Letter from Kabul – An Autobiography of Karzai

November 22, 2006

Judging from the way the media dolls him, universities shower honorary degrees, politicians vie for photo-ops, and policy institutes don’t miss opportunities to have him speak when he is in town, Karzai is already a bestseller brand in America.

This is why an autobiography of Karzai would be an instant bestseller and a profitable idea.

That idea happened to longtime Karzai acquaintance and journalism professor at Boston University, Nick Mills, who decided to ghost-write an autobiography of the Afghan president. Professor Mills even took a leave of absence from his job to spend a few months with Karzai in Kabul, resulting in Letter from Kabulto be released next fall.

This summer, however, Karzai -who is famously tactful and reserved in expressing his views particularly towards those he would gladly do without- backtracked on the earlier arrangement of being credited as an author of the book. The book will still be published, but it is now credited solely to Professor Mill and is no longer a first person account. The loss of a more personal style of narrative is bound to take something away from the book.

What I am wondering about is this: could somebody as politic and reserved as Karzai have said anything of substance while still sitting in office? Being honest about history is not a luxury many people afford, especially sitting presidents. That is usually the reserved department of former presidents writing revealing memoirs. Honesty about Afghan history of all things would prove singularly thorny and step on many a friend and foe’s toes alike, something Mr. Karzai has gone out of his way to avoid in the past. By contast, General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan is by many degrees of contrast more brash than Karzai, and even his memoirs read like a lullaby tale of childhood memories and adventuresome youth save for a few comments (famously the “bomb Pakistan back to Stone Age” line attributed to former State Department official Dick Armitage.) Despite this suspicion that the book will not amount to more than a high-profile version of a consensus, uncontroversial view of events, I do hope the reason Mr. Karzai has pulled out of the deal is because it is revealing and controversial in some way.  To see that, we have another year of waiting until Fall 2008.

For now, here is a glimpse into the contents of the book (an earlier version, before Karzai’s retreat):

Table of Contents for Letter from Kabul/Hamid Karzai; with Nick Mills.
A Brief History of Afghanistan
A Few Facts About Afghanistan
1 Growing up Afghan in a Changing World
2 The End of Monarchy, the Beginning of Jihad
3 Defeating a Superpower
4 Losing the Peace ? As the World Withdraws
5 The Rise of the Taliban
6 September 11, 2001 ? The War On Terror Begins in Afghanistan
7 The Fall of the Taliban ? A New Beginning for Afghanistan
8 Building a New Afghanistan
9 Progress, Promise and Problems ? The Road Ahead