From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Long overshadowed by the Iraq War, the ongoing turmoil in Afghanistan and Central Asia finally receives a searching retrospective as Rashid (Taliban
) surveys the region to reveal a thicket of ominous threats and lost opportunities—in Pakistan, a rickety dictatorship colludes with militants, and Afghanistan's weak government is besieged by warlords, an exploding drug economy and a powerful Taliban insurgency. The author blames the unwillingness of American policymakers to shoulder the burden of nation building. According to Rashid, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan and subsequently refused to commit the forces and money needed to rebuild it; instead the U.S. government made corrupt alliances with warlords to impose a superficial calm, while continuing to ignore the Pakistani government's support of the Taliban and the other Islamic extremists who have virtually taken over Pakistan's western provinces. With his unparalleled access to sources—I constantly berated [Afghan President] Karzai for his failure to understand the usefulness of political parties—Rashid is an authoritative guide to the region's politics and his is an insightful, at times explosive, indictment of the U.S. government's hand in the region's degeneration. (June)
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Pakistani journalist Rashid presciently warned about the problem of Islamic extremism in Taliban (2000), and in this work, he reviews the efforts since to defeat the fanatics. Sympathetic to the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, he proves to be highly critical of American-led strategy since and of the role in events of Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf. Personally acquainted with many involved in the attempted reconstruction of Afghanistan, such as its president, Hamid Karzai, Rashid covers years of international military, diplomatic, financial, and civil-affairs endeavors; in fact, the imposing quantity of information he presents makes his point: nothing tried so far has rescued Afghanistan from being a failed state. Afflicted by warlords, opium cultivation, ethnic divisions, and a resurgent Taliban, Afghanistan prompts pessimistic analysis from Rashid. He describes the support and haven that extremists in the mountainous tribal areas on the Afghan-Pakistani frontier have received from Pakistani intelligence. He then suggests that reform in Pakistan may improve matters in Afghanistan, which is indicative of the political difficulties dealt with by this well-informed current-affairs observer. --Gilbert Taylor