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Waiting for the Taliban: A Journey Through Northern Afghanistan [Kindle Edition]

Anna Badkhen
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)

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Book Description

War correspondent Anna Badkhen returns to Northern Afghanistan in search of the friends she made in the early days of the occupation, back when it was the safest part of an unsafe land. Blighted, hopeless, still unspeakably beautiful but now overrun by the Taliban, the region is a different place entirely than the one she first encountered. Traveling from village to village, she comes to understand what went so terribly wrong in the North—and, by extension, what is going so terribly wrong in Afghanistan in general. In her dispatches, which she calls “part diary entries, part love letters from a land that stole my heart,” she offers one of the most heartbreaking, lyrical portrayals ever of Afghanistan—and a powerful warning to those seeking to force the country into a bright new future.

Format Note: Available for the first time as a collection, Badkhen’s dispatches span three weeks of daily coverage to create a short-form e-book.



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Amazon Exclusive: A Q&A with Anna Badkhen

Question: In October 2001, you stepped off a plane in Afghanistan to cover your first conflict. What were your first impressions of the country and its people?

Anna Badkhen: Actually, in 2001 I did not step off a plane: Because at the time the United States was conducting its war mostly from the air, very few civilian planes and helicopters were allowed into Afghanistan. Besides, Taliban government controlled most of the country, and the sliver of Northern Afghanistan that was in the hands of U.S.-backed rebels had only one, barely functioning, airport. To get into Afghanistan I had to fly to Tajikistan, drive to that country’s southern frontier, and there, very late at night, take a rusty, diesel-powered ferry across the Pyandzh River--the Oxus of antiquity.

The Pyandzh was the border between the two countries, between war and peace. It was also a border between eras. Suddenly I was surrounded by people who eked out a living the way they had for millennia: without electricity or running water, tilling fields with primitive wooden tools, baking delicious flatbread in tandoor ovens, taking flocks of sheep to the jade hills at sunup. I fell in love with the tenaciousness and grace of these people, and with the generosity with which they shared everything: their shelter, their food, and their grief.

Question: You wrote that upon your return in 2010 you found "that the people who in 2001 had embraced the U.S.-led war are now wondering whether the Taliban’s puritanical and cruel governance may be a better option than the anarchy, corruption, and abandonment that followed the militia’s ouster." In summary, what went wrong in Northern Afghanistan over those nine years that you were away?

Anna Badkhen: After the invasion, the north--where ethnic Pashtuns, who form the core of the Taliban, are a small minority--was universally considered to be virtually Taliban-proof. NATO forces and most international donors focused their attention on southern Afghanistan, where the Taliban had retained a stronghold. The notion that the Taliban posed no threat in Northern Afghanistan spelled the region’s undoing: While the world was distracted, the Taliban quietly returned to the north, capitalizing on the disillusionment of the local population both with the UN-backed kleptocracy that governs in Kabul, and with the West, which, in their eyes, had broken its promise to improve the way people live in the region.

Question: From your sense of the people of Afghanistan, what do you think they want from the United States?

Anna Badkhen: Ninety percent of Afghans live in villages: kind, generous, religious people who live with their hands, who love their children, who want to kick back after a day of grueling manual labor, eat dinner, fly kites. They want what most people want everywhere in the world: Peace. Stability. Electricity, clean water, access to health care. They want to have enough food to feed their families. They want roads, and they want to be able to drive on those roads—whether to take their crops to market, or to visit relatives in a distant village—without being blown up by a roadside bomb, and without having to pay a bribe at every police checkpoint. They want to know that no misguided air raid will destroy their farmhouse while they sleep. It seems to me that at this point they don’t care whether all of this comes from the United States, or from some relief agency, or from the Taliban. Afghans have weathered thousands of years of invasions, fratricidal conflicts, political persecution. They are an astoundingly enduring nation. But they want a break.

Question: What’s a day in the life of an average Afghan citizen like? How can and why should an average American try to relate?

Anna Badkhen: You have done this many times: On a day off, you pack some sandwiches, water, and fruit, lock up the house, drive out of the city, and go for a hike with your friends.

One spring day, my Afghan friends took me hiking. Up a road strewn with chert, past some cotton fields drowned in stagnant water--to soak the hard soil--up a goat path that bisects a hill into a sloping wheat field and an almost vertical lea of cerulean wildflowers. Wars have swept over these hills like the smooth waves of wind that rolled the wheat ears, and many of the fields were probably ticking with landmines. But wars cannot kill our basic human need for normalcy, our appreciation of natural beauty. At the top of one hill--turtles peered out from their nest beneath wildflower stalks; an ant dragged a husk of last year’s grain to a crevice between lumps of the dry clay soil; a one-humped she-camel grazed on chamomile flowers--we sat and drank water and mango juice we had brought, snapping pictures and laughing. A little boy--my friend’s nephew--put a rose in my hair, and held my hand all the way back to the car.

Why should we relate? Because we are all human, because we share a planet, and because our world, in an era of globalized trade, the Internet, and the 24-hour news cycle, is rapidly shrinking. What separates us are a language, a set of customs, geography. These are superficial boundaries. We want the same things: friends to go hiking with, beauty to clap our eyes on, and someone’s hand to hold.

