Dispatches from AfPak: How Exciting!

by Joshua Foust on 6/22/2010 · 9 comments

Naheed Mustafa is a Canadian freelance broadcast and print journalist. She’s currently on a reporting trip to Pakistan and Afghanistan and will be posting dispatches from her trip.

ISLAMABAD – In 2008, just before my first trip to Afghanistan, I spoke to a fixer who came highly recommended. He promised me all kinds of adventures: “Madame, I will take you on the Kabul-Kandahar highway and you can wear a burqa. Journalists love that!” I thanked him and said I’d grown up around those blue shuttlecock burqas – they weren’t terribly interesting — and what would I learn from driving on the highway? “But, Madame, everyone thinks it’s exciting!”

I came to hate that word – exciting.

I had spent the previous three months pitching stories to editors – radio shows, magazines, and newspapers – about Afghanistan and Pakistan. They all wanted something exciting. After all, it’s Taliban country and there are soldiers and guns and awesome technology and things that blow up! But there are people there, I’d say, who are living their lives and trying to get on with things and the conflict doesn’t sum up the whole region.

Ah, but that’s not exciting.

News coverage of the poorly named AfPak still focuses primarily on insurgency, troop movements, and the minutiae of official briefings. The average person is present only to the degree they can comment on these things.

Of course, Pakistan is full of people who write poetry and work for human rights and try to build civil and social institutions. It’s obvious that people here fall in love, that they have hope. Pakistanis are no less interested in seeing their nation prosper than Americans or Canadians or British are in seeing their own countries progress.

The Afghanistan that I’ve come to love is, for me, as much about sharing dinners in friends’ homes, teasing their children, and trying to share some of the frustrations they feel with all that is left unresolved in their country, as it is about the incrementalism of war.

But the stories that illuminate the human face, the big picture, are hard to sell. They’re not exciting. It’s not interesting to read about how Afghans see corruption in their daily lives or how Pakistanis try to run businesses in the face of an ever-worsening energy crisis. It’s not a thrill to see unintended consequences spill over into the lives of regular folks.

I pitched an editor a piece about what women stood to lose in the face of Taliban reconciliation and the backing off of internationals. He asked me to “explain why anyone should care.” Apparently human decency isn’t enough reason.

And so I find myself back in this region, AfPak, a lousy name slapped on to a lousy situation. There are a million stories here that would captivate, that could show the people in this region are more than just victims deserving of pity. I’ll be working on some cultural stories, something for a travel magazine, an oral history of some of the Pashtun tribes, a radio documentary about demographic shift in Pakistan. I’ve found a home for most of these stories but I’m hoping to make Registan the home for my random samplings of daily life (or maybe just my rants).

When Joshua Foust first offered me a spot on the blog, my first reaction was to say thank you, but no. The blog seems to be home to people with an academic understanding of the region and my journalistic observations would surely cause a stampede of comments. But then I thought, why not. I’ve never blogged and it could be interesting. At the very least, it’ll be exciting.


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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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{ 9 comments }

Amil June 22, 2010 at 11:31 am

Good luck Naheed!

I hear your frustration. I would say the great thing about blogging is that you can prove to editors that there is interest in a topic they fail to get “excited” about. Even if they don’t change their minds, it is at least satisfying in a one finger salute sort of fashion.

If you find yourself in Islamabad in July, come and say hello.

Karaka June 22, 2010 at 2:35 pm

I pitched an editor a piece about what women stood to lose in the face of Taliban reconciliation and the backing off of internationals. He asked me to “explain why anyone should care.”

Please consider writing this piece and publishing it, here or elsewhere. I consider it necessary reporting, by far.

Prithvi June 22, 2010 at 7:58 pm

Here’s what I wonder when someone brings up bringing elements of the “moderate” Taliban into the government. What sort of concessions would they demand? Control of the ministry of interior, or defense, or have their own picked men in the judiciary?

And would they be truly content to only partially hold power? It seems not improbable that with a foot in the door, they might attempt a coup, especially if they feel support from certain elements of Pakistan’s government would be forthcoming.

Grant June 23, 2010 at 4:50 am

What I’m more interested in is who are these ‘moderates’ supposed to be? That phrase could mean anything and I am fully aware that ‘Taliban’ has become a sort of catchall phrase for a number of different groups.

tequila June 23, 2010 at 2:55 pm

When you’ve had people like Abdul Rasul Sayyaf involved in the Afghan government project since 2001, it really isn’t much of a stretch to include Taliban commanders of nearly any stripe. The door is open to anyone willing to lay down their weapons and always has been.

Michael Hancock June 24, 2010 at 5:08 pm

Welcome aboard! I myself treat Registan as a hideway from Academia, so you need not fear me! This might sound silly, but a two-paragraph (or more!?) post on where you’re from might be useful. Perhaps it’s time for bios on the about page, Mr. Hamm? Then again, maybe we don’t want to give up our cover as we go about our secret agent lives…

Michael Hancock June 24, 2010 at 5:09 pm

Welcome aboard! I myself treat Registan as a hideway from Academia, so you need not fear me! This might sound silly, but a two-paragraph (or more!?) post on who you are, where you’re from, what books you read, schools you had to go to, etc. might be useful. Perhaps it’s time for bios on the about page, Mr. Hamm? Then again, maybe we don’t want to give up our cover as we go about our secret agent lives…

Iqbal Samad Khan June 29, 2010 at 12:00 am

At the end of your trip please do assess and give your conclusion – is there any hope in the next decade for the Afghans in general and the women in particular? This means a lot to us in Pakistan. What are the opinions of the people in the street and the women in blue stiffling burqas.
Good Luck Bitia and take care – it may not be that exciting despite your familiarity with the area!

Jeff July 1, 2010 at 9:52 am

Thanks! I hope you will keep it up. I like the tenor of your writing and there IS an audience for that kind of thing.

More please!

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