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 […]

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 […]


Article first published in The New York Times on 12 March 2007. The accepted wisdom in British political circles is that Tony Blair won three elections by giving the British voters charisma and energy unfettered by dull or controversial policies. The Tories have now taken the lesson to heart. They are fighting back with feel-good, idea-light […]

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 Value of Their Values

 First published in The New York Times, March 7, 2007. I began my career as a Foreign Service officer in Indonesia. There, journalists, diplomats and aid workers emphasized that local government was “incompetent, inefficient and corrupt.” I heard the same when working in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq. My colleagues often seemed contemptuous of the […]

Turn to Tolstoy

First published in The New York Times, March 13, 2007. Politicians have taken to publicizing “reading lists.” President Bush, we were told, last summer was to read a comic historical novel on the first Afghan war and Camus’s “The Stranger.” The Tory members of the British Parliament were issued weighty books on Middle Eastern politics. […]

Make the Lords Stand for Election? First, Let’s Sit and Think

First published in The New York Times, March 17 2007. When I visited Baghdad in 2003 and 2004, I found senior people in the Coalition Provisional Authority largely uninterested in events in the province where I was based. They focused on writing a draft constitution for Iraq. Paul Bremer III was excited about the document […]


Interview first published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty by Heather Maher on 18 August 2006. In the winter of 2002, a 29-year-old Scotsman set out from Herat, in western Afghanistan, to walk 800 kilometers to Kabul. Rory Stewart — an Oxford-educated former British Foreign Service officer — was told to expect to meet death along […]

Even in Iraq, all politics is local

First published in The New York Times, July 13, 2006. A great many of the failures in Afghanistan and Iraq arise from a single problem: the American-led coalitions’ lack of trust in local politicians. Repeatedly the Western powers, irritated by a lack of progress, have overruled local leaders, rejected compromises and tried to force through their […]


Article first published in The Independent on 22 June 2006. It takes a mild effort, on meeting Rory Stewart, not to do a double-take. I knew he was young, but surely not this young? He is slight, with blue eyes and a wide, guileless smile, and my first thought, seeing him at his publishers’ offices, […]