Question: In your opinion, what are the three most important things that Americans should know about the current situation in Afghanistan?

Anna Badkhen: One thing to keep in mind is that even those Afghans who initially supported the war against the Taliban no longer see it a war of emancipation, and NATO troops as liberators. They see it as another war that threatens their lives and the lives of their kin. They are not interested in Western-style democracy; their lifestyle is traditionally feudal and land-based. They rarely travel far beyond their tribal areas and the nearest market town. They want to live comfortably, they want their children to stop dying of such preventable diseases as dysentery or common cold each year.

Secondly: It is a common misconception that while the Taliban are a hardline, ultra-religious militia, their opposition--which makes up the current government--is not. Most Afghan leaders come from the ranks of mujahedeen, or holy warriors: a hardline, often ultra-religious militia formed--with the assistance of both the CIA and Osama bin Laden--to fight against the Soviets thirty years ago. Many have been accused of sanctioning mass murder, ethnic cleansing, and gang rape. The longer they remain in power, the longer their government will have no legitimacy in the eyes of many ordinary Afghans.

Finally: Nine years after the war began, life for most Afghans has not improved. Child mortality remains as high as it was in 2001: three out of four children die before they turn five. Most villages still have no electricity, no paved roads, no access to clean water. When people in the West wonder why Afghans do not appear grateful for the U.S.-led effort to rid their country of the Taliban, the question I have is: given these statistics, why should they?

Question: On a less serious note, what’s the best treat you tried while there? What did it look and taste like?

Anna Badkhen: Afghan food is a delight. During the spring 2010 trip that yielded Waiting for the Taliban, I stayed in a private house of a huge, tight-knit family. My room was next to the kitchen, and there was always something sublime cooking on the propane stove there, and mouthwatering aroma would seep into my room through the door crack. One day--it was a Friday, a day off--my hosts were having some guests over, and I helped out in the kitchen. We were making--in addition to rice pilau, meatballs, stewed lamb, salad, creamed spinach, and spiced rice pudding--mantwo, large Afghan dumplings with ground meat and onions (there is a recipe for mantwo and some other wonderful Afghan food in my book Peace Meals, which comes out in October). Four women at the counter, preparing lunch for 40. At first, the other women watched me very suspiciously: were my untrained fingers a match for the filigreed, stuffed beauties they were making? After the second mantwo, they said: “Good, you can do this,” and stopped watching. I felt as though I had been accepted into a tribe.

And the mantwo were delicious.


More from Anna Badkhen

Women weave a carpet in Oqa, an ethnic Turkomen village in Northern Afghanistan
White doves at the Blue Mosque, a shrine at the heart of Mazar-e-Sharif
A woman at the Mazar-e-Sharif house where the author stayed in the spring of 2010 carries a tray with freshly baked Afghan bread, naan.


Hiking in Sholgara on a day off
Mahbuhbullah and Nargiz, author's friends in Dasht-e-Qaleh, serve lunch at their house.
A man in Camp Shahraqi Mawjirin stands next to the grave of his child, who died of complications from a common cold.



About the Author

Anna Badkhen has covered wars in Afghanistan, Somalia, Israel and the Palestinian territories, Chechnya, Kashmir, and Iraq. Her reporting has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor, National, FRONTLINE/World, Truthdig, and Salon. Her book, Peace Meals, will be published in October 2010. In April 2010, she journeyed to Northern Afghanistan on an assignment for Foreign Policy magazine to write a series of dispatches that eventually became Waiting for the Taliban.

Product Details

  • File Size: 155 KB
  • Print Length: 57 pages
  • Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (September 9, 2010)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003YJEYWE
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #206,347 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Read November 11, 2010
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
It is an excellent read (though short - 978 Kindle Locations). Pretty much apolitical, it will give you insight as to why simplified Western/American political solutions just don't seem to work in this poor and war-torn country.

Insights are derived from the diverse Afghan people the author visits during her most recent trip to Afghanistan. She tells their stories in a travel-diaryish format. Some of the stories are funny (but mostly not), many are sad (heart-wretchingly "How can God let this happen!" sad), all are interesting; salted with historical background information (both recent and ancient) that at least partially explains how the life conditions of that story arose.

