How has your sense of Afghanistan’s future changed over the year?
I was in Afghanistan early in 2003, and in those days, there was virtually no insurgency. There was this very heady optimism about where the country was headed — gender equality, rights for girls and women, people being able to participate in an open and representative political process.
Over the years we adjusted our expectations, and over time we came to expect that, well, that was all a pipe dream, but at least what we can hope for is a compromised sort of democracy, with corruption and all sorts of issues. There’s been a lot of progress in the last 20 years in Afghanistan, and that gave me hope. And of course, over the last couple of years, those hopes have declined. And in the last few days, they have been utterly crushed.
What should people be reading to better understand Afghanistan and Afghan people right now?
They should be reading history books. They should be reading people who really know Afghanistan and know it well. A lot of people have relied on my books to kind of get a view into what Afghanistan is, and that’s fine, but I have never intended for my books to be representative of what Afghan life is. I hope people dig much deeper than that and read history books and learn more about Afghanistan in that way.
But there has been an uptick in demand for your books. Is there anything you want people to know who are picking up one of them for the first time?
These are stories. This is the perspective of someone who has lived in exile, essentially since 1980. I’ve always been very careful about making sure that people don’t mistake me for some kind of Afghan ambassador or Afghan representative. I haven’t lived there in a long time.
But I do have a perspective, and I have a deep affection and a deep emotional connection with the people there, with the land, with the culture, with the history and the heritage. I hope my books provide a little bit of insight on what Afghanistan is, beyond the usual story lines.