‘A study of how do you know anything in Afghanistan’: An Interview with Weston Prize-winner Graeme Smith

Cultural Intelligence
Graeme Smith in Kandahar
Graeme Smith in Kandahar

‘A study of how do you know anything in Afghanistan’: An Interview with Weston Prize-winner Graeme Smith

Hannah Moscovitch

Random House, October 21, 2013

The author of The Dogs Are Eating Them Now talks with playwright Hannah Moscovitch.

EXTRACTS:

Partly, it’s just that in any war—but especially a place as alien as Afghanistan—you have to be very careful about the conclusions you draw. I’ve been wrong so many times with so many things in Afghanistan. So many foreigners have misjudged the situation that you have to be so, so cautious about how you know anything. It’s almost a kind of interesting epistemological study of how do you know anything in Afghanistan.

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Amazon Page
Amazon Page

I think we went through a whole transformation in our understanding of who it was we were fighting. Operation Medusa was that moment for me where I started to think, “Oh, okay, maybe we’re not fighting Al-Qaeda in the fields, maybe we’re not fighting people who intend to fly airplanes into buildings in the West. Maybe we’re fighting a bunch of ignorant farmers who have decided to join the Taliban because they’re really pissed off.”

If you look back in the record, especially 2003 to 2006, people would use Al-Qaeda and Taliban in the same breath when talking about our enemies. As things progressed, they started to make the distinction. My friend Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn, two very good academics, wrote an entire book called An Enemy We Created. It’s a fantastic book, I think they’ve only sold fewer than 700 copies which is a terrible shame because it describes the distinction between Al-Qaeda and the Taliban and how they were connected briefly and how they fought each other.

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I think the task they were given, the tools and the task were never really matched up.

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Endless books will be written about why this didn’t work. We’re just now reaching a point in the conversation with ourselves where we’re able to reflect on why this didn’t work.

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It’s a very humbling thing, working in Afghanistan.

Read full interview.