David Henry Sterry

Author, book doctor, raker of muck

David Henry Sterry

Tag: editing

San Francisco Writers Conference: HOW TO GET PUBLISHED SUCCESSFULLY MON FEB. 17 9AM

9 a.m. – Noon to register click hereAandDwithBooks

HOW TO GET PUBLISHED SUCCESSFULLY
This is the greatest time in history to be a writer. The barriers to publishing have been torn down and now anyone
can get published. But getting published successfully is a whole other matter. Arielle and David will take you
through the entire publishing process. This step-by-step, soup-to-nuts workshop will demystify the murky world
of publishing and give you a map and a compass to publishing success. Handouts.

You learn to:
Choose the right idea
Craft an attention-getting pitch
Find the right agent or publisher
Self-publish effectively with ebooks, print-on-demand or traditional printing
Find your audience and build a following through social media

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry have helped dozens of writers become published authors. Their book is
The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It…Successfully.
Arielle Eckstut, an agent-at-large at the Levine Greenberg Literary Agency, co-founded the iconic brand Little Missmatched, and an author of eight books. David Henry Sterry is the author of sixteen books. His books have been translated into ten languages, and one appeared on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review. David and Arielle have been featured on NPR, in the New York Times, and have taught everywhere from Stanford to Smith College, and presented at more than 100 bookstores, and book festivals from Texas to Miami, Brooklyn, and Los Angeles.
Fee: $125

