By ANI special correspondent
NEW DELHI: Reminiscing about his journalism days spent in the landlocked country Afghanistan, veteran journalist and Chairman of Asian News International, Prem Prakash during the launch of his book titled, ‘Afghanistan: The Quest for Peace, The Path of Wars,’ here said that he has seen the country in very happy days adding that in 1975, Afghanistan’s currency was better than Indian rupee and that was notably a period when women came out of ‘purdah’ from the palace to join the banquet.
Sharing his in-person account of the incidents in Afghanistan, the veteran journalist also spoke about the abrupt change of regime in Afghanistan including the nasty withdrawal of the United States from the country.
“I have seen Afghanistan in very happy days. I didn’t go there myself when Pandit Ji visited it. My younger brother went there and at that time the palace women came out of ‘purdah’ because they said that India is a brother country and the Prime Minister who is coming is our brother, so there can’t be any purdah with the brother. That’s the first time that the palace women came out of ‘purdah’ and joined the banquet. It was a very happy country. I had gone there several times. Last visit was in 1975 before the trouble started,” said Prem Prakash during the book launch event here on Friday.
“Afghan currency was better than Indian currency because rupee has started losing value already. By 75, it was in pretty bad shape. But Afghan currency was better than rupee position. And Afghans are very clever businessman. Not many people in the world know that Afghans were the first people to deal with money,” he added.
During the book launch, Pavan K. Varma, a diplomat, politician and author who was also the chief guest at the event, said that it wasn’t an ordinary launch but a tribute to a man who has become an institution in his own lifetime.
Expressing his views on the book, the diplomat said that “The book focusses less on being an abstruse scholarly analysis and more a reader friendly version of how the situation in different periods evolved in Afghanistan.”
“This book is important for the understanding of a very important country which is a strategic neighbour and no one has a more ringside view, I believe in our journalistic world than him of the evolution of what happened in Afghanistan from an insider’s point of view. His style of reporting was to be on the ground. While he was travelling there, his life was at stake, bullets passed through his car. At one time, he was advised not to go to Ghazni, but he still went. He reported from the ground. He met Najibullah. He interviewed him. He had the connections among the changing regimes in Afghanistan,” said the diplomat.
Sharing his journalism journey, the author also went on to share of what made him build a news agency and how the idea of writing a book came into effect.
“Afghanistan came much later. My father wanted me to continue my studies but somehow I felt what will I achieve by doing more studies. So, I wanted to go to my profession straight away and I had enjoyed writing. I had gone to Bombay at the launch of the National Students Union of India. I came back and wrote a report which was very much admired by the teachers that gave me my first writing and I got into it,” he said.
“When I went to Europe, from there I went to England. I found that the country was only known as ‘land of snake charmers and elephants’. Imagine a nation which has spent nearly two hundred years with us, still calling us like that. I then decided at the back of my mind that one would have to set up one’s own set up. It’s only an Indian agency which can set the image right of the country. It was that, which made me start working to build what is today ANI,” said the author during the interactive session when asked how it all began.
The veteran journalist during the interactive event also spoke about the chaotic withdrawal of United States from Kabul and when things came full circle in June 2021 with Taliban recapturing power.
The author said that wasn’t the way to run away like that and the US force commanders could not ensure a formal and dignified withdrawal due to the failure of the US negotiators, led by Zalmay Khalilzad.
“Zalmay Khalilzad, who conducted negotiations on behalf of Americans with Taliban, I personally believe that he was pro- Taliban. I personally believe he was with them. American intelligence in some where I find, I don’t know why they were not able to see what’s going on. The way he negotiated, the withdrawal of the American troops. Is this the way?” asked Prem Prakash.
Sketching a picture in deep contrast with the manner in which the Soviet forces withdrew, the veteran journalist added that “Soviet Union withdrew the troops taking full nine months and with great respect, dignity. That’s the way to it. Look at the way they had to run away. 13 American soldiers were killed. They left 2,000 Americans in Kabul. That’s not the way. Why didn’t they properly negotiate. Whether Biden is to be held responsible for that, Obama is to be held responsible for that. But the negotiator was Zalmay Khalilzad”.
The author in his book answered questions on a range of subjects covered including on the Cold War beginning, Najibullah taking over, the Taliban takeover in Kabul, 9/11 attack on America and the Pakistan factor.
Speaking about the future of Afghanistan and how does the country resolve its problem, Prem Prakash said that the answer was given by (Ahmed Shah) Massoud himself to an ANI correspondent.
“During an interview by ANI in 1992, Massoud was asked when he thought peace would arrive in Afghanistan. He replied, ‘When Pakistan and the others who are supporting them stop meddling in Afghanistan, the war will end’. However, that remains a distant dream.
Today, the Taliban rulers, who have been in power in Afghanistan ever since they captured Kabul in August 2021, continue to await international recognition and the country has been plunged back into the authoritarian and misogynistic rule of denying women their rights that was the hallmark of the Taliban in Afghanistan in the 1990s. India’s position on Afghanistan is congruent with the larger international community. It does not recognise the Taliban as Afghanistan’s legitimate government.
Earlier in June, India’s External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar said that India has sent back a technical team to its Embassy in Afghanistan and their job is essentially to monitor the situation and to see how New Delhi can support the Afghan people. Addressing a press conference on nine years of the Modi government in June, Jaishankar said that the focus right now in Afghanistan is less political and it is more on helping the Afghan people and noted that there has been a “historical connect” with them.
“We pulled back the India-based diplomats and staff after the Taliban took control of Kabul because we had legitimate security concerns. A lot of other countries also did it. With the passage of time, we have sent back a technical team to the embassy. They have been there for some time and their job is essentially in a sense to monitor the situation and to see how we can support the Afghan people in their hour of need in a manner,” Jaishankar said in response to ANI’s question. Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi too had said in March that there has been no change in India’s position on not recognising the Taliban set up in Afghanistan. (ANI)
Launching event in Goa
In Goa, on Wednesday, 25th January 2023, a very intellectual and informing event was held to launch of the book ‘Reporting India’ written by Veteran Journalist and ANI chairman Prem Prakash.
Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant spoke during the conversation session at the launch of the book. Apra Kuchhal, Convener of Prabha Khaitan Foundation for Rajasthan and Central India affairs was also present at the occasion.