Landmark BBC World Service podcast and radio series: A Wish For Afghanistan

The speed of the Taliban’s takeover in Afghanistan took the world by surprise in August 2021. Now there is uncertainty and fear among many Afghans - what will Taliban rule look like? What will change?


BBC World Service

The BBC's Chief International Correspondent Lyse Doucet has followed every twist and turn of the Afghan story and in this landmark series of interviews for the BBC World Service, A Wish For Afghanistan, she hears from Afghans about how the last 20 years have shaped them: their dreams for a new future, their fears that the cycle of violence will never stop.

The Taliban took control of the country just weeks before the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the event that led to their fall at the end of 2001. The United States had tried in vain to persuade the Taliban regime to hand over Osama bin Laden, the man responsible for the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. Consequently, 20 years ago the US invaded and, with the help of local warlords, drove the Taliban out. It was hoped there would be a new beginning, laying the ground for democratisation, elections and peace in a country that had known nothing but war since its invasion by the Soviet Union more than two decades previously. Since 2001, there has been a new constitution and free elections; women have returned to parliament; civil society has flourished. But now all of that is threatened.

Today, the Taliban is back in power and Afghanistan is again in crisis.

In this podcast and radio series, Afghanistan’s story during these last two decades is recounted through the words of ten people with very different experiences. Told to Lyse Doucet, one of the BBC’s most experienced correspondents covering the region, the series offers a unique chance to understand Afghanistan’s future by hearing from those whose lives have shaped events in Afghanistan, and in turn about the events that have shaped them. In interviews in Kabul, Doha and Washington, Lyse speaks to old and young, politicians, diplomats, activists and artists. They reflect on what might have been – Kashke, a Persian word meaning ‘if only’ - and despite everything, share their earnest hopes for the future.

Episode 1 of A Wish For Afghanistan is available to download on most podcast platforms on Wednesday 1 September 2021. It will also air on BBC World Service on 1 September, and can be listened to afterwards on BBC Sounds. The subsequent episodes will air on BBC World Service weekly and will be released as a podcast weekly.

The series producers are Louise Hidalgo, Tim Mansel and Neal Razzell. The series editor is Penny Murphy.

Episode 1: The American Envoy

Zalmay Khalilzad is a man at the centre of history. He was born in Afghanistan, but has made a career as an American, as a diplomat and policy adviser. He played a key role in the United States’ support for the Afghan resistance against the Soviet occupation of the 1980s. After 9/11 and the defeat of the Taliban he was sent to Kabul as President Bush’s enforcer. Khalilzad became so influential, it was said that he, and not Afghanistan’s first post 9/11 president Hamid Karzai, was actually running the country. Khalilzad has continued to play an active role, right up to the moment the Taliban moved back into Kabul in the middle of August. It was he who negotiated on behalf of President Trump and signed a deal with the Taliban in February 2020. In this interview he talks frankly about the mistakes that were made in Afghanistan and his personal role in them.

August 25, 2021 6:55am ET by BBC World Service  

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