On Afghanistan

Lawrence of Arabia DocumentaryWe are accustomed to seeing Afghans through bars, or smeared windows, or the sight of a rifle: turbaned men carrying rockets, praying in unison, or lying in pools of blood; boys squabbling in an empty swimming-pool; women in burn wards, or begging in burqas. Kabul is a South Asian city of millions. Bollywood music blares out in its crowded spice markets and flower gardens, but it seems that images conveying colour and humour are reserved for Rajasthan.

Barack Obama, in a recent speech, set out our fears:

Show more
the-new-york-times-logo-vert

The ‘Good War’ Isn’t Worth Fighting

First published in the New York Times, 23 November 2008. Afghanistan does not matter as much as Barack Obama thinks. Terrorism is not the key strategic threat facing the United States. America, Britain and our allies have not created a positive stable environment in the Middle East. We have no clear strategy for dealing with […]

Intervention

How to Save Afghanistan

First published in Time magazine, July 17, 2008. It is summer now in Kabul, the snow has largely melted from the 15,000-ft. (4,600 m) peaks, and I am sitting with my friends Hussein, Nabi and Zia in the garden of a 19th century fort. Nearby, 10 carpenters who work with my nongovernmental organization (NGO) are […]

the-new-york-times-logo-vert

Where Less Is More

Published in the New York York Times, 23 July 2007 America and its allies are in danger of repeating the mistakes of Iraq in Afghanistan Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and even some Republicans are insisting on withdrawing from Iraq and sending more troops and resources to southern Afghanistan. The Bush administration’s gloomy National Intelligence Estimate […]

the-new-york-times-logo-vert

When Less Is Best

First published in The New York Times, 20 March, 2007. Why are we in Afghanistan? Vice President Cheney talks terror, Britain focuses on narcotics. The European Union talks ‘state-building,’ others gender. On a different day, the positions seem interchangeable. Five years ago, we had a clear goal. Now we seem to be pursuing a bundle […]

the-new-york-times-logo-vert

Our Echoes Come From You

First published in the New York Times, 24 March 2007. Afghanistan is now both more and less than a nation. Dialects of its official language are spoken from Iran to India. Its greetings and rituals are recognizable in Chechnya. Kabuli woodwork incorporates motifs from Syria, the Mughal Empire and pre-Islamic Uzbekistan. On Tuesday, I heard […]

the-new-york-times-logo-vert

What We Can Do

First published in the New York Times, 27 March 2007 We must acknowledge the limits of our power and knowledge in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere and concentrate on what is achievable. The question is not “What ought we to do?” but “What can we do?” This is rarely discussed. When I ask politicians whether we can defeat […]

the-new-york-times-logo-vert

An Afghan Policy Built on Pipe Dreams

 First published in The New York Times, March 3, 2007. The international community’s policy in Afghanistan is based on the claim that Afghans are willing partners in the creation of a liberal democratic state. Senator John McCain finished a recent speech on Afghanistan by saying, “Billions of people around the world now embrace the ideals […]

the-new-york-times-logo-vert

The Looting of Turquoise Mountain

First published in The New York Times In a deserted maze of narrow gorges in the central mountains of Afghanistan, I turned a corner and saw a tower. It rose 200 feet, a slim column of intricately carved terra cotta set with a line of turquoise tiles. There was nothing else. The mountain walls formed […]