2010 KEYNOTE ANNOUNCED
The airways are filled with calls to “rethink Afghanistan” and to develop a fuller understanding of Pakistan and its complex and often strife-torn relations with India. This is precisely what the upcoming Camden Conference: Afghanistan, Pakistan, India – Crossroads of Conflict proposes to do, starting with a keynote address by Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist and author who is perhaps the pre-eminent regional commentator on Afghanistan and its relations with his home country and with India.
Also helping the February 2010 event to shape up as one of the best Camden Conferences ever will be the presence as conference moderator of Nicholas Burns, who as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs in the George W. Bush administration led negotiations with Iran and India — and who was a featured speaker at the 2009 Camden Conference. At that conference, Burns outlined “A New Era of Diplomacy for the Obama Administration,” a topic on which he has since become a prominent commentator.
His active exchanges with other speakers should be an entertaining and informative new aspect of the 2010 Camden Conference. Burns will also wrap up the conference — for which tickets will soon go on sale — with a concluding assessment of US policy options in the region.
A New York Times profile last year described how keynote speaker Rashid, “Fresh out of Cambridge University in the late 1960s, and steeped in the era’s favorites — Marx, Mao and Che” took out for the hills of Baluchistan in his native Pakistan, where he spent ten years as a guerrilla fighter and political organizer of peasants seeking autonomy from the Pakistani government. He describes himself as having emerged “not exactly disillusioned, but defeated.”
That defeat quickly turned into a “launching pad” for Rashid’s career as a journalist, scholar, and best-selling author of several books on Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the entire Central Asian region. In 2000, the year before 9/11, he wrote Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia, a book that was used extensively by US analysts in the wake of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks and became a No. 1 New York Times bestseller, selling over 1.5 million copies.
In his most recent book, Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia, Rashid examined the record of the Bush administration and various European governments in Central Asia. His conclusions are devastating: An unstable and nuclear-armed Pakistan, a renewed al’ Qaeda profiting from a booming opium trade, and a Taliban resurgence and reconquest.
In an interview just this summer with the Bernard Gwertzman of the Council on Foreign Relations, Rashid traces Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s turn back toward reliance on the “old war lords” — rather than a new generation of politicians he had been fostering — to “the failure of the international community to come up with the goods.” In words that seem particularly prescient in light of subsequent charges of widespread fraud by Karzai supporters in the subsequent presidential election, Rashid explained, “The real cause for the lack of good governance in Afghanistan is the lack of attention from the Bush administration: the lack of resources, money, civilian aid, etc.”
That interview can be read in full on the Camden Conference website, www.CamdenConference.org.
Rashid is now supporting calls for the US to commit more troops, more civilian advisors and more time to creating stability in Afghanistan. Talking to Terry Gross, host of National Public Radio program Fresh Air, in early October, Rashid noted: “If the [US] commitment slows down in any way, I think the Taliban will take Kabul within six months to a year, and the situation will deteriorate enormously.”
Besides Rashid’s own talk, conference participants can look forward to the give and take of a discussion between him and former Bush Administration official Burns on developments since Obama took over responsibility for stabilizing Afghanistan and Pakistan and routing out al-Qaeda. Burns, now Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Politics at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, has also been on the radio, TV and in print frequently of late, commenting most often on the Obama administration’s opening of the negotiations with Iran that he was not able to pursue in the Bush Administration — and which he now strongly supports.
The 23rd Annual Camden Conference: Afghanistan, Pakistan, India: Crossroads of Conflict takes place February 19-21, 2010 live at the historic Camden Opera House, with satellite venues at The Strand Theatre in Rockland and Univ. Maine Hutchinson Center in Belfast. Conference registration begins on Monday, November 30th. (Early Member registration begins November 9th). For more information, please call 236-1034 or visit www.camdenconference.org.