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.
- By David KennerDavid Kenner is the Middle East editor at Foreign Policy. He is based in Beirut, Lebanon, and has been with FP since 2009 (a long time, he knows). He worked for FP previously in Cairo, where he covered the early days of the Arab Spring, and before that in Washington. He has attended Georgetown University and the American University of Beirut and has reported from Libya, Egypt, Gaza, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq.
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.