30 July 2004

Naipaul on Ahmed Rashid

I had got to know Ahmed Rashid [author of Taliban]. He was a journalist. He also owned, with a partner, a coal mine in the Punjab hinterland. The news, from him, was that three of the mine's jeeps had been stolen, and six of the men kidnapped. The stealing and the kidnapping had occurred in stages. First a jeep and the two men in it had been taken, in the big town of Sargodha. After ten days there had come a ransom demand for two lakhs, two hundred thousand rupees, five thousand dollars. Ahmed had sent two men in a jeep to negotiate with the kidnappers. He hadn't sent any money by these two men. This had enraged the kidnappers. They had seized the two men and the second jeep. Ahmed, taking the hint, had then sent two clerks in a third jeep with the ransom money. But the kidnappers were apparently still very angry. They held on to the two clerks and the ransom money, and made a fresh demand for twenty lakhs, fifty thousand dollars.

Ahmed, ever the journalist, was excited by the whole thing, this nice little story breaking on his own doorstep, as it were; and in his detached journalist's way he found the sequence of events funny, the men from the mine going in two by two into some kidnappers' pit somewhere in the frontier. He had got in touch with the army and the intelligence people; only they could help him. And he thought now--and this wasn't going to be so funny for the kidnapped men--that negotiations could go on for many months. It was important to keep the negotiations going, and in this way to prevent the kidnapped men from being taken across the border. If that happened, it was all over; the jeeps and the men could be forgotten.

Where there was no law, no institutions that men could trust, the code and the idea of honor protected men. But it also worked the other way. Where the code was strong there could be no rule of law. In the frontier, as Saleem Ranjha's Pathan guest had said at Mansura, the modern state was withering away; it was superfluous. People were beginning to live again with the idea of clan and fiefdom; and it was good for business.
SOURCE: Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoples, by V.S. Naipaul (Vintage, 1998), pp. 328-329

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