For my interview by BBC World Service programme, The Strand, on my novel THE TALIBAN CRICKET CLUB, click on this link:

For a reading from the Taliban Cricket Club, click on this link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SgKp7uPD3t4&feature=plcp
For the interview on The Taliban Cricket Club, click on this link
For my interview with BBC World Service programme, The Strand, on the Mughal exhibition at the British Library, click on this link:


Elise Cooper Interview.
1. Why did you write about the women's plight?
Through her I could explore the life of a woman under the Taliban rule. She became my first revolution, cricket the second. She’s a courageous woman who risks her life to teach her brother and cousins to play the game and through her I could explore not only the suppression of a woman’s life but her life style, relationships with her family, social customs, her humor and the sly rebellion. And even add in a love story. She opened new dimensions in the possibilities of the novel, moving away from cricket which now became secondary.
Every artist must take risks, whether in writing, painting, film, dance, theater. Once I had decided on Rukhsana as the main character I had to decide how to write her story. I wanted to focus entirely on her and her view of the world she lived in. The only way I saw how, was to tell the story entirely from her point of view. If I had written the novel in the third person, I would’ve felt distanced from her, as a writer, and it would be the same for the reader. In the third person I would have to leave her, sort of dangling, while I went into writing what the other characters felt and thought, give them an interior life too as one does in third person narratives. But in the first person, we hear what she hears them tell her, and this gives her the thoughts on them and we see them filtered through her thoughts and her eyes.

2. Do you agree that Americans are tired and cannot be the world's keeper any longer?
    Let’s keep the American people (many of whom are good friends) separate from the American State. (government). No country has asked the American State to be a keeper. Not Iraq, not Afghanistan, Libya, Vietnam, Cambodia etc. Since the end of the cold war, America is now the sole super power with over 900 military bases scattered around the world. It also has the most superior weaponry and can virtually annihilate any country it wishes and, listening to some politicians recently it looks as if it is on their agenda. Due to the disparate, fragmented nature of current crises, America can always win the battles but never the wars. Apart from that American foreign policy is very confusing, one moment supporting dictators (Shah of Iran, Batista, Pinochet, Hussein, Mubarak, Gaddafi, to name a few) and the next encouraging rebellions against their protégés. America, okay ISAF, invaded Afghanistan (Enduring Freedom) to defeat the al Qaeda operating out the country under Taliban rule. If only nations remembered history. Harold Macmillan, the Prime Minister of Great Britain (1957-1963), said “The first lesson in politics – never invade Afghanistan.” ISAF had the right intentions but never engaged with the Afghan people. Ten years later, al Qaeda is very much alive – in Yemen, Syria, Egypt, Libya, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Africa – and it continues to threaten not only the US/West but India too. Al Qaeda and the Taliban are supported, and financed by the American allies, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Saudi Arabia exports Wahabism Islam, even more extreme than Salafi (Taliban) and is the most repressive state in the world. In the recent report on the Deauville Partnership to promote democracy in Arab countries, the US pledged $50 million and Saudi Arabia $25 millions. Unbelievable that the Saudis will support democracy.
    2. You talk about how the Taliban changed the Afghan society making it worse?
As believers in Salafi version of Islam, the Taliban introduced Sharia into Afghanistan, forcing women into burkas, for men to wear long beards and pray five times daily to banning all forms of entertainment. When researching my novel the Afghans were the most courteous, hospitable people, ready to laugh people I’d ever met and the Taliban repressed these very qualities. The Afghans have suffered greatly over the years, not merely from the Taliban, but through the Soviet invasion, followed by the civil war (1994-96) between the Taliban and northern alliance, followed by the ISAF invasion. Any war rips apart the fabric of a people’s lives and destroys their culture. Who would believe that back in the 1970s, Kabul was the favored hangout for the hippies!
4. Can you explain this quote: We had been exuberant people, loquacious, generous with our smiles and laughter, but now we speak in whispers, afraid to be over heard. We have a city of informers and spies."
People who live under dictatorships live a life of secret rebellion. You can control someone’s physical body but the tyrant cannot control the mind. And so the tyrant depends on spies and informers to tell him what people do behind their closed doors and rewards them for the information. In my novel I wrote about a couple who watched Bollywood films on their television (banned). Neighbors reported them and the religious police broke in and threw the television out of the window and beat the couple. However, the couple moved, bought another television and continued watching – with the volume down very low. They were determined to rebel in their own quieter way.

