194 of 201 people found the following review helpful
on April 7, 2000
This book, written by a Pakistani journalist, takes us inside Afghanistan and the Taliban. The author's deep knowledge of the land - its terrain and people - is impressive. I must say the history of Afghanistan is quite interesting, not to mention the wide variety of ethnic groups that I never knew existed. From a land of high art and culture in Buddist times, Afghanistan has devolved to its present state of lawlessness. Far from being a simplistic, organic development, the rise of the Islamic Fundamentalist movement in this country has complex origins, location and history being key factors. I found the pace of writing clear and engaging. Whatever you may think of the Taliban, this is a very informative book. Highly recommended.
141 of 145 people found the following review helpful
on September 23, 2001
Ahmed Rashid's book "Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil, and the Fundamentalism in Central Asia" is an excellent book for those who would like to understand the Taliban, its background, rise to power as well as US and Pakistan's support of the fundamentalist regime. Published in 2000, it is a very timely book given the tragedy of the World Trade Center plane attacks on September 11th.
The main factor contributing to the strength of the book is Rashid's extensive access to Afghanistan and key players who have shaped the policy of the country. He has spent the better portion of the last 21 years in the country and knows it intimately. Although himself Pakistani, he is very critical of his country's role (and that of the the United States)in nurturing the most radical elements in the Afghan opposition that fought the Soviet Union in the 1980's as well as the Taliban. The most important chapter of the book for our purposes today is Chapter 10 which deals with the rise of Osama bin Laden in the context of the Afghan-Soviet war and US/Pakistani support of the opposition.
Rashid explains in detail American support for the ISI's involvement in drug trafficking as a means to raise money for the anti-Soviet resistance. He laments the American-Pakistani practice of consistent and unwavering support for the most radical elements in the Afghan opposition, virtually ignoring the more moderate opposition. The result: thousands of radical Muslims, armed and trained by The US and Pakistan, sparking "holy wars" against countries deemed anti-Muslim. As I re-read the book after the terrible attack on the US on September 11th, I couldn't help but be disappointed with the lack of foresight the United States policy-makers had in supporting these radicals. Particular blame, in my view, must be meeted out to Zbigniew Brzezinski, who, in his pathological anti-Soviet and anti-Russian passions, went to great lengths in the 80's to push the US to support the Mujahideen radicals. His misguided policies violently bore their fruits in New York and Washington on September 11th.
Rashid also does a great job untangling the web of oil and gas pipelines that lie at the heart of the world's interest in the Central Asian Republics of the former USSR and Afghanistan. The post Cold War American policy of eliminating Russian and Iranian influence in Central Asia has lead to the US Administration to support, without giving formal diplomatic recognition, to the Taliban. The reason for this, Rashid explains, is to circumvent Iranian and Russian territory and lay gas and oil pipelines through Afghanistan and Pakistan for eventual Western consumption. Again Pakistan is a key ally for the US in this venture, along with Turkey.
Some of the most interesting parts of the book are the Stone Age social practices of the Taliban, including their horrific treatment of women. In his appendix he lists most of the decrees the Taliban issued regarding these policies.
In sum, I highly recommend this book to all those interested in a timely, in depth analysis of one of the most repressive regimes in the world and the complex politics of the great powers that make Central Asia the next hot spot of the world.
106 of 109 people found the following review helpful
on August 14, 2001
Rashid is successful in collating a massive amount of information into a well-organized, readable book. Although at times journalistic, with glib analysis at the end of his quasi-historical recitation, this book gives a thorough accounting of all the players and interests that have brought Afghanistan to where it is today. It is useful as a single volume that recounts the rise of the Taliban that is concise and clear. Rashid is a veteran journalist who has covered Afghanistan for years. His connections and interviews from all aspects of Afghani politics and society give the book a depth that as been hard for other books to accomplish.
Sources and appendices are excellent. The organization of the book is in three main parts: 1) 'History of the Taliban Movement,' which is a useful recounting of the Taliban's rise in a chronological fashion. The five chapters each represent one year; 2) 'Islam and the Taliban' explores the origin and nature of the Taliban in thought and practice in the context of other Muslim movements, how it is organized, how it functions in making decisions, and how it administers policy socially and militarily; 3) 'The New Great Game' treats all of the international actors' behaviors and motivations, and the consequences for Afghanistan.
