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The Wars of Afghanistan: Messianic Terrorism, Tribal Conflicts, and the Failures of Great Powers Paperback – December 10, 2013
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Lee H. Hamilton, former congressman and co-chair of the 9/11 Commission
The Wars of Afghanistan is a richly detailed account that places current U.S. interests in Afghanistan in the historical, political, and cultural context of this troubled land. Peter Tomsen's compelling analysis of Afghan leaders and tribal politics makes this book invaluable to the policy maker. His wise and carefully considered policy blueprintbasically, America will still help and America is withdrawingserves American interests and uplifts Afghanistan.”
Chuck Hagel, United States Secretary of Defense
The authenticity of Tomsen's Afghanistan experiences, knowledge, and analysis is the foundation of a superbly well-written and documented presentation of an astoundingly complicated part of the world. He brings remarkable clarity to a very complex story. Tomsen's book is the most current, informed, and complete Afghanistan publication in the market today and maybe ever. It is not an exaggeration to say that he has created a masterpiece. It's that good."
"Peter Tomsen has a depth of understanding and knowledge about the history of Afghanistan that makes him a unique asset in our effort to grapple with the multiple conflicts and intricate politics in what has turned out to be America's longest war.”
Winston Lord, former Assistant Secretary of State
Accolades like 'magisterial,' 'definitive,' and 'vital' should be reserved for rare books like Peter Tomsen's 'The Wars of Afghanistan.' Few Americans are as knowledgeable about that tormented land's past; none have been more savvy or prescient about its unrolling future. Tomsen's compelling narrative draws upon meticulous scholarship and virgin archives, personal frontline engagement and close ties with major players. This multilayered volume melds sweeping history, cultural painting, political analysis, governmental battles, dramatic action, and provocative prescriptions. 'The Wars of Afghanistan' is bound to have urgent impact and enduring resonance.”
San Francisco Chronicle, A Best Book of 2011
Peter Tomsen, a former U.S. envoy to "the Afghan resistance" from 1989 to 1992, reminds us in his sweeping history that the CIA has had a miserable record of understanding the politics of the region. "The Wars of Afghanistan" is rich with details about his interactions with key players during this critical period. Following the Soviet withdrawal, the United States continued to oppose compromise with the last Afghan communist ruler, Mohammad Najibullah, and to arm the mujahedeen, including figures now fighting the Americans. Drawing on these lessons, Tomsen persuasively calls on Washington to wrest policymaking back from the Pentagon and spy agencies, and advocates U.N. mediation of an Afghan peace process.”
Publishers Weekly, May 16, 2011
Ambassador and special envoy to Afghanistan from 1989 to 1992, Tomsen combines scholarship, analysis, and personal experience in an encyclopedic if disturbing history of post-WWII Afghanistan. Readers will appreciate his expert insights.”
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Many have compared the U.S. and Coalition forces efforts in the country to previous disasters experienced by the British and the Soviets. Tomsen writes, "The 1838 British invasion of Afghanistan established a pattern repeated during future invasions of Afghanistan: hubristic justifications, initial success, gradually widening Afghan resistance, stalemate, and withdrawal."
Fast-forward 150 years and at their peak the Soviets controlled only 20% of the country and 15% of the population. The Politburo's discussions in the 1980's regarding withdrawal sounded eerily similar to what U.S. leaders would debate. Both faced high casualties, big expenditures, antiwar sentiment at home, and little progress on any front.
Afghani history is incredibly bloody and the complex society largely unstable with violence an accepted option. This is even more the case when outsiders enter their borders. Afghans also have a tradition of changing sides - they favor the probable winner so loyalties beyond families and clans are far from assured.
This history was incredibly helpful, however, it was when the author (and former Special Envoy on Afghanistan from 1989 to 1992) covered the last twenty years of Afghan history. It confirmed my own conclusion about Pakistani culpability in promoting radical Islam and orchestrating extremist proxy warfare.
