Afghanistan's first postwar finance minister has now set his sights on reforming the country from the ground up, calling out his former boss, President Hamid Karzai, for corruption and failure. Here, the poetry-loving Pashtun speaks with FP about his troubled homeland's past and future.
I remember touring Afghanistan with my wife back in 1975, ’76, and ’77 — there was this immense hospitality about the Afghan people. It was an Islamic culture, but they practiced an incredibly tolerant version of Islam. It was nothing like what exists in parts of Afghanistan today.
The nouveaux riches, as I call them — the warlords who currently rule Afghanistan — are a relatively new phenomenon. They rose to power essentially because of the CIA. And they brought with them a totally different way of ruling Afghanistan, which really obscured many of the best qualities of Afghanistan.
Dean Acheson is a figure that I admire greatly, even though I think he’s sometimes forgotten in America. He was integral to building the Marshall Plan, even though George Marshall gets much of the credit. Deng Xiaoping in China is also very important. People talk of Mao Zedong, who attempted these Great Leaps Forward — but whenever he attempted one, tens of millions would die or be impoverished. Deng really took China in a totally different direction, with profound consequences.
Pashtuns are fiercely individualistic, and they are very proud. No Pashtun will ever admit that another Pashtun is his natural superior. So what you always have is competition for leadership, and in these competitions someone must win. It could be a young man, or it could be an old greybeard — but the key notion is that, once the competition is over, both the winners and the losers should be deserving of respect.
Ben Pauker is executive editor at Foreign Policy. Ben came to FP in May 2010 from World Policy Journal, where he was managing editor from 2007-2010. A native of New York, he grew up in Brazil, Australia, and Thailand and has written for Harper's, the Economist, and the Chicago Tribune, among other publications. He is the co-founder of the Gastronauts, the world’s largest adventurous-eating club, and, in the course of reporting but mainly to see if it was possible, has smuggled small arms out of Central Africa.| In Box |