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My Life with the Taliban Hardcover – March 22, 2010


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Hardcover, March 22, 2010
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Hurst; 1st edition (March 22, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1849040265
  • ISBN-13: 978-1849040266
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 1.2 x 5.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,096,917 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

'Originally published in Pashto, the language of the Pashtuns, the book has been beautifully translated and extensively edited for easier understanding by Alex Strick van Linschoten and Feliz Kuehn, two researchers who live in Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban... Zaeef says he does not believe in al-Qaeda, but speaks as an Afghan patriot with strong Islamist leanings toward the Taliban. Afghanistan, he writes, is a family home in which we all have the right to live...without discrimination and while keeping our values. No one has the right to take this away from us.A" Can Afghanistan ever be a peaceful home for all Afghans? They certainly deserve it.'-Ahmed Rashid in The New York Review of Books 'Contains many sources of fascination, but none are more timely than the author's account of his high-level relations with Pakistani intelligence.'-The New Yorker 'Spies, generals and ambassadors will pounce on this book, poring over its pages for clues to a way out of the Afghan morass.' -Sunday Telegraph 'The first book from inside the Taliban could not be better timed. Abdul Salam Zaeef was one of the founding members of the group and held senior positions within it, ending up as ambassador to Pakistan.' -Sunday Times 'A counternarrative to much of what has been written about Afghanistan since 1979... Zaeef offers a particularly interesting discussion of the Taliban's origins and the group's effectiveness in working with locals.'-Foreign Affairs 'Not, perhaps, since the Khmer Rouge, has a movement emerged on the world stage about which so much is opaque to outsiders as the Taliban. Much of that opacity is, of course, intentional. Into this murk Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef shines some much-needed light with his fascinating memoir as a Taliban insider. By virtue of his role as the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Zaeef was privy to the Taliban's decision making in the run up to 9/11 and thereafter. And his story has much to say about the nature of the gathering insurgency that NATO and the United States presently face. If President Obama wanted a window into the thinking of the Taliban today he couldn't do better than this.' -Peter Bergen, author of Holy War, Inc. and The Osama bin Laden I Know 'The only detailed insider account of the Taliban is a memoir by Abdul Salam Zaeef, the movement's former ambassador to Pakistan. Zaeef is no spokesman for Mullah Omar and the Quetta shura. But My Life with the Taliban usefully shows that its leaders saw themselves as nationalists, reformers and liberators rather than Islamist ideologues.'-Jonathan Steele, London Review of Books 'The entire world wants to understand the Taliban these days, it seems, as the war in Afghanistan becomes the topic of the moment. Precious few people can tell the inside story of the shadowy movement, however, which makes Zaeef's autobiography an incredibly important book. If your government sends soldiers to Afghanistan, you must read this. By revealing the inner workings of the Taliban from the early days of the movement, Zaeef challenges the accepted wisdom about the insurgency now facing international troops. By the time you're finished reading, you might not sympathize with the Taliban-but you will know them as people, not monsters.' -Graeme Smith, Emmy Award-winning Afghanistan -based reporter for the Globe and Mail, Toronto

About the Author


Born in southern Afghanistan in 1968, Abdul Salam Zaeef played a role in many of the historical events of his lifetime, from his role as mujahed in the 1980s war against the Soviets, to administrative positions within the Taliban movement, to imprisonment in Guantanamo, to a role of public advocacy and criticism of the US-backed Karzai government following his release in 2005. He lives in Kabul.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Jean MacKenzie on April 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover
"My Life with the Taliban" may not be for everybody -- only for those who seek to truly understand the movement in its historical context. Those who insist on remaining mired in prejudice, who prefer demonization of the Taliban to a closer examination of their motivations and goals, should skip this book. Mullah Abdul Salaam Zaeef's account of his early years as a struggling Taliban official gives us a deeper and more realistic view of a group that has been branded with all of the sins of Afghanistan and none of its virtues. Readers who say that Zaeef's version of events is self-serving are undoubtedly correct -- this is a personal memoir, not a cold historical treatise. But it gives us an invaluable glimpse of a man and his time, it draws back the curtain on a period about which we have very little real information.
Some people will be made uncomfortable by Zaeef's account of his treatment at the hands of the Americans following the Taliban's ouster -- it is much more difficult to justify cruelty towards those we do not know. But, again, Zaeef and his editors perform a valuable service in introducing us to Guantanamo from the point of view of one of its inmates. Most readers will be moved to anger and outrage -- Zaeef was a diplomat, not a fighter -- but, again, sympathy with the Taliban is not an emotion everyone can handle.
"My Life with the Taliban" should become standard reading for anyone who wants to study Afghanistan today.

