issue, and there is a famously awful joke about Khalis and his young wife that is well-known among eastern Pashtuns. Please don’t ask about it in the comments below. If you want to ask a Pashtun, just remember that it involves the BBC.

Even though this topic is commented upon widely, Khalis’s biographies are mostly silent about the circumstances of Khalis’s second marriage. There are clear reasons for this: these biographies generally avoid discussing any of the women in Khalis’s family, and the controversial age-issue in the case of Khalis’s second wife seems to have discouraged his biographers from broaching the subject.  It is not uncommon for elderly men in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan to marry young girls, but many members of the same frontier society have a negative view of the practice.

The air of indignation around Khalis’s marriage practices can be easily sensed by a quick perusal of some typical lines from recent western works:

  • “It was owned by one of Bin Laden‘s old sponsors, Younis Khalis, an elderly warlord with a taste for teenage brides.” Wright 2007, 255.
  • “Their most prominent patron from the anti-Soviet era was Younis Khalis, now an octogenarian who took teenage wives.” Coll 2004, 327.
  • “He picked up his daughter and kissed her gently on the cheek. I was told he had recently married a 17-year-old girl. I didn’t like the fact that he had, essentially, stolen her life. There was nothing decent or noble in this.” Van Dyk 2006.
  • “Khalis had a well-earned reputation for marrying young women. He took full advantage of Islam‘s allowance of four wives. In 1990, at age seventy, he married a teenager.” Tomsen 2011, 303.

But as it turns out, if Khalis was ashamed of himself, he went out of his way to hide his shame. Rather, he even went so far as to pen a poem under the title of “I am a Simple Man and…” which reads as a remarkably open and blunt love poem from him as an old man to a much younger woman. As a historian of the mujahidin movement I’m not interested in entering into polemics about the appropriateness of Khalis’s marriage in this kind of forum, but I do believe that it is worth treating these topics in a serious, and primary-source based manner. With that in mind, let’s turn to the poem.

Khalis’ poem is an odd piece, and for better or worse it will have to speak for itself. Even so, a few comments may assist in reading it clearly. The phrase “I will make you the flower in my turban” means something along the lines of “I will make you the apple of my eye” or the “jewel in my crown.” Additionally, Khalis often refers to himself in his poems as Nabi Khel, which is his sub-tribe within the larger Khugiani lineage. Finally Majnun and Farhad are famous male romantic icons from Persian literature.


I am a simple man …

Don’t run away, come, make up with me,
I’ll make you the flower in my turban, you’ll become my walking cane,
Don’t say “you’re old!” I’m 75 years old;
But now I have become young, and like you I am also a lover.
I am an expert in love, I am a scholar of the art of love,
If I’m not Majnun, well I’m not, but I am Farhad the Mountain-Striker.
Be a friend, be an acquaintance, I will become yours and you will become mine.
I’ll make you the flower in my turban, you’ll become my walking cane.
Ask the gardener; I am a nightingale and you the flower.
Upon the surface of calm waters you and I are forever together,
We are both one, there is no two, such that you could be one and I another.
Agree or disagree; I am yours and you are mine.
I’ll make you the flower in my turban, you’ll become my walking cane.
I’m dying sweetheart, hug me one more time!
I’ll make you the flower in my turban, you’ll become my walking cane.
Your rejection has broken my jaw and you laugh?
If this is your beauty mark on my chin, then you’ll pick them up and throw them down,
On this path of rejection you have broken the hopes of the lover’s heart.
I’m a simple man, you’re a little ahead,
Don’t run away from me, take some steps back.
I’ll make you the flower in my turban, you’ll become my walking cane.
I’m not a stutterer, I’m not mute, I am speaking your tongue.
When have you spoken that language with me?
At least make a promise to me today through someone else’s tongue,
And if it becomes tomorrow, you won’t have to explain.
Don’t reject me any more, become friends with Nabi Khel;
I’ll make you the flower in my turban, you’ll become my walking cane.