I’m curious: has anyone out there ever personally heard an insurgent (or any Afghan, for that matter) use the proverb, “You have the watches, but we have the time”?
I’ve heard it quoted grimly by a lot of NATO military personnel, and of course it’s been repeated ad nauseam by the media. But it sounded strange and inauthentic to me from the first time I heard it in 2003. I never saw it attributed to an actual Afghan; many early reports openly called it apocryphal, before it took on a life of its own. In my admittedly limited experience, I’ve never heard it used by an Afghan. But it’s a familiar phrase in other parts of South Asia and Africa, where it’s used very differently: to contrast the soulless Western rat race with the local good life.
In the Afghan war context, it seems oddly condescending and inapt to me. The Taliban may have had a stormy relationship with modern communication technologies, but there was never a point at which they banned the wristwatch. Today the insurgency is well-stocked with cell phones and sat phones and laptops — all complete with digital timekeepers. Do the insurgents really love to taunt us with their lack of watches? Or do we just really like to imagine them saying it?