5. You seem to imply through the story that women are considered slaves, as evidenced by the berkas, not able to speak, that women are to be repressed under the guise of religion?
The Taliban are certainly misogynists of the worst order. As I wrote in my novel, The Taliban Cricket Club, they had posters stating “Women should only be seen in the home and the grave”. A frightening indictment of women. Under the Taliban a woman cannot leave even her home without her mahram (a male relative) as otherwise she will be punished. As we see just recently, the attempted assassination by the Taliban of that 14-year-old Pakistani girl, Malala, who spoke out bravely for the right to education for girls. In Sharia law, a woman’s evidence in a court of law is worth exactly half that of a man’s. It doesn’t explain how to use the scales of justice to weight these words spoken by a woman.
6. The Taliban wants to take the society back to the cave age-not allowed to have phones, TV, electricity, autos...
It’s not only the Taliban but, as we see in many Arab countries, a resistance to western culture that the mullahs believe is leading to a loss of identity of the people in the Muslim world. They believe that western culture – ranging from democracy to jeans, movies, music, mobile phones – are threatening to the purity of their society and changing their followers. In Pakistan many Pakistanis are Sufis, a gentle intellectual form of Islam, while the Taliban as Salafis are stridently anti-intellectual, anti-modernization. I believe that most Muslims, from whichever country, do want democracy, justice and the right to live their lives in freedom from want and from dictatorships of any kind. The Arab spring is such a hopeful sign that even the Taliban will have to step out of the medieval ages and enter the mainstream of modern world.
7. What would you like the Americans to do?
I believe America, as a super power, and now in a world ‘without borders’, has to remain involved in world affairs. But it needs to be patient and not return to the ‘boots-on-the-ground’ reaction to problems in those countries that could affect America and Americans. The upheavals today are far more complex in their ramifications than in the old days of a cold war. In Syria, some Americans feel the urge to step into that conflict without understanding what exactly is happening on the ground. If America arms the rebels, who exactly gets those guns, as al Qaeda is certainly one of the factions involved in that fighting. As a leader America should work with and through the UN to try to defuse the situations, in either Syria or elsewhere. In Syria, Gov Romney is advocating more positive action like arming the rebels. This will be dangerous as according to reports Al Qaeda and other Arab fighters are alongside the legitimate rebels and these armaments will fall into their hands. In Afghanistan, the US provided Stinger missile to the mujahedeen and when the Russians retreated, the missiles ended up in the arms bazaars. The US tried to buy them back for $100,000 each but no one would sell them. It’s not an enviable position being a sole super power but America’s moral authority, and by moral I don’t mean Christian, but in the wider philosophical sense of morality, can play a positive role. However, not all countries and societies can become smaller Americas. They will adjust to adapt those values to suit their cultures. Apart from there are new powers – India, China, Brazil –who have their own regional spheres of interest, whether economic or military. The US needs to tread lightly in this inter-connected, complex new world.
8. Do you feel deserted by the Americans?
Once upon a time America was a sunny country. By ‘sunny’ I mean its disposition towards the world. The reason I remember that sunny America is because a friend and I talked about those days. We’re both of that age when we were drawn to America – not to make money but because it seemed a magical place- and it does not seem that long ago. We both come from older civilisations, tired ones even then, and America then was a cool, seductive breeze blowing through our minds and hearts. Of course I saw America from a great distance too and I will try to remember what I saw that so drew me to that innocent country. America had the values of justice, goodness, ethics, morality, freedom, even happiness, that all men have cherished and searched for. No one had any ill-will towards America, with the exception of the USSR.

     It was a heroic country.

     Since 9/11, the moral compass that had guided America began to swing away. The first Gulf War may have been justifiable but the sanctions that followed on Iraq killed thousands of children. The Secretary of State under President Clinton, Madeline Albright, callously called that ‘collateral damage’. I suppose that was mild in comparison to what followed. America squandered all the world’s compassion after 9/11 with its reckless might. The reason for the second invasion of Iraq was built on a quicksand of lies and deceptions of the American people as the War on Terror. Today, America is Kafka country – illegal detentions, torture, renditions, secret prisons, wire tapping, spying on its citizens, the Supreme Court perverted, rigged presidential elections. In Afghanistan, there are night raids (reminding one of dictatorships) and the open contempt for Afghan prisoners in Baghram. Any dictator would be proud to exercise such powers.