The Washington Post’s Amar C. Bakshi offers a very solid interview with my friend Ahmed Rashid conducted at his house in Lahore. Rashid is the author of Taliban (which I understand is the bestselling Yale University Press book of all time) as well as several other volumes dealing with radical Islamic movements and their activities in Central Asia, and is one of a tiny handful of journalists who had actually spent serious time on the ground in Central Asia studying the subject before 9/11. If there are a half dozen real experts on Afghan politics in the English-speaking world, Rashid is definitely one of them.
Here’s a teaser from the interview, which is best consumed whole:
Until Bush came into office, Ahmed thought his words mattered to America. In the 1980s, he discussed Taliban resistance with ambassadors over tea. In the 1990s, he collaborated with policymakers to raise Afghanistan’s profile in the Clinton White House. But during the Bush administration, he feels his risky research has been for naught.
The administration has “actively rejected expertise and embraced ignorance,” Ahmed told me inside his fortress. Soon after the Taliban fled Kabul in late 2001, Ahmed visited Washington DC’s policy elite as “the flavor of the month.” His bestseller Taliban had come out just the year before. The State Department, USAID, the National Security Council and the White House all asked him to present lectures on how to stabilize post-war Afghanistan.
Ahmed traversed the city’s bureaucracies and think tanks repeating “one common sense line”: In Afghanistan you have a “population on its knees, with nothing there, absolutely livid with the Taliban and the Arabs of Al Qaeda . . . willing to take anything.” The U.S. could “rebuild Afghanistan very quickly, very cheaply and make it a showcase in the Muslim world that says ‘Look U.S. intervention is not all about killing and bombing; it’s also about rebuilding and reconstruction…about American goodness and largesse.”
Counterterrorism is one of many areas where the Bush Administration has “actively rejected expertise and embraced ignorance.” But why should this area be any different from dealing with hurricanes, global warming, bridge maintenance and mine safety?