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Afghanistan's Endless War: State Failure, Regional Politics, and the Rise of the Taliban Paperback – October, 2001
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From Publishers Weekly
While the current tragedy of Afghanistan is well known, its history remains relatively unknown. This comprehensive academic text written and prepared before Sept. 11 and the subsequent U.S. air strikes on the Taliban examines the past few decades, delving into the interwoven historical, political, economic and geographic factors that precipitated the country's woes. There's information here that will surprise some, such as Goodson's emphasis on the role of Pakistan in bringing the Taliban to power; and the weakness of support for the Taliban outside of the Pashtun tribe. The overall argument about Afghanistan's disintegration has been well covered in the media, but Goodson, a professor of international studies, highlights the impact of interethnic conflicts, exacerbated by the destructive intervention of the U.S.S.R., the United States and Pakistan. There's also more depth, complexity and detail here than the media can provide for example, Goodson estimates that 15% of the population has died since fighting first broke out in 1978. The only solution he offers is the one the West wants a multiethnic, power-sharing government. But writing before the current conflict, Goodson holds little optimism: "the situation there is terrible, and prospects for the future are dismal." And ominously, Goodson believes the collapse of state power in Afghanistan could occur elsewhere in Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe. General readers might find the book dense and dry, but it provides a helpful background to Afghanistan's current morass. A paperback edition is due in March.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"A comprehensive history of Afghan politics in the 20th century, highlighting the events leading up to the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan (which effectively instigated American involvement in the region). It's useful reading for anyone who wants a guide to the overall economic, social, cultural and political situation at the present moment."―New York Times Book Review
"After a good introductory chapter and a well-done short account of historical factors shaping Afghanistan, Goodson documents in eight stages the continual war from 1978 to early 2001. The detail of his periodization is daunting, but it brings out well the feudal reality of Afghanistan's many warring factions. . . a useful guide."―Foreign Affairs
"The overall argument about Afghanistan's disintegration has been well covered in the media, but Goodson highlights the impact of interethnic conflicts, exacerbated by the destructive intervention of the U.S.S.R., the United States and Pakistan. There's also more depth, complexity and detail here than the media can provide."―Publishers Weekly
"Afghanistan’s Endless War is a serious study of, as its subtitle says, 'state failure, regional politics and the rise of the Taliban,' and it brings us right up to early 2001. . . Read this book and you'll come to realize that the Saudi Osama bin Laden and other terrorists were foisted on an unwilling population from the outside. Political Islam and the fundamentalist theocracy that now governs the country were also an alien and unwelcome imposition on a people happily accustomed to keeping their mullahs confined to mosques."―Wall Street Journal
"Essential reading for anyone―and nowadays this should mean all of us―who wants to understand what Afghanistan is like and how it got to be that way."―Journal of Democracy
"A mix of interviews with Taliban leaders and field research combine to illuminate what has been happening in Afghanistan over the last 20 years and concludes, presciently, that 'what happens in Afghanistan will continue to affect stability and security in an increasingly important region of the post-Cold War world"―Seattle Post-Intelligencer
"Goodson knows what he is talking about. He has been to the places he writes about. He knows the people. He has studied his subject carefully and closely. And he has thought about it all and turned what he knows and saw into a solid, and seriously disturbing, book. . . Readers will close this book with key knowledge they could find elsewhere only by going to multiple sources. They will also encounter a keen mind that doesn't parrot common rhetoric."―Salem Statesman Journal
"Goodson delivers a brief but powerful analysis of the ethnic, religious, social and geographic divisions which have produced seven million refugees, two million deaths and a whole lot of heartache and pain."―Alibi
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Goodson understands why outside powers fail in Afghanistan in the long run, expending resources with nothing tangible to show in the end. It is a unique, diverse and ungoverned country, with a long history of conflict and shifting loyalties. This is a place where things don't work the same way as anywhere else. Even now, it would be beneficial if more Americans read this book and force more thoughtful coverage in the media.
I found the answer in other materials, including a special project to map all of the existing tribes, sub-tribes, and individual leaders where they could be identified. The project required monitoring of local radio stations in various languages, some of which did not have print media. At the end of it all what came across was massive--massive--chaos in a medieval environment where everyone, without exception, regards every foreign power--and especially the superpowers--as an intruder, and every other Afghan as someone to be killed, exploited, or followed, depending on the situation.
This is a very fine book, but when one examines the list of organizations (14) and key individuals (16), what comes across is antisceptic simplicity. This is not a criticism of the author, the research (virtually every English-language reference of note), or the conclusions--all fit well within a very thoughtful approach to describing this failed state called Afghanistan. What jumps out at me is the fact that we do not have the access to the same story as told in Russian, Chinese, Dari, Farsi, Pashto, Urdu, Hindi, and we have done nothing to actually get below the state level--what I call "two levels down"--to the sub-tribe level.
As the world gets more complex, as "wild cards" such as Omar bin Laden cause massive dislocations within major developed countries, not just in isolated failed states, it seems to me that we do not have the sources and tools in hand to get a truly comprehensive coherent view of any particular situation. I would go so far as to say that each book such as this can only be considered a calling card--an audition--and that a real understanding of the Afghan situation could only emerge from a multi-national effort that brings together such talented authors, across cultural and national lines, and gives them the kind of collection, processing, modeling, and operational intelligence support that are normally reserved for just a few great nations. In brief, what we understand about Afghanistan is now too important to be left to a single author or a single perspective--and certainly too important to be left to a single failed intelligence community that thinks only in English.
After reading the book (one interesting passage, by the way, was his comment (I paraphrase) "it would be difficult to imagine a scenario that would remove the Taliban from power in the near future" I was left pondering the amazing twist and turns reality takes -- and saw this whole region in an entirely different light. Particularly the role of Pakistan.
(Some might see) the book as rather sterile. I did not. I found it much more engaging than "Tournament of Shadows", for example -- but then again, I am fascinated by the kind of analysis this author engages in. Showing how behavior (of individuals, societies, cultures) is multi-determined, and avoiding the pitfalls of simplistic answers to complex questions.