7 Minutes a Day: Using Social Media Tools to e-Networking without Being Swallowed by the Timesuck

The essential guide cover_Flop sweat erupts on foreheads.  Faces go pale and bloodless.  Hands tremor.  Eyes widen in terror.  These are all symptoms suffered by writers when I tell them that they have to engage in social media.  They moan, they groan, I’ve even seen grown men cry.  Many are still living under the misguided fantasy that they can sit out in their cabin by the lake and write their magnificent opus, send it off to him Mr. Harper and Mr. Collins, get a book deal, then wait for Oprah to call, and watch the checks roll in.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten queries from writers that actually say, “I’d be willing to go on Oprah.”  Who wouldn’t be WILLING to go on Opra?  Apart from Jonathan Franzen of course.  The question is: how are YOU going to get YOURSELF on Oprah?  Just the other day, I sent a proposal for a beautiful, moving, touching, well-written memoir to fantastic, cutting edge, alternative independent press.  The editor said she wouldn’t even read the proposal because the author didn’t have a Platform.  Platform, for those who don’t know, is the new publishing buzzword.  It means the method you are going to use to connect with the tribe of people who are passionate enough about you and your ideas to buy your book.  I often say that the greatest pitch you could give for a book is in this day and age: “I have 1 million Twitter followers and they all want to buy my book.”  It doesn’t matter what your book is.  Agents, editors and publishers will line up around the cyber block to be in business with you.  But for many authors who don’t have a website, aren’t up on Twitter, and only have a Facebook page where they can post pictures of their kids and/or grandkids, the idea of building a platform, tweeting every day, friending people they don’t know, and spending hours and hours and hours of their one precious life networking socially on the Internet sounds as appealing as getting a root canal from a Nazi without Novocain.  That’s why I devised the 7 Minute Rule of Social Media.  Every day, spend 7 minutes connecting with your tribe.  It’s like brushing your teeth.  Washing your face.  Make it part of your daily routine.  Make it a habit. Habits are incredibly powerful.  Bad ones and good ones.  If you need to, set the timer on your smart phone for 7 minutes.  It’s not much out of your day.  Out of your life.  But the trick is, you have to do it every day.  EVERY DAY.  Like a habit.  So, how do you get started?  The first thing to do is research.  Check out the various platforms available to you.  The obvious ones are Twitter and Facebook, but as you dig deeper, you’ll find cool sites for writers like Redroomhttp://redroom.com/, Goodreads http://www.goodreads.com/, Writers Digest Forumhttp://forum.writersdigest.com/category-view.asp, and National Novel Writing Monthhttp://www.nanowrimo.org/.  Poke around, see who’s there, see what they’re talking about. You should engage in the social media that suits you best.  I happen to like coming up with 140 character messages.  It appeals to the poet in me.  My wife on the other hand is Jewish, and can’t possibly express yourself in 140 characters.  She likes Facebook.  And so it goes. Then start engaging with people who you think are funny, smart, entertaining, etc.  Make comments on their posts.  Be generous.  This is one of the big misconceptions about Social Media.  It’s not about asking other people to do nice things for you.  I get so sick and tired of people I don’t know asking me to like them, to love them, to vote for them, to buy things from them.  You would just walk up to someone on the street and say, Love me.  Well, you might, but if you did it often enough, there’s a good chance you’d be arrested.  The guiding principle for successful Social Media is Good Samaritanism.  If someone does something nice for me online, it’s my natural inclination to do something nice for them.  In a utopia, this would the world would work.  Once you get comfortable on the site that suits you, start making a couple of friend requests every day to like-minded people.  For example, if you’re writing a book that’s like Game of Thrones, go to the Game of Thrones page on Facebook and start cherry picking people who seem simpatico.  These sites all have wonderful search tools also.  So you can put in words that are related to your book, and find people who will be passionate about what you’re passionate about.  This leads us to Key Words.  Search terms.  You should identify 5 to 10 words that apply to your book.  I have a new illustrated novel that just came out called Mort Morte http://bit.ly/12FTPQ0.  It’s reminiscent of Lewis Carroll and The Tin Drum.  It’s filled with black comedy.  It has cheerleaders in it.  It’s a coming-of-age story.  It’s illustrated.  Some of it takes place in Texas.  It’s about a boy who really loves his mom.  All of these ideas can be boiled down to phrases and words.  Those will be my search words or Key Words.  That’s how I’ll find people who gravitate toward my book.  I also make a list of 10 or 15 leaders in whatever field I’m writing.  And I try to connect with them.  Again, first I write little reviews of their books on Amazon.  I make comments when they post a blog, or they’re interviewed online.  And I make sure I let them know that I’m doing nice things for them.  You’d be shocked how much people pay attention to what’s happening online.  Or maybe wouldn’t.  But you absolutely will be amazed by how accessible people are if you ask them nicely for something that’s easy for them to do.  A lot of people ask me if they should have a website.  You should only have a website if you’re prepared to make a really good website.  It doesn’t have to be expensive, it doesn’t have to have a lot of bells and whistles.  But it has to look good.  And it has to be user-friendly.  Easy to navigate.  And “sticky”.  In other words, when someone goes onto your website, you want to give them reasons to stay there.  And the only way a website is valuable is if you water and feed it on a regular basis.  You can do this by making comments on what other people are talking about.  Put up book reviews, movie reviews, write about what’s going on in the world, let people know your book is progressing.  You can put up little paragraphs from your book.  You could have one of the characters in one of your stories have a blog on your website.  Pictures, movies, so many fun things that you can use this content.  Debbie Gallant, a wonderful writer and a friend of mine, had a book coming out that was about romance in cars.  I suggested that she have people writing stories about their romantic adventures in cars.  So she actually got her readers to create content for her.  Make sure you have a great bio that’s fun and interesting and describes you thoroughly.  Have a resource section we post items of interest to you and your readers.  Calendar of events and appearances, a future project section.  Contact information.  It might be fun to do a series of interviews with people you admire.  It’s a great way to connect with their audience, and the connected with their agent, editor, etc. If you’re not very computer savvy, just find a Child Mentor.  Someone between the ages of 10 and 17, the young person who was raised on computers.  Most of them will be able to create a Facebook page in about 10 min.  And the good news is, they work for candy bars. When you do make set up an account for yourself on a website, make sure you give as much information as you can about the books you like, the writers you enjoy, the movies that entertain you, the social causes you’re engaged in, your hobbies, we went to college and high school.  These will all help people find you as they search for stuff they are interested in. But perhaps most importantly: HAVE FUN!

 

1) Befriend a Child Mentor

2) Figure out which Key Words best describe you and your project.

3) Find the online platforms that suit you best.

4) Connect with members of this community.  Categorize them by geographic location and interest.

5) Become an active and generous member of that community.

6) Build your own home on your favorite website

7) Connect your website with your Facebook and Twitter feeds.

8) Get other people to put your website up on their website in their resource section.

