Richard Reeves
Passage to Peshawar: Pakistan, between the Hindu Kush and the Arabian Sea

Passage to Peshawar: Pakistan, between the Hindu Kush and the Arabian Sea

Passage to Peshawar is in the classic vein of voyages of adventure. Richard Reeves, the acclaimed author of American Journey, takes us to one of the most beautiful and dangerous lands: Pakistan -- the ninth-largest country in the world. "There are many wonders and exotic ways between the Hindu Kush and the Arabian Sea," he writes. "Pakistan is an exciting place, from the ancient city of Moenjodaro to the ancient ways still practiced in the pagan valleys Rudyard Kipling wrote of in 'The Man Who Would Be King.' Just to be in the country was an adventure."

The author conveys that adventure with vividness and wit and great feeling for the people he encounters -- from the opening scene Gadani Beach, where gangs of men break up 10,000-ton ships for scrap and then cut up the superstructure like a salami, to the closing scene, which takes place on Eid-ul-Fitr, a day of thanksgiving. On this day the dictator hears the complaints and the pleas of a few of the thousand who have lined up to seek his favor, even kiss his hand. Suddenly a deputy minister comes up behind the author and whispers: "Americans must not believe that this is what the people of Pakistan want."

"What do they want?"

"We are speaking unofficially?"

"Yes, of course."

"People are the same as people in America. The people want democracy. The people want justice. The people want freedom."

But Pakistan today is governed by a military dictatorship, backed by the money and might of the United States. It is our client, the world "frontline" in the terminology of the U.S. State Department, the danger zone in the tests of will and strength between the United States and the Soviet Union. Through the Khyber Pass in Afghanistan, where 135,000 Soviet troops are fighting hundreds of thousands of Mujahideen, the fighters of an Islamic Holy War,descendents of warriors who have always prevailed against their invaders. From Pakistan, the United States channels its aid to these fighters through the frontier city of the Pathans, Peshawar. The book tells how Pakistan, one of the poorest countries in the world, is absorbing millions of even poorer, more desperate people, Afghan refugees.

Richard Reeves paints an unforgettable portrait of this land and its people -- living simultaneously in the Stone Age, the medieval world, the nineteenth century and the technological present, faithful to an austere religion foreign and frightening to us, hustling for the luxuries of modern life. Passage to Peshawar is filled with stark and poetic word pictures. On Independence Day, a "cross section" of the population is assembled. Reeves looks out over the crowd and sees only three women: one of them is his wife.


"Informative, fascinating, and topical. . . . I know of no other journalistic account of a third world country that I can recommend as highly as this." Houston Chronicle

"Passage to Peshawar is teeming with contrasts in landscape, incident and innuendo, all of which are tamed by the keen eye and vivid insights of the narrator. . . . The value of Passage to Peshawar rests largely with the author's ability to communicate the tugs of modernity and tradition on the turbid soul of this populous nation. . . . He succeeds masterfully. . . . A virtuoso performance by a first-rate journalist at the peak of his reportorial and interpretive powers." The Christian Science Monitor

"Reportorial skill and instinct, coupled with his considerable talents as a writer, combine to give us a book that is eminently readable. . . . Reeves offers a series of interwoven essays that give us a feel for the dynamics of the place. . . . It is serious stuff with which he deals -- Islam, the desperate desire for economic growth, the interaction of a great power and developing state in a turbulent part of the world." Richard M. Weintraub, The Washington Post

"He's a brilliant writer. . . . You have a sense of this interesting journalist trying to deal with strange inland tribes in Pakistan . . . or swaying on bridges above chasms." The Los Angeles Times

Richard Reeves stopped writing his syndicated column at the end of 2014 after 35 years in more than 160 newspapers and websites.

Latest Column

American Hero; American Story

LOS ANGELES — In the final months of any presidency, the men and women serving in the administration are ready to leave and move on with their lives. That was true of Harold Tyler, a New York lawyer who was the deputy attorney general for civil rights as the Eisenhower administration was winding down in 1960. But he had to find his own replacement, not an easy job because few lawyers were eager to leave their practices and lives to serve a few months in Washington.

Column Archive

A Revisionist Take On President Obama

LOS ANGELES — "Democrats Worry Obama Is Helping Their Rivals" was the headline over an article last Friday in the Los Angeles Times. I think that was the one thousandth piece I have read in the last couple of months saying that the president has low approval ratings and will hurt Democratic candidates in November's Senate and House elections.

Cuba: Let's Get Over It

LOS ANGELES — "Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest of these are, 'It might have been.'" So said John Greenleaf Whittier more than a hundred years ago.

Say It Ain't So, Joe!

LOS ANGELES — I could be mad at Vice President Joe Biden, who has been here for two days and tied up traffic for miles at a time. But it's hard. He's just too nice a guy, even if he talks too much — and worse, these days, tells the truth.

Learning From History

It is something of a cliche to quote George Santayana one more time, saying, "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it." But for folks of my age, ignorant repetition has been a constant in our lives. And, of course, it is happening again right now.

Labor Day — You Remember 'Labor,' Don't You?

WASHINGTON — I woke up last Thursday morning to learn that my FedEx man does not work for FedEx. Voices on National Public Radio's "Morning Edition" informed me that although FedEx controls just about every minute of its drivers' days, the corporation regards them as "independent contractors." Thus, no benefits — they even have to pay for their own uniforms — and the workers can be kicked out anytime FedEx feels like it.

Is Obama Too Thoughtful To Be President?

LOS ANGELES — Welcome to Presidency 101. What would you do if you were "the most powerful person in the world" and:

None Dare Call It Treason

WASHINGTON — Hooray! Hooray! The wicked Congress has gone home. So to speak, since most of the members actually live right here in the capital city and environs.