Jean MacKenzie, Afghanistan-based journalist.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Graeme C. Smith on April 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover
The entire world wants to understand the Taliban these days, it seems, as the war in Afghanistan becomes the topic of the moment. Precious few people can tell the inside story of the shadowy movement, however, which makes Mullah Zaeef's autobiography an incredibly important book. If your government sends soldiers to Afghanistan, you must read this. By revealing the inner workings of the Taliban from the early days of the movement, Zaeef challenges the accepted wisdom about the
insurgency now facing international troops. By the time you're finished reading, you might not sympathize with the Taliban - but you will know them as people, not monsters.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Joshua R. Foust on April 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This book is unfairly maligned as being a work of Taliban apologetics. It is that, to a certain extent, but it is an important counter-narrative to the dominant "Taliban=evil" one. Mullah Zaeef writes of how and why he chose to join the movement and work toward its end; just as upsetting, perhaps, to an American audience, is his description of how we treated prisoners at Guantanamo - even legitimate ones like former regime officials.

Does this book maybe go too far toward excusing the Taliban's activities? Yes. But don't blame the translators for that (they are just that - translators). Just as we give our own disgraced politicians the chance to explain themselves through memoir, so should we do that for Zaeef, especially when understanding the justification of our enemies is so vitally important.

Joshua Foust
[...]
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Neil Paterson and Anna Paterson on April 11, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This book may outrage some, but it is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand the country where the US and NATO-led war costs more lives every day. There is no pretence here - Zaeef is an opponent of the West's intervention in his country and continues to consider himself a Talib, if he is no longer an active member. Zaeef does not claim to be a historian - this is an autobiography, a form making no claims to `objectivity'. But historians will view this as an important source, telling a side of the story that has been completely absent in English-language accounts of the Afghan conflict so far.

Reading this book with all its references to belief and scripture leaves the impression of a passionate Afghan nationalist who believes the Pashtuns are disenfranchised and who hates the Americans and the Pakistani ISI in equal measure. The section about Guantanamo should be read for itself alone by anyone who feels the West is more `civilized' than the Afghans. It is also impressive to read of Zaeef's attempt as ambassador in Pakistan to obtain the release of the Taliban prisoners in the Kunduz area who were subsequently massacred. On the other hand, Zaeef's account contains frustrating silences, as one might expect from a memoir. There is no mention, for example, of the Taliban's alleged use of opium money, or the use of suicide bombs and the civilian casualties they have caused.

You may end up disagreeing with both reviewers and book, but you should still read it. If you end up, like us, with a sense of respect for Zaeef, who comes across as an honest and committed man - is that really so appalling?
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful By N. Higgins on May 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
While this is an interesting read I would caution readers from accepting it as objective truth. Not only does the author view the Taliban movement through rose tinted spectacles, which I suppose is a given, but he goes further than that and distorts history to present the Taliban in a more favorable light.
One of the more glaring omissions in the book can be found (or not found)in the chapter entitled "The Beginning" where at the end of the chapter the author claims the Taliban were attacked by Ishmael Khan, the Governor of Herat Province and defacto ruler of the west.
In fact the Taliban were urged to attack Herat by the Pakistani trucking mafia out of Quetta who resented the duties that IK was charging them to bring in goods from Iran. So in May of 1995 the Taliban launched a major assault on Herat only to be defeated with the loss of some 3000 men. Their most costly defeat up to that point.
As they withdrew south to Kandahar in what was a disastrous rout 100s of their casualties died from lack of basic medical cover and even from lack of water as the Taliban's inability to supply and equip its men took its toll in the deserts of southern Afghanistan.
My point; if the author is not able to cover this at all and omits it completely then what else is he distorting or not telling the truth about?
So, as I said an interesting read but hardly a real history of the movement.
The two editors, Linschoten and Kuehn have been gulled by a very credible snake oil salesman.
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