Khalilullah Khalili , born in 1907 in Kabul province, was Afghanistan’s foremost 20th century poet as well as noted historian and university professor. He was one of the pioneers in introducing modern Persian poetry and Nimai style to Afghanistan.
He wrote exclusively in Persian and is sometimes associated with Tajik nationalist ideology. He belonged to the Persian-speaking Safi clan of Kohistan (modern Parwan). His father, Mirzā Muhammad Hussein Khān, was King Habibullah Khan‘s finance minister and owned mansions in Kabul and Jalalabad, but was later dismissed and hanged by Habibullah Khan’s son and successor, Amanullah Khan. His mother was the daughter of Abdul Qādir Khān, a regional Safi tribal leader. She died when Khalili was seven.
After being orphaned, Ustad Khalili spent the turbulent years of King Amanullah’s reign in the Northern Plains of Kabul where he studied classical literature and began writing poetry. He, then, joined his uncle Abdull Rahim Khan Safi, the then governor of Heart, where he remained for more than 10 years.
In 1945, when some elders of Safi-Clan rebelled, both Khalili and his uncle were imprisoned. After one year of imprisonment, Khalili was exiled to Kandahar where he flourished as a poet and writer.
In the 1950s, Khalili was allowed to return to Kabul where he was appointed as minister of culture and information and began teaching at Kabul University. He became a confident to King Zahir Shah whom he often joined on hunting expeditions.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Khalili, who was fluent in Arabic, served as Afghanistan’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Iraq. He was a member of the 1964 Constitutional Assembly and a representative from Jabal al-Siraj.
Following the April 1978 Communist coup, Khalili sought asylum first in Germany and then in the United States where he wrote much of his most powerful poetry about the war in his native land. In the late 1980s, he moved to Islamabad, Pakistan, where he spent his final years. He was buried in Peshawar next to the tomb of the Pashto poet Rahman Baba.
On May 29, 2012, Khalil’s oratory was buried again in the city of Kabul. “Ustad Khalili belongs to Afghanistan” were the words uttered by his son, Masood Khalili, at the burial ceremony. Mr. Khalili expressed his gratitude to the commission who was made in charge of the re-burial of his father’s oratory and to the high officials who had attended the ceremony. “Hi spirit is resting in peace now that he is buried in his motherland’s soil,” said Mr. Khalili.