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Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia Paperback – March 1, 2001
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This is the single best book available on the Taliban, the fundamentalist Islamic regime in Afghanistan responsible for harboring the terrorist Osama bin Laden. Ahmed Rashid is a Pakistani journalist who has spent most of his career reporting on the region--he has personally met and interviewed many of the Taliban's shadowy leaders. Taliban was written and published before the massacres of September 11, 2001, yet it is essential reading for anyone who hopes to understand the aftermath of that black day. It includes details on how and why the Taliban came to power, the government's oppression of ordinary citizens (especially women), the heroin trade, oil intrigue, and--in a vitally relevant chapter--bin Laden's sinister rise to power. These pages contain stories of mass slaughter, beheadings, and the Taliban's crushing war against freedom: under Mullah Omar, it has banned everything from kite flying to singing and dancing at weddings. Rashid is for the most part an objective reporter, though his rage sometimes (and understandably) comes to the surface: "The Taliban were right, their interpretation of Islam was right, and everything else was wrong and an expression of human weakness and a lack of piety," he notes with sarcasm. He has produced a compelling portrait of modern evil. --John Miller
From Library Journal
Afghanistan's position as a crossroads in Central Asia made it part of the 19th-century Great Game of imperialism and brings it to international strategic prominence once again. Rashid is a correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review who has covered Afghanistan's changing fortunes since the 1978 Soviet invasion. In his second book, he covers the origin and rise of the Taliban, its concepts of Islam on questions of gender roles and drugs, and the importance of the country to the development of energy resources in the region. His account of the Taliban's origins among the Pashtun refugees in Pakistani camps and their minimal education in Koranic schools from poorly educated teachers explains their lack of knowledge of the history and culture of their own country and of what it means to govern. The failed state that is now Afghanistan threatens to destabilize its neighbors by exporting both drugs and extremist views. Unlike Peter Marsden's Taliban: War Religion and the New Order in Afghanistan (Oxford Univ., 1998), this new work emphasizes the international implications of the Taliban and its government. A lucid and thoroughly researched account, it is recommended for academic and most public libraries.
-Marcia L. Sprules, Council on Foreign Relations Lib., New York
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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One of the plus points is that the book gives a historical background to the events in Afghanistan, helpful particularly for the readers under thirty.
The author makes a good case for the international community's more serious efforts at ameliorating the sufferings of those involved in this human tragedy.
Brings out the shorted sightedness of the leaders of the world's most powerful democracy.One feels outraged .
As one reads along, too many dramatis personae come in and is difficult to keep track.
The author gives in the appendix ,the who's who of the movement and its leadership but the list itself is quite a LONG LIST.
The chapter on oil pipelines and the related appendix add another dimension to the problem but do not impress the reader as the major reason for the events in Afghanistan ,particularly the appendix appears superfluous as the battle in Afghanistan appearsto be an outcome of its bloody history and Taliban's reaction to it than oill economics /politics.
The date line too, is useful for a more serious student of the history /politics of the region than an interested ordinary reader.
May be the appendices will be more useful if one reads the book again for some more serious use.
Overall, a good read that gives a comprehensive account of the travails of the region.
As the author explains, the word "talib" stands for "student of Islam", with "taliban" being the plural. A talib is one who is seeking knowledge, and is to be distinguished from a "mullah" who is a teacher. Apparently the Taliban chose to call themselves by that name in order to separate themselves from the Mujaheddin, and who wanted to "cleanse society" instead of engaging in a power struggle. Their ideal society was to be modeled after that of the Prophet Mohammed, and this was to be done using strict adherence to Islamic guidelines as put forth in the Koran. One can't help but ponder the fate of the Taliban if they would have relaxed their standards and attempted to have some intersection with other belief systems. Perhaps such pragmatism would have won them greater respect from the international community and prevented their antagonism with the United States.
The reader learns of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia being the principal suppliers of funding, weapons, and fuel to the Taliban in the 1990's. Considering they are now American "allies", this is interesting, and it shows just how fast governments can turn on each other. One also learns that the Taliban were Sunni Muslims, instead of Shia Muslims, the latter identification being incorrectly reported by the Western press. The Sunni Muslims despise the Shias, and vice versa, but it seems that the objects of hatred by the Taliban went beyond factional differences in the Islamic religion, for the Taliban, as one also learns in the book, forced Hindus residing in Afghanistan to wear yellow badges for purposes of identification.
The suffering of the people of Afghanistan in the last twenty-five years was not due solely to the Soviet invasion but also to other foreign meddling in its affairs. It was the demand by the international community to end the cultivation of poppy that exacerbated the economic crisis during the civil wars in Afghanistan. The opium trade apparently is going on full steam currently though, annoying many in the American government but apparently encouraged by the CIA in the early years of the Taliban government.
Western and non-Western interest in Afghanistan did not just happen after 9/11 however. As the author documents with crystal clarity, energy interests were the primary motivation for so many countries having their eyes fixated on Afghanistan for so many years. The author discusses the competition between Unocal, an American energy conglomerate, and Bridas, an oil company based in Argentina, to build a gas pipeline across Afghanistan. He is very candid in his discussion of how economic interests were behind most of the major conflicts in this region, which is refreshing considering that such interests are usually masked under the guise of some moral or higher purpose. This is especially true for the current war in Iraq waged by the United States and Great Britain, and to a lesser extent Italy and Australia, which is being sold as part of a general "war on terror".
The story of the Taliban is of course a tragic one, since in retrospect they could have been more constructive in their dealings with the international community. They were certainly a tenacious group though, and the reader learns from the author that the Taliban leadership, due to the many conflicts they engaged in, were the "most disabled" in the world. With justification, one can easily blame religion for their demise, as it has caused more suffering throughout human history than any other system of beliefs. Hopefully the Afghan people, with their new government, however illegitimate it might be, will see the errors of the Taliban and approach life with a more reasoned and healthy attitude; one that is free of religious dogmatism and open to alternative ideas and viewpoints.
At times the book gets a bit dry when lists names of people and places. I recommend, as I did, to print one detailed map of Afghanistan and one map of the Central Asia countires to keep up with the book (and to broaden your geographic knowledge).
While this book is factual and a good read, I must admit that Rashid is not unbiased. He offers several solutions throughout the book for how various Afghan crises could have been prevented, and he seems to feel that the US bears a large portion of the responsibility for them. Nevertheless, he backs up his opinions with facts, so even if you don't agree with him, you can respect his reasoning.
One final comment regarding the updated edition--Rashid initially wrote this book before 9/11, and the first edition ends in 1999/2000. When the book was updated, Rashid made the choice to keep the first edition intact, and add a last chapter discussing the events since then. While I can respect his decision here, I think it affects the timeliness of the book, and many of the first edition chapters would benefit from incorporating this new information, rather than waiting for the end. You get the information either way, but in my opinion, it would read better.
Overall, I find it to be an in-depth and enlightening read.