British MP Rory Stewart walked across Afghanistan after 9/11, talking with citizens and warlords alike. Now, a decade later, he asks: Why are Western and coalition forces still fighting there?
Now the member of British Parliament for Penrith and the Border, in rural northwest England, Rory Stewart has led a fascinatingly broad life of public service. He joined the Foreign Office after school, then left to begin a years-long series of walks across the Muslim world. In 2002, his extraordinary walk across post-9/11 Afghanistan resulted in his first book, The Places in Between. After the invasion of Iraq in 2003, he served as a Deputy Governorate Co-Ordinator in Southern Iraq for the coalition forces, and later founded a charity in Kabul.
To secure his Conservative seat in Parliament, he went on a walking tour of Penrith, covering the entire county as he talked to voters. In 2008, Esquire called him one of the 75 most influential people of the 21st century.
He says: “The world isn’t one way or another. Things can be changed very, very rapidly by someone with sufficient confidence, sufficient knowledge and sufficient authority.”
“Stewart has long known that diplomacy of the deed is the only kind that matters.” – Parag Khana
Rory Stewart was born in Hong Kong and grew up in Malaysia. He served briefly as an officer in the British Army (the Black Watch), studied history and philosophy at Balliol College, Oxford and then joined the British Diplomatic Service. He worked in the British Embassy in Indonesia and then, in the wake of the Kosovo campaign, as the British Representative in Montenegro. In 2000 he took two years off and began walking from Turkey to Bangladesh. He covered 6000 miles on foot alone across Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Nepal — a journey described in The Places in Between.
In 2003, he became the coalition Deputy Governor of Maysan and Dhi Qar — two provinces in the Marsh Arab region of Southern Iraq. He has written for a range of publications including the New York Times Magazine, the London Review of Books, the Sunday Times, the Guardian, the Financial Times and Granta. In 2004, he was awarded the Order of the British Empire and became a Fellow of the Carr Centre at Harvard University.
He is also the author of The Prince of the Marshes And Other Occupational Hazards of a Year in Iraq.