Where are our old tutorial partners now? One of them was on this morning’s Today programme, on Radio Four. (For American readers of the weblog, think NPR’s Morning Edition):
James Naughtie: Twenty five minutes past eight. Well, Afghanistan is still in a strange state but it hasn’t deterred someone called Rory Stewart from turning up in Kabul as a tourist. Now, he’s a former British diplomat, he’s 29, he’s walking across Asia, he’s going to be writing a book, almost needless to say. He was in Peshawar in Pakistan and decided on a diversion into Afghanistan. He’s going to visit some of the historic sites, presumably those where the Taliban didn’t blow up the statues, and he’s going to go trekking. Now shortly after he arrived in Kabul, Mike Wooldridge, our correspondent, asked him whether he’d ever thought twice about coming where few tourists might fear, might dare to tread.Rory Stewart: Yes, many second thoughts. The road I came in on has had four journalists killed there five weeks ago. And so obviously I was very worried. On the other hand I have been walking on foot across Asia through relatively dangerous areas over the last year and a half. I’ve been walking through Nepal during the Maoist insurgency, through Kurdish areas of Turkey and Iran. And I think if you’re relatively careful and do your planning correctly — I tend to travel in as low key a fashion as possible — you should be all right. I wear Pakistani-stroke-Afghani clothes. I talked at the border with the authorities there. I hired a car which I knew was tied in to the local commander…
Mike Wooldridge: Did they actually at the border take some convincing that you should be allowed through?
Rory: I think their basic interest is financial.
Mike: So you mean you had to pay your way in?
Rory: Well, I certainly had to pay quite a lot for the taxi, and how much of that goes to the commander I don’t know.
Mike: I suppose I have to ask you: do you feel it’s right to be a tourist here at the moment? I mean you could obviously run into difficulties, and then there might be security risks for others trying to rescue you if that were to happen.
Rory: I think that’s absolutely right. The British Embassy’s got a very clear travel advisory against people coming here, so people shouldn’t be encouraged to come here.
Mike: Which you would know very well as a former diplomat.
Rory: Which I know very well as a former diplomat. And I realise very well the amount of trouble you cause for people if you do get kidnapped. Other people have to risk their lives and it causes a lot of problems. On the other hand I do belive that for countries like Afghanistan, tourism is good, and I think this is a very important time for Afghanistan. I think the country’s turning round. There is the possibility of a renaissance and future security. It would be very nice if the world began to realise what hospitable and warm people Afghanis are, to overcome the impression that the place is a desperate war zone…
What a loony. Thanks to Olly, the perennial Radio Four listener, for drawing this to my attention. (I was asleep at the time). If you never saw Bachman Reza’s letter to the London Review of Books, responding to Rory’s essay on walking through Iran (LRB Diary, 6 September 2001), do have a look. It is also very funny.Dave wrote [14.1.2002]: Thanks for sending me that. I haven’t knowingly spoken to Rory since 1990, which is an enormous shame, because he certainly seems to live an interesting life. And a double shame, since he was my very best friend in the world at two times – 4 and 16!