9) Make sure you have a very good profile picture which shows us her face.  Please, don’t put up a baby picture of yourself.

10) Be consistent with the way you describe yourself.  Make sure your name is always the same wherever you put it up.  And write a great description of your mission statement as a human being and as a writer.

11) Give, give, give, give, give.  Giveaway stuff on your website.  Spread your time and love all over the cyber world.

12) Only after you’ve given till it hurts should you should you ask gently and politely and persistently for what you need

David Henry Sterry is the author of 16 books, a performer, muckraker, educator, activist, and book doctor.  His new book Chicken Self:-Portrait of a Man for Rent, 10 Year Anniversary Edition, has been translated into 10 languages.  He’s also written Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys: Professionals Writing on Life, Love, Money and Sex, which appeared on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.  He is also the author of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published. He is a finalist for the Henry Miller Award.  He has appeared on, acted with, written for, been employed as, worked and/or presented at: Will Smith, a marriage counselor, Disney screenwriter, Stanford University, National Public Radio, Milton Berle, Huffington Post, a sodajerk, Michael Caine, the Taco Bell chihuahua, Penthouse, the London Times, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, a human guinea pig and Zippy the Chimp.  He can be found at www.davidhenrysterry.com.

To read on Slashed Reads click here.

NaNoWriMo Webinar: Making Editing Your Novel Fun: Jan. 29 8PM EST/5pm PST

Making Editing Fun: How to Enjoy Revising Your Novel Successfully $60

The first 200 writers who sign up by January 28 will receive invitations via email to participate in this webinar, which will take place on Wednesday, Jan. 29, from 5:00 PM – 6:30 PM Pacific. If you can’t join the webinar live, we’ll happily send you a link to the recording afterward.111411_nanowrimo-1

About the Webinar

One of the hardest thing for Nano writers is to take their beautiful but unshaped pieces of clay and turn them into glorious works of art that agents, publishers and readers will fall in love with.  But what may seem a confusing and slightly terrifying task
can actually be a systematic and easily understood process. And yes, it can even be fun!

Join the Book Doctors, Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, who have helped talented amateurs become professionally published authors. Between them, they have over 30 years of experience in the publishing business, and have authored, agented and/or midwived hundreds of books, including The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It . . . Successfully.

The Book Doctors will show you how to:

•      Start off with a bang

•      Check character arcs

•      Pace properly

•      Build suspense

•      Open and close chapters

•      Avoid repetition avoid repetition avoid repetition

•      Trim fat

•      Make the most of your title

•      Know when to show and when to tell

•      Avoiding clichés

•      Keep dialogue real

•      Check for words you use over and over and over again

•      Read aloud

•      Kill your babies

•      Find beta readers

•      Get objectivity

•      Use your pitch to perfect your plot

The Book Doctors will also randomly select a number of first paragraphs from attendees’ manuscripts during the webinar to demonstrate what a professional edit look likes. Send your first paragraph in the body of the email to nanowrimo@thebookdoctors.com when you sign up.

Register now!

Top 10 Tips for Making a Great Pitch (with Bonus NPR Interview)

The essential guide cover_ Your pitch is one of the most powerful and underrated arrows in your quiver as you attempt to scale the walls of Publishing Castle.  Here are just a few helpful tips.

1. A great pitch is like a poem.  Every word counts.
2. Make us fall in love with your hero.  Whether you’re writing a novel or memoir, you have to make us root for your flawed but lovable hero.
3. Make us hate your villain.  Show us someone unique and dastardly whom we can’t wait to hiss at.
4. Just because your kids love to hear your story at bedtime doesn’t mean you’re automatically qualified to get a publishing deal. So make sure not to include this information in your pitch.
5. If you have any particular expertise that relates to your novel, tell us. Establishing your credentials will help us trust you.
6. Your pitch is your audition to show us what a brilliant writer you are, it has to be the very best of your writing.
7.Don’t make your pitch a book report.  Make it sing and soar and amaze.
8. A pitch is like a movie trailer.  You start with an incredibly exciting/funny/sexy/romantic/etc. close-up with intense specificity, then you pull back to show the big picture and tell us the themes and broad strokes that build to a climax.
9. Leave us with a cliffhanger.  The ideal reaction to a pitch is, “Oh my God, what happens next?”
10. Show us what’s unique, exciting, valuable, awesome, unexpected, about your project, and why it’s comfortable, familiar and proven.