Although his perspectives of all of the relevant actors -the Taliban, the anti-Taliban factions, the UN, regional countries, Western powers, oil companies, Russia- are undeniably put forth for the reader, they only enhance the educational value of the book. Rashid is highly successful in imparting the motivations and values of all the ethnic and religious tensions in Afghani society, and their interlinkages (and the consequent perspectives and involvement of foreign nations with the various contending forces). The paradox of the Taliban's Pashtuni ethnic primacy and cosmic vision of Islam is treated quite well.
Rashid also gives an almost too thorough treatment of the Unocal/Bridas competition over natural gas fields and pipeline politics in Central Asia. The linkages of international politics and the effects on and of the Afghani civil war is outlined as well. The chapter on Osama bin-Laden is excellent. No actor is spared from Rashid's critique. He is very successful at presenting the motivations and worldview of all the different players. There are some points worth quibbling about, such as an adequate presentation of who makes foreign policy decisions in Iran, but the overall effect is successful.
The "New Great Game" may or may or may not turn out to be as impactful as Rashid puts forth. How relevant power competition may be in the region is something that will be played out over time, depending on the energy resources of the region, and the region's ability to achieve some modicum of political stability. Robert A. Manning's critique of this is useful [see: "The Asian Energy Factor" (2000)]. Rashid does not hesitate to illustrate the linkages between the CIA and the ISI, and the intendant consequences of Pakistani machinations and American involvement and indifference in Afghanistan over the years.
Rashid does not overly dwell on making predictions, but a couple of his points are useful: the backlash of Taleban politics into Pakistan; and the internal fragmentation and implosion of the Taleban will probably be the source of its decline, rather than a civil uprising or sudden military success of the Northern Alliance.
I would hesitate before labelling Rashid as some biased, "anti-Talibaner;" anyone who is literate and concerned with human welfare, Muslim or non-Muslim, has every right to be appalled by the situation in Afghanistan.
62 of 64 people found the following review helpful
on October 11, 2001
I've read several books about Afghanistan and the Taliban since Sept. 11, and if I had to choose just one to recommend, this would be it. Ahmed Rashid is a Pakastani journalist , so he brings a different perspective to this whole awful situation than a US or British author might. He understands the area in a way that people from other parts of the world probably never will, and brings many years of experience to the subject. However, he appears to be very objective in his descriptions, and shows where the actions of many different countries have led to the situation that Afghanistan finds itself in now. Although the book was written in 2000, it is extremely informative in our present crisis. Several other reviewers here have done a good job of describing the parts of the book, so I won't do that again, but I would like to mention the last chapter of the book which summarizes the events that have led Afghanistan to the situation it is in, points out how difficult it will be to solve its problems and discusses how important it is to achieve peace in Afghanistan. I think that this chapter ought to be required reading for all Americans as we go into war. His prophetic closing sentence is "The stakes are extremely high."
I'd also recommend two other books for those who are interested in learning more: The Taliban: War, Religion and the New Order in Afghanistan, by Peter Marsden, and The New Jackals: Ramsi Yousef, Osama bin Laden, and the Future of Terrorism, by Simon Reeve.
69 of 72 people found the following review helpful
on September 29, 2001
Very few, I doubt, will be disappointed with Rashid's latest offering - especially those wanting an in depth look at why bombing Afghanistan is unlikely to be successful in the war against terrorism.
I read Taliban: Islam, Oil and the New Great Game in Central Asia (UK version) when it first came out in early 2000 and found it extremely thought provoking. I read it again after the New York bombings and now believe it is the best intro on the market.
His analysis is prefect for the international reader trying to get to grips with an unknown entity. It should be. He's a very well respected South Asia journalist and one of the few who've actually been there since day the Soviet tanks rolled in. His contacts in the region are unparalleled.
To be sure, everyone comes out of this book looking bad - in particular the Saudis, the Pakistani government's of Zia-ul-Haq/Bhutto(s) and the United States. You're left feeling extremely sorry for the ordinary Afghani who has been a pawn in a grotesque game of chess played between the major powers for as long as anyone can remember. But domestic history and tribal rivalries also play a huge part.