The Rising Tide: Will All Boats Be Lifted?

LOS ANGELES — We have lived for decades, even centuries, with the economic faith that a rising tide lifts all boats. But what if it doesn't? What happens then, economically and politically?

The Children Of The Border

LOS ANGELES — Last Monday, a chartered flight took 38 mothers and children, who had been held in a detention center in Artesia, New Mexico, to San Pedro Sula in Honduras. That's a tough town of drug dealers, violence and children soldiers, sometimes called "The Murder Capital of the World."

Catching Up With Big Data

LOS ANGELES — This is a column about "Big Data" and a new way to predict the results of presidential elections for the next 20 years.

Will The New York Times Take Us To War Again?

CHICAGO — I have never been much of a fan of the journalistic self-examination practiced by folks identified as "ombudsman" or "public editor." I changed my mind last Sunday, and I'll get to that in a minute.

American Is Being More Polarized — Again

LOS ANGELES — The most fascinating of the many theories about the fall of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a Republican primary earlier this month has to do with the redistricting after the 2010 Census. He was supposed to be helped by having very politically conservative New Kent County added to the 7th Congressional District in place of more liberal precincts in the Richmond area. But the voters of New Kent, a 75 percent Republican stronghold, voted against Cantor by almost 2-to-1.

What Can We Do In Iraq? Nothing!

LOS ANGELES — Taking a couple of shots at President Obama over the latest round of war in Iraq, House Speaker John Boehner said last week: "This has been building for weeks."

Welcome Home, Sergeant

LOS ANGELES — If today's Republican Party had been around during the Civil War, it would have tried to stop its own president, a fellow named Lincoln, from appointing Gen. Ulysses S. Grant commander of the Union Army because he drank on duty — quite a lot, apparently. And if the president was a Democrat, say Thomas Jefferson, the Republicans would be calling for hearings to find out the "real" reason he was sending Lewis and Clark into the wilderness to learn what was out there between the Mississippi and the Pacific.

Preserve Us From Old Fools On Horseback

LOS ANGELES — "This is the beginning of taking America back," said Shawna Cox, who had come from Kanab, Utah, one of hundreds of "patriots" supporting Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who has refused to pay a million dollars in grazing fees to the Federal Bureau of Land Management, which oversees 85 percent of the dusty land of that state. That makes him a hero to folks like Cox, who have traveled hundreds and thousands of miles, toting their guns, to drive off U.S. Park Rangers trying to drive his cattle off federal land.

Why We Need Local Reporting

LOS ANGELES — Last Thursday was an interesting news day around here — and one that highlighted the importance of local reporting as newspapers fade away across the country.

Voting Laws: The Last Stand Of The Old And The White

NEW YORK — When the Constitution of the first modern democracy, the United States of America, was written, only about 10 percent of the population of the 13 states was granted the right to vote: white men who owned property.

War As A Spectator Sport

LOS ANGELES — Sad to say, the most telling commentary on world affairs these days seems to come from comedians. The latest is Jimmy Fallon, the new "Tonight Show" host, who responded to Secretary of State John Kerry's reaction to the news that Russian soldiers were moving into Crimea:

Deep In The Dark Heart Of Texas

DALLAS — Greg Abbott, a former judge and three-term attorney general of the great state of Texas, is expected to be the state's next governor. His official biography puts him on the side of God, the American way and children of all ages:

Presidents Are People, Too

DALLAS — A few months ago, I agreed to talk at a program at the Sixth Floor Museum here, the building once called the Texas School Book Depository, the building from which Lee Harvey Oswald waited, on the sixth floor, with a rifle for the motorcade that carried President John F. Kennedy to Dealey Plaza on Nov. 22, 1963.

One Nation, Indivisible

LOS ANGELES — Immigration is something like the weather. Everyone talks about it, but not many people really want to do anything about it.

A Little Giant Retires

LOS ANGELES — I took my J448 students — that's "Government and Public Affairs Reporting" at the Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism at the University of Southern California — to a local Democratic club last Sunday. I wanted them to see and meet the new mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, and one of the most effective elected officials of his generation, Congressman Henry Waxman.

Are We A Nation Of Cheaters And Liars?

LOS ANGELES — I was surprised to see two long stories in last Thursday's New York Times about the same subject: cheating.

Loving New Jersey

LOS ANGELES — I grew up in Jersey — Jersey City. I don't remember being west of the Delaware River until I was in college. I thought the United States was an Italian country governed by the Irish.

The Tea Party: Remember George Wallace

LOS ANGELES — It is refreshing for me to find myself in agreement with "mainstream" Republicans, beginning with House Speaker John Boehner and Rep. Paul Ryan. I think.

Happy New Year, Mr. President

LOS ANGELES — There was a cigarette commercial in the early 1960s that went, "I'm smoking more and enjoying it less." The president at the time, John F. Kennedy, going through a rough patch, was asked how he felt about one negative story after another in the nation's press. "Well," he said, "I'm reading more and enjoying it less."

The Drone Next Door

LOS ANGELES — The news of the day Friday included a dispatch from Saudi Arabia reporting that 11 people were killed by drone-fired missiles in a remote corner of Yemen. The story added that five days before, three men were killed in a drone attack in another part of the country.

Should We Get Older? Why?

The International Herald Tribune is gone after more than 125 years as the American paper in France and then all over the world. Two months ago, it was renamed The International New York Times. That's a bit sad for someone like me who began at the New York Herald Tribune before it folded in 1966. Luckily, I was picked up by The Times, so my loyalties are split.

The Legend Will Never Die

NEW YORK — Twenty-five years ago, I asked Charles Bartlett, a syndicated columnist, about his old and close friend John F. Kennedy. I have seen his answer published and broadcast dozens of times these past weeks as the nation marks the anniversary of the assassination of our 35th president.