Here’s a link to interview I did about pitching for NPR.

We’re offering free 20-minute consultations (worth $100) to anyone who buys a NEW copy of The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published.  Just email sterryhead@gmail.com and we’ll set up your consultation.

How to Get Your Book Published When Everyone Keeps Rejecting It

201201-b-love_inshallah_coverWe first met Nura Maznavi and Ayesha Mutta at our Pitchapalooza during San Francisco’s legendary LitQuake. Lots of great writers pitched lots of great books that night. But when Nura pitched her anthology revolving around the love lives of Muslim-American women, we were blown away. She took charge of the room like a seasoned professional, she was funny, charming, articulate, and she had that indefinable It that makes people go: Wow! Plus, the book was so timely, so valuable, so necessary when the world is trying desperately to move from combative intolerance to respectful inclusion. From war and terrorism to peace and understanding. We helped them develop their proposal, hone their pitch, and when the time was right, we introduced them to a fantastic publisher who does exactly the kind of book they wanted to write. This is a mistake so many writers make. They don’t get their book into the hands of the person who is most likely to love, represent and/or publish it. In this case, that publisher was Laura Mazer at Soft Skull. As we suspected, she fell in love with the proposal, and offered them a contract. Right place, right time, right stuff. Nura and Ayesha gathered 25 Muslim-American women writers, and lo and behold, their pitch is now a book. Love InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women came out last week, and already they’ve had a feature in the New York Times written about them, and the demand has been so large, they sold out of the first printing practically before the book was even out.

THE BOOK DOCTORS: So, this must be a very exciting time, congratulations, we’re so excited for you.

NURA & AYESHA: Thanks, it is. We worked so long and so hard on this book, and there were so many times when we were sure it would never happen, so to have all this great response been fantastic

TBD: So many writers don’t consider who their audience will be, or in fact if there is even an audience, before they write their book. Why did you write your book, and why did you think there would be an audience for it is?

N&A: People are fascinated by Muslim women, but we didn’t see ourselves or our opinionated, independent and intelligent friends reflected in media stories, TV plotlines or movies. We decided this was the perfect opportunity to raise our voices and begin telling our own stories. And what better stories to tell than love stories? As Muslim women, our roadmap to love may be unique, but the destination is universal.

TBD: Most writers don’t understand how important a pitch is. It’s what a writer uses to get an agent and/or a publisher, it’s what the publisher’s marketing team (if they have one) will send out to the media, what the sales team will use to get bookstores to carry your book, what will entice readers on your author page, and on the back of your book, it’s what booksellers will tell customers when they’re looking for a book like yours.

N&A: Exactly! That’s why we spent so much time writing the pitch and practicing it aloud, to make sure it flowed well, that it really displayed what was unique and valuable about our project.

TBD: We always tell people to pitch their book as often as possible. To friends and family of course, but to your mailman, your waitress, your priest, total strangers, whomever. Every time you pitch your book, it’s an opportunity to test market your product. To figure out what works and what doesn’t, and how to make it better. And we meet a shocking number of writers who are afraid to talk about their book because they’re scared someone will steal it. Or hate it. But if you don’t tell anybody about your book, there’s a good chance it will and up just being a file buried in your computer. And you never know who’s going to be friends with somebody in publishing. That’s how David got published. He told an old friend about his book. Unbeknownst to him, her goddaughter was a literary agent. She took him on as a client. Then she married him.

N&A: That’s so romantic!

TBD: In a very book-nerdy way.

N&A: Exactly.

TBD: Since you won Pitchapalooza with your kick-ass pitch, go ahead, lay it on us, what’s your book about?

N& A: Love InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women is a groundbreaking collection of 25 writers speaking openly about love, relationships, sexuality, gender, identity and racism for the first time. Everyone seems to have an opinion about Muslim women, even (especially!) those who have never met one. We thought it was about time you heard directly from Muslim women themselves. You’ll be captivated by these provocative, funny, moving and surprising stories — each as individual as the writers themselves.

TBD: What made you decide to pitch the idea at our Pitchapalooza?