As the title suggests, there are three parts to the book. To set the stage, Rashid gives a detailed account of Afghanistan's miserable history since the revolution in 1973. It details bitter infighting between various tribal and religious groups in the immediate aftermath of the Soviet withdrawal, the civil war that ensued when President Najibullah was deposed and the rise of the Taliban out of religious schools in Pakistan. It's ugly, full of horrifying images and not in the least bit afraid of telling the story as he saw it, right there in front of his eyes.
Rashid then goes on to give the international reader an insight into the inner workings of the Taliban movement from various angles -: its interpretation of the Koran, its social policies, its reliance on revenue from the drugs trade (a Pakistani/CIA invention) and its relationship with international terrorists such as Osama bin Laden. The accounts are factual, not judgemental - ideal for those who want to make up their own mind.
The final seventy pages are a delight for Great Game fans since Rashid dives deep into the dark seedy world of international politics, the oil industry and how Afghanistan was/is a buffer between the competing interests of a vast array of players such as Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, the United States and many, many others including Argentina ... yes Argentina.
It ends with an almost melancholy plea on behalf of ordinary Afghanis. Leave us alone to run our own country is the message. After reading its 244 pages you'll probably agree.
My own belief is that Peter Hopkirk's book `The Great Game' might actually be a better place to start. Hopkirk's classic is a one-in-a-million trip through the Anglo-Soviet `Cold War' of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the blood-curdling Afghan wars and the race to colonise what are now known as the central Asian republics. Is it any wonder people are full of loathing for interfering foreigners?
The only difference these days is that the British have dropped out of sight - except for the SAS that is.
34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
I bought this on September 11th--barely beating the rush, and read it immediately. Now it is in demand, and maybe hard to get. But persevere, buy it and read it: it is a great book. It explains so much about Central Asian and Middle Eastern politics, NGOs, international competition for oil, the drug industry, smuggling, terrorism, al-Qaeda, and the origins of the Afghan refugee problem that bothers Iran, Pakistan, Thailand and Australia so much. If you know nothing about these things, this book explains them without assuming much prior knowledge; but if you are an expert I suspect you will still learn a few things.
The book covers from the Cold War until the year 2000; it obviously does not talk about the recent death of the opposition's leader or the ramifications of the attack on America. It does explain a little of Afghanistan's ancient and medieval history and culture as well.
People have asked me what the author's slant is; I honestly don't know. Although he does tell about American policies, it is not ... especially anti-American or anti-Western; nor is it anti-Arab, anti-Islam, anti-Iranian, anti-Soviet or -Russian, or anti-Pakistan. Rashid says what everyone did, in pages filled with facts, rather than laying the blame at anyone's feet in particular.
I am not widely read in this area, but I suspect that since it is so recent and especially relevant to recent events, this is the book you're looking for. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on October 4, 2001
Ahmed Rashid spent over 20 years as a reporter in Pakistan/Afghanistan. He has written a 216 page book filled with facts concerning the history, politics and culture of the Taliban, Terroism and American Oil Companies. Mr Rashid reports in a clear and organized style about events between 1978-1999 in this part of the world in the context of the history of the Middle East. His insights and reporting are both surprising and informative. He covers religious and political groups and factions and sects as only someone who has lived in this part of the world could do. It is amazing how he is able to present a straight-forward and intelligble account of so complex a situation. He deals with international intrigue by American Oil Companies, about the treatment of women, about Pakistan's and Saudi Arabia's support of the Taliban. Each and every chapter of this book contains valuable information to anyone interest in understanding how a small, unknown and uneducated group of religious Islamic extremist could assist in the destruction of the WTC on 911 and threathen the financial security of many Western economies. Turn off CNN, put down the Times and sit down to read a book which will provide an important framework for dealing with the problems we face today.
