In 1989, I moved to New Delhi for The Washington Post to become the newspaper’s South Asia correspondent. I was thirty years old and responsible for a phantasmagoria of news from India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal. For three years I hopped from capital to capital, and from one guerrilla war, coup d’état, and popular revolution to another. It was thrilling and affecting work.
In Afghanistan, the last units of the Soviet occupation forces had recently pulled out of the country. The war caused by the Soviet invasion had claimed an estimated one to two million Afghan lives, or up to 10 percent of the prewar population. Land mines and indiscriminate bombings maimed hundreds of thousands more. About five million Afghans became refugees. Soviet and Afghan Communists purposefully decimated the country’s educated elites, executing or exiling traditional leaders. By the time I turned up, this culling had left much of the field to radical preachers and armed opportunists.