N&A: Our book proposal was dead in the water, publishers were unwilling to take a chance on this book. When we heard about LitQuake Pitchapalooza in September 2010, we thought it might be an opportunity for us to go public with our hunch that our book’s simple but intriguing concept — American Muslim women’s lives and loves, told for the first time by the women themselves — would have a broad appeal. Pitchapalooza helped us refine our message and hook. The judges’ feedback was invaluable in developing our book proposal. And the audience was so excited about the premise that we knew we’d been right about its appeal!

TBD: What are some of the biggest misconceptions about American Muslim women, dating, and sexuality?

N&A: Muslim women’s lives and sexuality have been politicized by both non-Muslims and Muslims for centuries. On the one hand, we’re seen as oppressed, submissive, and voiceless, and on the other we’re asked to live within a limited definition of the “good Muslim girl”. Neither of these paradigms allows us to celebrate our personal lives, which are full of joy, creativity, beauty, challenges, doubts and mistakes. Both extremes seek to box us into a narrow “real Muslim woman” frame, but by telling our own stories, we are revealing a reality that is far more complex and compelling.

TBD: What were some of the challenges in putting together an anthology with all these women?

N&A: Editing was the most challenging and most rewarding experience of all. We spent a lot of time supporting our writers in taking their stories to the place of honesty and vulnerability that resonates with readers. And, through the process of editing, we developed wonderful relationships with each writer. We deeply love and respect them all!

TBD: Are you afraid that some fundamentalist Muslims will take offense at your book?

N&A: Fundamentalists certainly aren’t limited to Muslims, as we saw with the recent controversy generated by a fringe group in Florida over the TLC show All-American Muslim! There are some people on both sides who want to keep Muslim women tightly inside a box. That said, a filmmaker friend of ours visited over 200 US cities recently and brought back this message: People are tired of the politics of fear and are hungry to connect with each other in more meaningful and compassionate ways. We believe her, and we believe that the overwhelming majority of Americans are going to welcome and be excited by this book for that very reason. Any book is going to have its critics, but we’re confident that most people are going to celebrate these unique, thought-provoking and beautiful voices.

TBD: What’ve been some of the difficulties in dealing with the publishing world?

N&A: A Pitchapalooza judge said that large publishers are leery of taking risks on unknown writers or an untested market.

TBD: That’s why I thought Soft Skull would be perfect for you.

N&A: Absolutely. They’re a independent, cutting-edge publisher, and they respected our context and viewpoints on everything from the stories to the cover of the book, which can be a contentious and difficult issue for writers of color. In fact, the cover is a wonderful example of our partnership: The conventional image on most books about Muslim women is of a veil or veiled woman, even when it has nothing to do with the story or writer. After we explained why that was inappropriate, we found a gorgeous, novel and provocative image to use instead: lingerie! The lingerie strewn across the bed is a metaphor for the book: Muslim women revealing their most intimate thoughts and experiences to you.

TBD: What do you hope your book will communicate to the world?

N&A: We are proud to offer this book as our contribution to contemporary, multicultural American literature. We believe these stories will start conversations in families and between communities about the similarities that bind us together, and the differences that enrich us. We hope that this book inspires dialogues in the American Muslim community, particularly among women, who have been waiting a long time to have these discussions. We’re so ready to engage with each other! Regardless of our differences, we can choose to interact with each other in a compassionate and respectful way. By reading these provocative, funny and moving stories, you’ll discover that what we all have in common is the desire to love and be loved for who we are.

Ayesha Mattu & Nura Maznavi are the co-editors of the anthology, Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women” (Soft Skull Press, 1/24/12). Facebook. Twitter. Amazon.

Tamim Ansary, the Wisest Man I Know, on What America Should Do About Afghanistan

Tamim Ansary is the wisest man I know. Don’t get me wrong, in many ways he’s as big an idiot as you or I. For example, he’s not nearly as smart as his smartphone. But I know lots of clever geniuses who can make their smartphone dance the chachacha while reciting the Gettysburg Address, but none of them are very wise. Tamim says things that make you kick yourself and go, “Why didn’t I think of that?” And because he spent his Wonder Years in Afghanistan, and has a large web of family (many of whom, apparently, he has no idea he’s related to) in Afghanistan, he knows things that hardly any of us know. About how they think, how they live, who they are, what they want, these people with whom we are so intimately involved yet understand so little. Since he spent the last year or so writing a book about the history of Afghanistan called, Games Without Rules: The Often Interrupted History of Afghanistan, I thought I’d pick his big brain about a subject I want to understand, one which will, I hope, make me seem smarter at parties.

