I purchased this book in an attempt to understand how the Taliban use Islamic texts and teachings in order to propagate their movement and their continuing battle/resistance against ISAF forces. What I found, however, was largely a puff-piece for the Talib that carries a somewhat superficial quality.
The author clearly has no understanding of Islam other than how the idea has been sold to him by the various tribesmen, de-facto religious leaders and other Shahid wannabes that he encounters. The interviews he conducts are glowing when they come to discussing the Taliban, but damning when they are discussing the foreign presence and its influence. This condemnation does not just extend to Westerners carrying guns, but also to the NGO's who work tirelessly to help the Afghanistan people. The Talib are portrayed as wise and all knowing and the foreigner as clumsy and ineffectual. The reader does not, therefore, acquire the sense that the Talib movement is being probed and thoroughly analyzed - merely that excuses are being found for it and inconvenient facts left unmentioned. When mistakes are made they are invariably the fault of the West, which leads to a somewhat questionable sense of moral ambiguity throughout the text. No doubt, in Afghanistan, the West has made huge mistakes, but one is clear from the outset that this work is not going to be a fair and balanced appraisal.
Let's put this into context. The Taliban wander into a post Soviet chaos and without any recourse to the proper mechanisms of state simply assume control. They then assume the role of judge, jury and executioner over a large percentile of the population basing their rule of law on the teachings of a kind of 7th century clerical fascism. Fergusson never even attempts to challenge the legitimacy of this act, but simply speaks of how the Taliban 'restored law and order'. He could have uniquely explored Islam's duel role as both a religious and political system at this junction, but instead simply glosses over the whole matter, leaving one feeling that he is not even aware of the duel role of the religion in being both political and spiritual.
Fergusson also takes at face value the oft repeated claim made by the Taliban that they only fight those who carry guns in their country. There is no analysis or effort on the author's part to challenge this notion, nor any dissection of the religious texts apart from a kind of 'opinions are facts' baseline.I would have liked to have seen how the various Sura and passages of the Koran aided them in their resistance, but, again, this is entirely absent and again leaves the reader wondering at how such a group could incubate such magnificent resistance based on grievances alone. Fergusson simply does not seem to know how to ask the right question when he interviews the Taliban which leads the more Islam-savvy reader questioning his suitability for the task of providing directed insightful interviews in the first place.
My main problem with this book, though, has to be the style. It reads a lot like a geeky teenager who is enjoying hanging out with the local gang members in his neighborhood and then trying to explain the entire experience to his disapproving parents. Fergusson does his best to try to convince you that acid throwing, bomb making, hand chopping 7th century misogynists would make perfect candidates for the future governance of the country but he fails miserably in the task. In conclusion, a few interesting facts, but heavily weighted in favor of the author's bias.