39 of 42 people found the following review helpful
If recent events have made you feel that you need to know more, this book will definitely fill the bill and is written in a clear, accessible style. Written by a Pakistani journalist who is familar with Afghanistan and the realities of living in a harsh terrain, the history of the country and culture, the book is both engaging and enlightening. I thought I was "reasonably" informed about people and events in that area of the world until I read this book. Afterwards, I realized that the rise of Islam Fundamentalists depended not only on the social and cultural history I knew about but on smaller details I didn't (but which the author provides) including art, environment, class, economics and more.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on June 28, 2000
Ahmed Rashid writes a seemingly objective analysis of this fascinating movement. Throughout history when looking at the start of a movement it is never a simple result of one man leading a people. Movements and people are thrust to the fore by circumstance. Rashid does an excellent job of explaining these circumstances and the results of Pakistan's and America's approaches to Afghanistan. I wasn't aware of the extent of oil influence in Afghanistan.
I was working in Peshawar, Pakistan in 1991-2 and remember the hope of my Afghan pupils when the Communists were finally defeated in Kabul. A six year old pupil gave me a note one morning with "Afghanistan is free" in Pushtu. A short while later these hopes were dashed as the civil war continued and people in the camps near me were resigned to calling Pakistan home. We started to see new refugees in Peshawar, affluent Kabulis with their left-hand drive cars.
Sadly a beautiful people of a beautiful country have been permanently damaged by the continual selfish interests of various groups. Compromise for the sake of the country and the future has never been considered.
Afghanistan: Sterai mashai
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Anyone who wades through the detail-laden and sometimes turgid prose that comprises *Taliban* will end up far more knowledgeable about Afghanistan and southern Asian politics generally than could possibly result from mere exposure to the usual, highly filtered news sources upon which we usually depend. What's most interesting about *Taliban* is that it is written from a non-Western, and especially non-American point of view. Consequently, the author makes apparent that although the United States has blundered in its policies toward southern Asia, most of the principal causes of the problems in the region have to do with autonomous dynamics and conflicts with lengthy histories that have little or nothing to do with U.S. actions.
Rashid first covers the history and trajectory of the Taliban movement up through 1999 or so, and then circles back to discuss various particular themes related to the rise and reign of this peculiar and in many ways frightening religious movement. These include their draconian and inhumanly strict social agenda (particularly their horrendous treatment of women), the role of the drug trade and smuggling generally in Afghani (and Pakistani) society, the roles of various religious and ethnic factions within the conflicts afflicting the region, the wider set of geopolitical conflicts involving Afghanistan's neighboring nations plus the larger powers such as Russia and the U.S., and the important (and in the context of the post-September 11 war, suspicious) role of oil and gas-related intrigue in the dynamics of the region.
All of these topics are treated carefully and analytically by Rashid, who offers thoughtful criticism of just about all parties involved in the current mess. Being Pakastini himself, he has perhaps the harshest words for his own government(s), who clearly were responsible for the rise of the Taliban beginning in 1994. Rashid places Pakistani support for the Taliban within a broader campaign to increase Pakistan's influence in the region. Unfortunately, as the author points out, the Taliban has ultimately exerted more influence and control over Pakistan's domestic situation than the Pakistanis have been able to exert over Mullah Omar and the rest of the Taliban.
The United States certainly is shown to share in the blame for the current problems afflicting Afghanistan. It is well-known that the anti-Soviet war that began in 1979 was largely supported by the U.S. in proxy fashion through the Pakistani ISI intelligence agency. After the Soviets left in 1989, however, the Americans simply lost interest in the Afghani situation and when civil war and chaos emerged the Americans did virtually nothing to help ameliorate Afghanistan's woes. When the Taliban emerged in 1994 as a "stabilizing influence" for a war-torn nation, the Americans first considered supporting them, partly because it was believed the Taliban might be amenable to overtures by Unocal to build a pipeline through Afghanistan. Only when the Taliban clearly showed its misogynist, barbaric character did the Clinton administration finally begin to condemn them. By that time these "religious students" were already harboring Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda henchmen, thus setting the stage for the events of September 11 and since.
Overall, *Taliban* is a fascinating but certainly depressing tale
of international and interethnic politics at its real-life worst. What emerges is a picture in which every nation, every religious denomination, every economic faction, and every ethnic group apparently acts purely out of short-term self-interest, with virtually no one exhibiting a willingness to respect the bigger, longer term picture or the "greater good." The American bombing campaign to drive the Taliban out of power in Afghanistan may seem heavy-handed and brutal, but within the context of the broader historical picture as portrayed by Rashid, it's apparently merely the latest version of "business as usual" in south Asian politics.