Friday, October 29, 2010

Five best books on Afghanistan

Thomas Barfield, an anthropology professor at Boston University, is the author of Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History.

At FiveBooks, he discussed five books on Afghanistan with Daisy Banks. One book on the list:
Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia by Ahmed Rashid

Ahmed Rashid is a well-known writer on Afghanistan. His book about the Taliban came to prominence after 9/11. What Rashid manages to do is to show that this is a transnational problem. You cannot understand what is going on in Afghanistan without understanding the politics of Pakistan. He is able to explain to some extent the double game Pakistan has always been playing in Afghanistan. It wants to install and dominate a Pashtun Afghan government in Kabul.

They were strong supporters of the Taliban, helped bring them to power, but after 9/11 they were confronted with an American threat. The US demanded that the Taliban turn in Osama bin Laden or face destruction. Pakistan was asked to choose whether it wanted to be an American ally or an American target in the Bush administration’s new War on Terror.

Hoping to save the situation, Pakistan pleaded with Mullah Omar to give up Osama bin Laden, promising him that the Taliban regime would then not be a target if he did. But the Taliban weren’t quite as co-operative as they expected and refused. While Pakistan abandoned the Taliban when the Americans invaded Afghanistan, they never dropped their covert support for the movement. Thus Pakistan showed little hesitation in going after al Qaeda members who fled to Pakistan but gave refuge to Mullah Omar and his followers in Quetta, Baluchistan. For that reason the insurgency in Southern Afghanistan had its roots across the border in Pakistan. Since Pakistan denied it was aiding the Taliban, Ahmed Rashid was one of the few people with the contacts necessary to sort out such a transborder conflict and the ability to sort through the complexity of Pakistani politics.

Rashid also knows the Afghan side well, Karzai in particular. So his descriptions of the political factions there are also good and he can put them in a longer-term context. It gives a really good understanding of all the different problems which make it so difficult to bring peace to Afghanistan.
Read about another book on Barfield's list.

Also see Ann Marlowe's five best books about Afghanistan.

--Marshal Zeringue