CAMDEN, Maine — A Pakistani journalist will open the 23rd annual Camden Conference with a keynote address on U.S. policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The three-day conference begins at 8 p.m. Thursday at the Camden Opera House and ends Sunday. It will focus on Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

The keynote speaker, Ahmed Rashid, has interviewed many of the key players in Pakistan and Afghanistan, said James Matlack, chairman of the program committee for the conference.

“He has talked with everybody. He has interviewed with practically everybody he writes about,” Matlack said Thursday. “He’s very shrewd and very capable of writing a narrative that is contemporary history rather than just journalism.”

Rashid is the author of four books, including “Descent Into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia” and “Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia.”

The audience is a mix of area residents and people from throughout the country, according to Matlack.

Timothy Cole has been to half a dozen of the conferences with University of Maine students. Cole, a department chair and associate professor of political science at UM, said the university offers a course based around the conference every year.

“The students rarely get a chance to have direct exposure to this expertise. It’s an incredible experience for them,” he said.

Camden benefits from the exposure the speakers bring, according to Dan Bookham, executive director of the Camden-Rockport-Lincolnville Chamber of Commerce.

“The message it sends the outside world about the Camden Hills area and the richness of the intellectual culture here is invaluable,” Bookham said.

For more information about the Camden Conference call 236-1034 or visit