The Orient in crisis

The Orient in crisis? I could just as easily have entitled this note “L’Orient au cœur” (The East at the heart), because deep down, you can feel Régis Koetschet’s heart beating in this book summarizing his experience as a diplomat in Jerusalem and Kabul. Doesn’t he himself evoke a text he wrote under the title “The beating heart” of the friendly relationship between France and Afghanistan?

The place of the heart in diplomacy thus appears as the background to the author’s thinking after his years of service in Palestine and Afghanistan, or in the vicinity of that country. He advocates what Gérard Chaliand has called “skin diplomacy”, i.e. diplomacy in which human contact, cultural exchanges and the sharing of hospitality take precedence over disembodied geopolitical analyses that are ultimately incapable of sensing the profound movements of societies.

Naive diplomacy, one might object. Well, not necessarily. The passion that shines through the pages is not opposed to reason. On the contrary, it reinforces it. It seeks to get to the heart of complexities and better understand realities.

Régis Koetschet has served – to serve, what a fine mission for a diplomat – among other posts as Consul General in Jerusalem from 2002 to 2005 and as Ambassador in Kabul from 2005 to 2008. There, he forged strong relationships with the peoples of these regions and sought to understand their feelings and aspirations. Since then, he has always been committed to promoting solidarity between these populations and ourselves.

One of his observations is that time is not the same here as it is there. Policies implemented in the so-called West are defined in the short term, whereas they should take into account the long term of the societies they address.

The question of how to reconcile these two timeframes, which are increasingly confronted as a result of globalization, remains unanswered. The ambassador’s analyses are sometimes pessimistic: “the times are ripe for power struggles in the silence of the people”, he asserts, but hasn’t this always been the case? They are sometimes questioning, as when he wonders whether the freedom to caricature should not also take into account the sensitivity of peoples. They are lucid when they make the link between the invasion of Iraq and the American failure in Afghanistan. They are stimulating when they highlight the “clear deficit of academic study and research” in France.

Passionate and nuanced, as well as immensely cultured, this is how one might describe the author when reading his book, which abounds in quotations and anecdotes that give us a glimpse into this complicated, fascinating and hospitable East. It’s an East we’d like to enter under a tent, but which often forces us to wait.

Malraux wanted to touch Asia. Régis Koetschet let himself be touched by Asia.


Etienne Gille

Former teacher in Afghanistan from 1969 to 1978, co-founder of AFRANE (Amitié franco-afghane), of which he was president from 1996 to 2013 and is currently vice-president. Author of Restez pour la nuit (L’Asiathèque and CEREDAF) and 80 mots d’Afghanistan (L’Asiathèque).

Link to the association AFRANE

Buy the book in bookshops or online : Maisonneuse&larose Hémisphères


The 2003 edition of Diplomate dans l’Orient en crise, Jérusalem et Kaboul (Diplomat in the Middle East in crisis, Jerusalem and Kabul) takes up the previous out-of-print edition, enriched and updated with seven new chapters to take account of recent developments in Kabul and Jerusalem.

Diplomate dans l’Orient en crise, Jérusalem et Kaboul, 2023 edition, followed by Le diplomate et les anachronismes, published by Maisonneuve et Larose.

The author also published in 2023:

– L’Afghanistan en partage, Les thés de l’ambassadeur, by Régis Koetschet, ed. Nevicata, October 2023, ISBN 2-87523-221-5, €19 [Mostly a reprint of the “green teas” published in Nouvelles d’Afghanistan, plus several previously unpublished articles].

– Afghanistan. Des cerfs-volants dans la nuit, by Régis Koetschet, ed. Nevicata, October 2023, ISBN: 978-2-87523-220-5, €9


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