Interview with Ahmed Rashid: Changing Balances in South Asia and Turkey between East and West

Aksel Ersoy*


Ahmed Rashid is an award-winning journalist and one of the world’s foremost experts on Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Taliban. Christopher Hitchens described him as “Pakistan’s best and bravest reporter”. He has written four books “The Resurgence of Central Asia: Islam or Nationalism? (1994)”; “Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia (2000)”; “Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia (2002)”; “Descent Into Chaos (2008)”. He writes articles for The Washington Post, The Daily Telegraph, BBC Online and The Nation; and appears regularly on international TV and radio networks such as CNN and BBC World. In 2001 he was awarded the Nisar Osmani award for courage in journalism. Recently, Foreign Policy Magazine revealed its annual list of 100 Top Global Thinkers and Ahmed Rashid is listed as No.51.

Aksel Ersoy: What motivated you to go back to Pakistan after you graduated from Cambridge University? 

“This strategy combines the military surge i.e. sending 30.000 troops to Afghanistan and civilian surge that is to step up development especially areas like agriculture, to increase the development of infrastructure, and to start building up the Afghan economy, which Bush administration completely failed to do. “ 

Ahmed Rashid: Well, it is my country and I wanted to do something there. I wanted to work on number of social and political issues which I started during my education. I wanted to write books about Pakistan, I wanted to write my thesis. I had many plans. That’s in fact, what brought me to Pakistan. My interest in the tribes, the nomadic way of life and what this means in modern day development theory and how this could be used or benefitted from.

Aksel Ersoy: As you know, After Obama, there is a significant alteration concerning the Afghanistan strategy of USA. What do you think about the Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy of Obama Administration, especially about sending 30.000 more troops? From your perspective, is it a positive development? Do you think that this strategy can pacify Afghanistan and the region?

Ahmed Rashid: I think it is a comprehensive strategy and it should have been done much earlier. This strategy combines the military surge i.e. sending 30.000 troops to Afghanistan and civilian surge that is to step up development especially areas like agriculture, to increase the development of infrastructure,

“… it is also very important to recognize the sanctuary that the Taliban have in Pakistan that is also something Bush never recognized and that the Obama administration does recognize and is trying to deal with it with aid and diplomacy and pressure and all sorts of things.”

and to start building up the Afghan economy, which Bush administration completely failed to do. This is an economy that is self sufficient and that can generate revenues for the Afghan government. Also there is the third aspect of this strategy that is to agree to willingness to talk to the Taliban, whether at a tactical level i.e. with foot soldiers and commanders, or whether at a strategic level with the leadership of the Taliban. I think it is three pronged strategy. I think it is also very important to recognize the sanctuary that the Taliban have in Pakistan that is also something Bush never recognized and that the Obama administration does recognize and is trying to deal with it with aid and diplomacy and pressure and all sorts of things. I think we have a very comprehensive strategy of Obama administration However, the danger is the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated so much in the last couple of years. The Taliban is now controlling by insurgency. They have large areas, shadow government in many provinces. All this is a very big problem.

Aksel Ersoy: What do you think about moderate Islam?

Ahmed Rashid: I don’t think there is such a thing as moderate Islam. There is Islam as 99% of Muslims know it, and there is extreme interpretation of Islam as carried out by al-Qaeda and such groups that really has no relevance to the Islamic thought, Islamic tradition and history, etc. What we need to do is to stand up to that minority view which is extremely dangerous. It seems to me it‘s becoming more and more attractive to a lot of young people. We need to stand up to that. However, unfortunately, the crisis is becoming worse because the Ulema in the Arab World and the South Asia elsewhere haven’t sufficiently stood up to those extremists. Their interpretation of Islam completely distorted the religion and really these groups are all about political power. They want to take this political power rather than necessarily be, I don’t call them proponents of Islam, I call them people who want to keep political power.

Aksel Ersoy: What do you think about Turkish Foreign Policy and Turkey’s role in the region and in her neighbours?

Ahmed Rashid: As a member of NATO, Turkey played a very positive role by supporting the NATO operation in Afghanistan. It had commanded the Isaac force back in 2003. So Turkey has been very much a league player. However, one problem is that Turkey isn’t clear in the role it should have in helping reconstruct Afghanistan. The other problem is Turkey’s relationship with Dostum is very close that is very suspicious for many Afghans. Because Dostum is wanted for all sorts of human rights abuses and the killing of Pashtuns. In one way Turkey’s influence over Dostum is positive as I think it has kept

“…Turkey has to reconcile with its minorities if it is to emerge as a proper democracy as a Muslim country. It must reconcile its all national minorities.”

him under control as it were. On the other hand, many Afghans are aware that Turkey is not necessarily at totally neutral power because it does support and it has sympathy for Turkish minorities in Afghanistan rather than perhaps others. So there is a slight controversy over Turkey’s role in Afghanistan but broadly speaking I would say that Turkey has a very positive role in Afghanistan. On the neighbours I think Turkey could play a greater role in trying to deal with this issue in the Taliban sanctuary in Afghanistan. Although it has excellent relations with Musarraf, excellent relations with the military here, it has been very reluctant to take on this issue even though Turkey has been affected very much by the fact of these sanctuaries.

Aksel Ersoy: What do you think about Turkey’s membership to the EU?

Ahmed Rashid: It will be hugely beneficial for Turkey, Europe and Muslim world if Turkey becomes the part of EU. I think Turkey would play a much larger and more positive role in the Middle East to find a peace settlement. Turkey could help detract some of the very strong right wing anti-Muslim feeling in Europe. Turkey could also be a bridge to the South Asia and Iran, diplomatically and on many different fronts and it can play a very important role if it becomes a part of Europe.

Aksel Ersoy: What do you think about Turkey’s Kurdish problem?

Ahmed Rashid: I think Turkey has to reconcile with its minorities if it is to emerge as a proper democracy as a Muslim country. It must reconcile its all national minorities. Look at the situation in other multi national states like Afghanistan and Pakistan. These countries are also multi national and multi ethnic and they are living together. I think Turkey has to reach out to its minorities and also equal citizenship and equal opportunities. That’s the only way to suppress/undermine the militant movement amongst the Kurds. PR

Note:
* Aksel Ersoy is a Doctoral Researcher at the University of Birmingham. He is a member of CESRAN Executive Board and the Director of Economic Studies.

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