DAVID HENRY STERRY: Reading your book, it becomes more and more clear that Afghanistan has a long history of being invaded. Is there something particular about the people, the culture, the country that screams: Invade me?

TAMIM ANSARY: Afghanistan is the land in between. It’s the place where the age-old “great powers” to the north, west, south and east overlap. It’s the real estate that empire-builders have had to march through over the centuries to get to other, more desirable places. In the 19th century, Russia had to take this land to get to the Arabian Sea, which they coveted because it would at long last give them a year-round port and access to the oceans. Britain was determined not to let the Russians sink roots here because time and again over the centuries, empire-builders have swept down from this platform to conquer India — which was now Britain’s prize possession. In all the tussles of the twentieth century, the powers trying to invade didn’t care about Afghanistan per se. They invaded it so that their rivals would take it. In the mid-twentieth century came the Cold War. Now, Afghanistan was the nut between the pincers of the Soviet Union to the north and the U.S. and its allies to the south. Pakistan and Iran were firmly under U.S. control but Afghanistan was in play — non-aligned. If the U.S. could get it they really have a fence around Soviet power; if the Soviets could get it, they’d poke a hole through that “containment” fence. Once again, Afghanistan mattered for strategic reasons and no one (except Afghans) cared about who or what was actually in this territory. And strategically, Afghanistan still matters today. Oceans aren’t so important anymore, but Afghanistan makes a perfectly situated air-base. Planes taking off from here can reach Iran, China, India, all the Central Asian former-Soviet-republics, and even Russia.

DHS: In America we seem to have turned the Taliban into the bogeyman, like if we could just get this one group of evil villains under our thumb and into Guantánamo, the problem would go away. Reading your book, I now suspect that this is wrong. Who are the Taliban exactly? Who are they not?

TA: When they first emerged, the Taliban were a single, specific, cohesive group. They had a leader, they had top officials, they had cadre, they had an ideology. They were organized by elements in the Pakistan military, were bound together by a radical Islamist ideology, and served as a tool for Pakistani domination of Afghanistan. Their period of rule was, to some extent, just another foreign invasion of Afghanistan, just like those the British undertook. But then in 2001-02, the United States toppled and scattered that Taliban and they fragmented. Today’s insurgents, so frequently and so casually labeled “the Taliban,” are a motley hodge-podge of anti-government rural folks, remnants of guerrilla armies that roamed the land for two decades, drug traffickers, tribal lords whose power is threatened by the reemergence of a central government, newly emerging criminal networks, fragments of the original Taliban that have re-congealed as rural gangs, and so on. A few al-Qaeda-type Jihadists from the Arab world are sprinkled into the mix, and saboteurs from Pakistan are said to be active in Afghanistan as well; but then, “Talibanist” saboteurs from Afghanistan now roam into Pakistan as well, to make trouble. Basically, the area once divided by a distinct border between two countries (Afghanistan and Pakistan) has dissolved into a belt of unruly, anti-government (any government) militants whose power derives from local sources and amorphous demographic is who we are calling “the Taliban.”

DHS: When you hear about Afghanistan in American media you get the impression there is the Taliban and those against the Taliban. Is Afghanistan really divided like this?

TA: Afghan society features a continuum of values, attitudes, beliefs and affiliations. At one extreme are radical reactionary fundamentalist Islamists, and outward-looking, secular-tending, modernist urban folks friendly to Western values and ideas at the other extreme. But these are merely the extremes, Between the two you’ll find every shade of grey. So it’s not a case of the Afghans being one group and the Taliban another group, with the one attacking the other. It’s more a case of a culture torn by its own contentions and contradictions, a contest that goes a long way back into Afghan history.

DHS: What is my moral obligation as an American, when it comes to Afghanistan?

