Whom to Believe?

by Joshua Foust on 5/30/2009 · 12 comments

Pakistan Khuda Hafiz, a blog written inside Pakistan, seems to think Pakistanis have an identity as Pakistanis.

Ahmed Rashid, on the other hand, cleverly linked to by a very unpretentious Tom Ricks (Rashid is Ricks’ “proven provider,” whatever the hell that means), says very much the opposite. Rashid even goes on to say Afghans have a stronger identity as “Afghans” than Pakistanis do as “Pakistanis.”

Without getting into details, like the 20 million Hazaras and Tajiks who would probably dispute Rashid, I’ll just say I’m inclined rule against Ricks’ proven provider, who has only proven that he is increasingly unhinged as time goes on.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 12 comments }

Ian May 30, 2009 at 12:07 pm

Make whatever specific criticisms one will about Rashid (I have) but describing him as “unhinged” is not making a useful contribution.

What the “which national identity is more fractured” debate misses is that people can think they are both Afghan and Tajik, or Pakistani and Baluchi, at exactly the same time with no perceived contradiction.

Joshua Foust May 30, 2009 at 1:14 pm

Well, his commentary on the situation has always been overblown, as you noted at FEER. In this case, him making that specific argument also happens to promote his book very nicely, while all along arguing for himself as the sole insight into either Afghanistan or Pakistan. To me, by that point, it starts to part with reality.

Transitionland May 30, 2009 at 1:27 pm

My guess here is that Rashid is right, maybe. But that’s mostly based on my experiences with recently arrived Afghans here in the US. Most of the Afghans I know are Hazaras and Tajiks. The Hazaras use both “Afghan” and “Hazara,” and the Tajiks never refer to themselves as anything but Afghan unless asked about their ethnic background.

Transitionland May 30, 2009 at 1:31 pm

You know what, after I wrote that, I realized I left something out. The Afghans I know do refer to local identities, like Herati.

Ian May 30, 2009 at 1:39 pm

Transitionland, I would refer you to Christian’s excellent post about qawm to help understand how flexible identity is in Afghanistan, and how dependent upon context people’s answers are to the question “What qawm are you?”

Acid May 31, 2009 at 5:11 am

I would really say that to believe that Pakistanis dont have identity of Pakistani is a bit foolishness.

Pakistanis are Pakistanis & they have the Pakistani identity. Foreign guys coming up, dressing and nicking as Pakistanis wouldn’t hurt a bit to Pakistani identity.

sepoy June 1, 2009 at 8:57 am

The cover for Descent into Chaos was enough of a shock to my delicate senses, to resist reading the book. AR piece in NYRB is similarly incongruous. There are so many vague generalizations in that para you cite, to make it virtually un-intelligible. Afghans are tired after 30 years of war and seek peace and stability but Pakistanis are raring for a civil war? Pakistanis love teh Sufis but they will embrace Taliban’s call for Justice and Land Reform? On the question of identity, he is obviously on the wrong end of both analysis and history. Considering that subnationalisms have simmered in Sindh, Baluchistan, Baltistan, and Serayki since 1955’s One Unit schema in West Pakistan, it begs the question: how did it actually cohere after the trauma of 1971? As in most nation-states, through a well-founded national mythography that is propagated through state apparatus and an integrated economy that consistently demands capital and labor integration across the ethnic and linguistic lines. There are more Baluchis in Sindh, more Sindhis in Punjab, more Punjabis in NWFP etc. than is readily acknowledged. Baluchistan flared up after the Army’s inequities went into Army’s targeted assassinations of Baluchi leaders – but it remains telling that even now, a APC on Baluchistan proposed by Nawaz Sharif got an enthusiastic support in Quetta. Much more to say on this “identity” question, though.

Bart June 1, 2009 at 6:49 pm

People need to start calling out Ahmed Rashid more often. Go look through the works cited of his books. He writes books on the Taliban without actually talking to a single member of the Taliban. Someone should ask Rashid a simple question “how often do you go talk to the Taliban?”
Usually that is what is called bad journalism. Maybe that’s why Tom Ricks has such an attraction to him.

Bart June 1, 2009 at 6:55 pm

Also, Tom Ricks can’t be classified as an “independent journalist.” He is an affiliate of the US military and everything thing he says on Af-Pak has to be seen in that light. That’s why he latches on to Ahmed Rashid’s portrayal of the country. He is trying to set a narrative that fits what the US Army wants to do in Af-Pak. Does anyone think that if Tom Ricks started asking serious questions about US strategy that he would have the same access?

Ian June 2, 2009 at 5:23 am

Not to provide a blanket defense to Rashid, but he was well acquainted personally with many of the leaders of the Taliban government before 2001.

And Ricks has been pretty straightforward in his attitude toward US Army strategy, at least in Iraq. He’s one of only a few that is willing to point out how Iraq isn’t going quite as well as the post-Surge narrative would have you believe.

I understand there’s a little feud now between Registan and Ricks, but the petty bloggy sniping doesn’t do anything for me as a reader.

Bart June 2, 2009 at 6:01 am

If Rashid was so well aquainted with the Taliban how come his book “Taliban” does support that. Look at the works cited. They dont suggest he was personally aquainted. Moreover, 2001 is ancient history as far as US policy in Afghanistan. Even if we assume that he may have been “personally aquainted” in 2001, then means very little in 2009.

Joshua Foust June 2, 2009 at 12:31 pm

I agree with Ian: the problem isn’t Rashid’s first book on the Taliban, which I still think is an excellent overview of the phenomenon, it is that ever since he has had to push that tack, and he sometimes goes overboard with it. His book Jihad was, I thought, laughably bad. Descent into Chaos I can’t speak to, since I haven’t read it. But his hyping of the book and its thesis—ESPECIALLY considering his post-2001 reputation for identifying everything as the end of things as we know it—makes him, in my mind, a rather less reliable “proven provider” than his reputation would otherwise suggest.

And Ricks and I don’t have a feud. He’s copped to trying really hard to being funny, which just doesn’t seem to be a highly developed skill. I’ve stopped caring about the whole thing.

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