Ahmed Rashid Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

The Rise of Militant Islam: Conversation with Ahmed Rashid, author and journalist: 3/26/02 by Harry Kreisler
Photo by Jane Scherr

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Welcome to Berkeley.

Thanks a lot.

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Ravapindi in Northern Pakistan. After the Second World War, my family was based some of the time in Pakistan and some of the time in London. So I grew up in both places. In the fifties, I had, if you like, quite a cosmopolitan life and education. And then, subsequently, I went to college in Pakistan, and then went to university at Cambridge.

How did your parents shape your character, do you think, in retrospect?

I dedicate the Taliban book to my mother because she was an incredibly inquisitive person who paid attention to absolutely everything. She was a very traditional Indian Muslim woman, grew up in British India. But she had incredible curiosity about everything, and while we were kids, she used to take us on these wild trips, even without very much money. We were sleeping in the car, I remember, as kids, traveling and camping in Europe. We drove once from London to Karachi in the sixties with her. She was just a very adventurous person.

My father was the more stabilizing influence, if you like, in the family.

Was there a discussion of politics and current events and world affairs at the dinner table?

Yes, always. You know, Pakistan -- I don't think any society was more politicized than Pakistan, because we had been through so many traumas and so much political upheaval and unrest. When Pakistanis get together, the first thing they talk about is politics at home and what's going on. So this is an incredibly politicized society and people.

Where were you educated?

I went to college in India and in Pakistan, and then got my degree from Cambridge. I was at Cambridge in 1968, during the anti- Vietnam War movement. I learned a lot about Berkeley, and knew about a lot that was going on here.

How did the sixties affect you, do you think, in retrospect?

Well, certainly, it radicalized me very much. The experience is there. I was [also] in Paris in '68. But, really, Pakistanis in particular were very radicalized from '68 to '70 because of the war in Bangladesh, which was then East Pakistan. This had a very traumatic effect on Pakistani leftists, on liberals, because the military conducted this war in a particularly brutal fashion, killing tens of thousands of Bengalis, East Pakistanis. When Bangladesh became independent and the army was defeated, there was a major political upheaval in Pakistan. So, you know, that was a period of enormous political ferment in Pakistan, where the left was very strong at that time.

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