Hunger and a Lack of Diplomacy Are Driving Unrest: An interview with Ahmed Rashid.

AuthorDrake, Richard

Q: After graduating from Cambridge in the late 1960s, you spent some years in the province of Balochistan organizing a resistance movement against the military dictatorship of Pakistan. What inspired you to engage in guerrilla activities?

Ahmed Rashid: There was a lot of radicalization of students then against the war in Vietnam, protesting American policy there. You might say that radicalism was in the air everywhere. We all read Frantz Fanon. The Wretched of the Earth was a byword in the "Third World" to the revolutionary left. Che Guevara was the hero of everyone. Lesser-known revolutionary figures in Africa were very influential in the socialist circles of poor agricultural countries with very few resources. We also went through the drill of the major Marxists: Marx himself, Mao, Lenin, and other Russian revolutionaries. In Pakistan, we wanted our radical movement to be innovative and not repeat the mistakes of Mao, Stalin, and the others. We wanted to create an alternative movement that would be a big shift away from the authoritarianism of earlier revolutionary movements. But the movement ended because of internal divisions.

Q: Starting in the 1970s, you began your career in journalism. How did you break into the newspaper business?

Rashid: I had spent the last year of my time in the movement in Afghanistan looking after some 50,000 refugees from Balochistan. A communist revolution occurred in Afghanistan. It was a bit of a disaster because of its Stalinist character, which of course deeply antagonized the tribal Muslim people there. They rose in revolt.

When I subsequently came to London, people I knew there suggested that I earn some money by writing about the situation in Afghanistan. Nobody knew what was going on because the Soviets had banned all journalists.

Afghanistan became a very big media topic in the 1980s. I quickly found a gap in the media coverage where I could use my knowledge to write articles. Eventually, I returned to Pakistan under an amnesty scheme by a new government and continued my life as a journalist.

Q: Your first book, The Resurgence of Central Asia: Islam or Nationalism?, appeared in 1994. By then, the Soviet Union had broken up. The word "resurgence" in the title suggests optimism about the future. Did you see the post-Soviet era as a time of promise in Central Asia?

Rashid: At that time, there was a movement away from communism and Stalinism toward a redefining of their culture. Religion had been banned. Most of the Central Asian states were Muslim, but they had not been allowed to practice Islam. The people began to rediscover their rich cultural legacy.

What I found there was that people wanted to inherit their past and to understand it. There was no historical understanding about their tribal societies or the role of Sufism, the spiritual side of Islam, which had been very predominant in Central Asia. People were really hungry to understand this past culture. It was a real resurgence.

When I wrote this book, there was hardly anything available about Central Asia. No one...

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