TA: When the U.S. went into Afghanistan they established a plan that would transform Afghanistan into a secular, Western-style parliamentary democracy and a society in which women participated in public on a par with men and enjoyed equal rights and opportunities. Many Afghan men and women staked their lives on this American project succeeding. They bought into it. They went into businesses that depended on the country moving in the direction the West had laid out. Women dared to emerge as activists, they ran for and won parliamentary seats, they challenged laws, they led demonstrations, they became public figures. If Afghanistan crumbles back into the sort of chaos that wracked it in the 1990s after the Cold War ended and all the foreign powers completely withdrew not just military but civilian and economic involvement in Afghanistan, the people who bought into the project are probably going to be in trouble. Many of them may perish. The U.S. has no choice but to move forward with a withdrawal of at least most of its forces, but this withdrawal has to be conducted in a responsible manner, with some guarantee that America’s partners in Afghan society won’t simply be overwhelmed.

DHS: How much of the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan is self-serving? And how?

TA: The U.S. has strategic interests in Afghanistan. For one thing, this will be the corridor through which oil and gas from the Caspian Basin will have to pass, in order to reach the West once that oil comes into play; so it’s important that Afghanistan be safe, stable and peaceful in that near future. Also, this land holds the key to the stability of the region as a whole. Chaos in Afghanistan would almost surely trigger chaos in Pakistan, would invite Iran to rush in, would bring China into the picture, which would trigger a reaction from India… Pakistan has nuclear bombs. Even as it stands, Pakistan is unnervingly reckless; if even this simulacrum of a state dissolves, there is no telling who of the many potential successor groups in the country will end up with those bombs. Powerful elements in Pakistan nurse an almost crazed paranoia about India, a hostility that has brought these countries to the edge of war within this decade — if an irrational group fueled by paranoia and hatred gets possession of Pakistan’s bombs, it might decide to settle matters once and for all with India — which also has nuclear weapons. (And now Iran could get such weapon-capability.) What America doesn’t seem to have, particularly, is a self-interested motive related to Afghanistan’s vaunted mineral wealth — the trillion-plus dollars worth of copper, iron, rare-earth minerals and such. The United States has made no move on those minerals, at a time when others, such as China, have worked vigorously to acquire the rights to them.

DHS: What do people think of Americans at this point in Afghanistan?

TA: Over these last few years, a number of events have eroded goodwill toward America among Afghans. Of course sporadic mistaken bombings of wedding parties, of rural children grazing herds, and of other civilians have contributed to this erosion. Of course, Sgt. Bales’ massacre of 16 civilians didn’t help. The NATO policy of conducting “night raids” to arrest suspected terrorists has been a public relations disaster. But to my mind, the single most consequential error was the incineration of Korans in a trash fire by soldiers at Bagram Air Base, especially because Western observers never really understood the gravity of this act in the eyes of Afghans. And yet… and yet… even though many people I spoke to there wanted NATO to leave, some of those very same people expressed the hope that they wouldn’t. All this, however, is in the cities. In the countryside, especially in the south and southeast, I imagine people are more uniformly hostile to the American presence.

DHS: What will it take to have peace in Afghanistan?

TA: There is no certain path to peace. Every road passes through difficult terrain. In the long run, the foreign powers have to find a way to declare Afghanistan a non-aligned zone whose neutrality all outside parties pledge to observe and respect. At the same time, an international consortium needs to oversee continued aid to Afghanistan, ideally to help the country take control of its own vast, rich mineral resources and to develop that wealth. Once outside interference in Afghanistan is curtailed, Afghans will begin to settle scores among themselves. This might be very painful for outside observers to watch, and it might be very tempting for one party or another to intervene in order to make sure the struggle comes out “the right way.” But the outcome in Afghanistan will be meaningful only if Afghans attain it on their own.

DHS: What should America do about Afghanistan?

TA: Build connections, contacts and relationships with all the various factions and forces in the country, leaving a door open to have a diplomatic relationship with whoever emerged as the ruling group, do the hard work of global negotiating needed to ensure Afghan neutrality in the global contests of today, and play a peacemaking role as best it can while gradually easing out of the scene. But that’s easy for me to say. The devil is in the details.

Tamim Ansary can be found at his website. His new book is available online or at a bookstore near you.

 

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