As Tomsen says, "The epicenter of world terrorism is in Pakistan, not Afghanistan." He describes Pakistan as an army with a state rather than other way around. So why has the Pakistani military and their intelligence agency, the ISI, meddled so deeply in Afghan affairs? Tomsen explains that they aim for an Afghanistan ruled by pro-Pakistani Afghan religious extremists to help create "strategic depth" against India, stave off the "Pashtunistan" cause - the unification of Pashtuns on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani frontier, while maintaining control in Pakistan's domestic policy.
Incredibly, the U.S. still supplies Pakistan with staggering amounts of cash and Tomsen claims that America "outsources" its Afghan policy to Pakistan. This when the evidence continues to stack up against Pakistan in their complicity in the actions of the Taliban, al Qaeda, and other extremist groups. Tora Bora and Osama bin Laden's last hideout are clear indictments. The irony is Tomsen documents Taliban complaints of Pakistani duplicity.
This nine hundred and seventy two page book moves with speed. The complex and dense content is well laid out. Tomsen is highly credible and maintains objectivity though he is firm in his conclusions and convictions. He offers a prescription at the end of the book which speaks to an optimism that may surprise given the mess that is Afghanistan.
Tomsen thus interacted with many players of the 1980s Afghan civil war, as no other American probably has. He was able to penetrate the ISI, the Haqqani network, the Northern Alliance. Given this vantage, Tomsen's qualities blossom. He perceives well, gets the details right, and understands how pieces fit together into a big picture. He's passionate without being prejudiced. His focus is on others.
Tomsen's conclusion interests me most. He believes Pakistan is America's enemy in the region. No Afghan victory is possible without dealing with it first. America should abandon the pretense of false alliances. Cut off Pakistan aid, unless it stops destabilizing its neighbor.
From the Afghan perspective, this makes sense. Many U.S. experts agree. It's hard to rationalize sending billions to Pakistan, when it harbored Osama Bin Laden. Let China became Pakistan's benefactor, so it's their big headache.
The problem that doesn't often get fairly addressed is Pakistan's nuclear risk. No other nation has so many so poorly managed weapons, so vulnerable to sabotage or theft. Pakistan's large and growing nuclear arsenal has one target, a few minutes flight away. The possibility of Pakistani nuclear weapons being used is probably as likely as a Category 4 Hurricane hitting New Orleans, or 7.8 earthquake in California.
Given population densities and nuclear warhead power, a nuclear exchange of any kind in Pakistan or India will be the worst human disaster since WWII. The environmental toll could be global. These possibilities overshadow the Afghan war, or Bin Laden. Satellites and technology aren't enough. The U.S. needs a foothold in Pakistan, needs military contacts, needs civilians to provide intelligence.
Little about what is known of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal can be public, this doesn't easily factor into debate over it's role in Afghanistan. But if Pakistan's mostly mobile nuclear systems roll into firing position, or extremists attack and sieze one, we can hope that the U.S. knows more than it can say.
Some might say that U.S. support for Pakistan's military encourages its nuclear brinkmanship. Only an evolution in Pakistani political society, with a civilian government taking control of military policy. will enable it to move away from nuclear weapons. This may be delayed by U.S. military support.
Unfortunately this is a long-term view. Pakistan's society is riven with parochial, even feudal relationships. The systematic oppression of women and minorities is cultural, hardly the result of military efforts. In a society where many people are little more than serfs or peons, where vast regions escape government control, evolution to a normal country is difficult.
For me, the book read like a novel. Chapter Two was worth the price of the book for someone like me who hasn't read much about Afghanistan. The rest was all gravy.
Peter Tomsen writes from a position of experience and not theory. His many, many personal contacts throughout the diplomatic world, his in country contacts with a vast number of Afgans, both ordinary and heroic, and his dealings with political heads of state make this book not only eminently readable but truly thought provoking.
If you've ever scratched your head and wondered what the heck is going on over there, THE WARS OF AFGHANISTAN:... will introduce you to people, places and things that will most definitely help you connect the dots.
I give it a hearty high five !