A bargain at $2.99. Buy it.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sobering but beautiful October 8, 2010
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Afghanistan as it is, not as we would like it to be. An excellent look at life and how much hasn't changed, or at least not for the better in Afghanistan. A quick read, which I found difficult to put down once I started. Every story leaves you wanting another, hoping that maybe the next person interviewed is doing better in life. An excellent collection, my only complaint is that it ended so soon.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Puts You In the Middle of the Rockpile February 27, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition
The stories here are heartwrenching and real. Badhken takes us into the misery and beauty that is Afghanistan, a place seemingly stuck in a past millenium. Her vivid detail in describing the sights, sounds, smells, and feel is unmatched. Both as a travelogue and a human journey, this book is well crafted and filled with the sense of the author's compassion for a troubled land and its ferocious people. I learned much from this book and am glad to have spent the time it took to join her on her trip. I only wish it hadn't ended so quickly. If you're at all interested in the culture, history, and atmosphere of Afghanistan, this book should be read.
Ron Lealos
Author of Pashtun
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Short Glimpse into the Lives of Afghans January 22, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I just spent the last year deployed in Northern Afghanistan and this is a great little read. Written in 2010, I arrived in country in early 2011. It provides an interesting perspective as well since the author traveled and stayed with local Afghan families, so her writing is not filtered through a Coalition lens. She faced the dangers of traveling as any other Afghan civilian would. As others have mentioned, though, it is a short read since it is basically a compilation of her three weeks visiting the country. As far as proving an overall view of the north, however, the book's scope is too limited to truly do so since the author spent the majority of her time in Mazar-e-Sharif, with a trip to Konduz and Baghlan as well. What it does do well is allow readers to glimpse the daily difficulties Afghans face in scraping together a hardscrabble existence in a country whose citizens must do their best to survive from day to day - whether that means surviving the Taliban or the caprice of an incompetent central government. Worth the read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
In terms of detail and specificity, clarity and knowledge of the topic area, this book really is unparalleled among others written on northern Afghanistan. The author is intimately knowledgable about the areas and skillfully uses historical context to provide the reader a sense of place, space and time. Her detail in describing seemingly less important people and places really lends credibility to her subtle and balanced description of the floundering efforts of western agencies to help the featured population. More than just a one time political snapshot story of northern Afghanistan, through references to her multiple visits to the area, Anna Badkhen has woven the story of a journey of compassion and connection that is far too often discarded by journalist authors for details of sensational events. Great diary-style read that flows well and is easy to follow.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Waiting for the Taliban December 16, 2013
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Exceptionally insightful, well written book. If you are interested in Afghanistan and the cultural setting for our chosen war, this is a great selection.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Waiting for the Taliban December 7, 2013
By Zagain
Format:Kindle Edition
Badkhen collects several of her articles which detail her return to Northern Afghanistan after the end of the U.S. led war against the Taliban. She first visited the northern part of the country, an area where the northern alliance had held strong against Taliban incursions, in 2001. Her return visit illustrates how life in the area has sadly been negatively affected by the international war against the Taliban, particularly since there are now pockets of the group now controlling different areas of the northern territories. The title implies that the residents are merely awaiting a foregone conclusion -- that eventually the Taliban will overrun most of the towns and villages of the north now that they have been displaced from their previous strongholds in the south. These articles detail her interactions with Afghan friends, both new and old, and give the reader a glimpse in to their daily lives and relay some of their fears, hopes, and opinions about the recent history of their country. For anyone interested in the country of Afghanistan or in understanding how the international intervention has had an impact on the residents of the country, this is a must read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Up close, personal, riveting, and sad October 9, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Reading Anna Badkhen made me feel as though I was right there beside her revisiting northern Afghanistan. Wonderful up close and personal portraits of Afghanistan's people. I could almost smell the bread, feel myself slogging through the dust and mud, and searching with Anna for her lost friends. This book will bring tears to your eyes and give you new respect for the simple people of Afghanistan. You will enjoy this book although the future for these people appears to be incredibly sad.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Eye opening account of what is really going on.
Makes you think about what we are or are not doing over there. Where exactly is the aid going over there?
Published 10 months ago by Richard Faldasz
5.0 out of 5 stars You feel her journey.
In this short read I learned a great deal about the Afghan people and the failure of our policies in Afghanistan. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Benjamin Africa III
5.0 out of 5 stars Makes You Grateful
I really enjoyed this book because it is fairly short and easy to read, but opens your eyes to a powerful message. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, not great.
A recount of villages and people the author encountered in 2001-3, and how the people and circumstances have changed since then. The answer is not for the better.
Published 12 months ago by Avidreader
5.0 out of 5 stars Heart rending
It was a difficult read just simply because it is easier to put these things from your mind that to face the truth. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Terri Norris
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow
This book really gives you a first hand view of Afghanistan and good insight into the country, it's people and history. I couldn't put it down.
Published 13 months ago by David J. Rossman
5.0 out of 5 stars Well worth the short time and financial investment
This book makes the Afghan people real. The suffering that they endure on a regular basis is beyond anything we can imagine in the U.S. Read more
Published 20 months ago by S. Huffer
4.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful description of a horrible situation in beautiful land.
Anna's way with words draws the reader into a short but descriptive glimpse of the humanity of all sides involved in the ongoing conflict. Read more
Published 22 months ago by JOSEPH A
3.0 out of 5 stars Short travelogue
Anna has woven a deft narrative around her travels Afghanistan, which brings into focus the searing hatred and suffering of Afghans. Read more
Published 22 months ago by mac
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More About the Author

Anna Badkhen has written about wars on four continents, including the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Chechnya. Her reporting has appeared in The New York Times, The New Republic, Foreign Policy, and other publications. She is the author of "Afghanistan by Donkey," "Waiting for the Taliban," and "Peace Meals: Candy-Wrapped Kalashnikovs and Other War Stories."

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