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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Insight into the diplomacy that underlies the Afghanistan campaign
Cowper-Coles has written a fantastic book that describes in fluid and absorbing prose, the trials and tribulations of working in several high profile diplomatic jobs in Afghanistan. Although not overtly negative, he nevertheless provides a convincing critique of many of the aspects of the Afghan campaign. He criticises the 'more troops the better' mentality that MOD...
Published on 31 May 2011 by A Customer

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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Good But Not Great Book
This book covers a fascinating period of the Campaign in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The first half of the book provides great context as to what has happened and why. Unfortunately, I felt that the latter half of the book then lost direction a little. That said, the final 2 chapters (which pull together some conclusions & lessons learned) are excellent...
Published on 12 July 2011 by Simon


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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hollyhocks seeds tale, 19 July 2013
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This review is from: Cables from Kabul: The Inside Story of the West's Afghanistan Campaign (Paperback)
Hollyhock Apple blossom pack contained 20 seeds instead of 25 as claimed .(I counted them as we were swapping variety with a friend .) Only 6 have germinated so far ?! As to the Antwerp mix 11 seeds have come through so far out of 100 .
Hollyhocks seeds gathered 5 years ago by my neighbour have done better !!
Will stick to books with you in the future .
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A summary by an insider on Afghanistan, 2 Mar 2013
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This review is from: Cables from Kabul: The Inside Story of the West's Afghanistan Campaign (Paperback)
I enjoyed this book but having read a number of articles about Afghanistan I think it should have been much more explicit about how the political establishment tried to gag him.[-Still he needs his pension!}
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, insightful, informative, 12 Feb 2013
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Allan Kelly - See all my reviews
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Perhaps not as analytical as I was expecting but then 400 pages of analysis would not have been much fun to read. Analysis is largely - until the end - woven into a narrative of the author's time in Kabul and working on Afghanistan. Some of the anecdotes seem trivial but they do help paint a picture of diplomats, soldiers, generals and politicians as ordinary people.

I am glad I read this book and feel I understand this war and what is happening much more than I did before.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Goog, 14 Jan 2013
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This review is from: Cables from Kabul: The Inside Story of the West's Afghanistan Campaign (Paperback)
The author gives the other side of the many faceted and continuing story of the political and military story of Afghanistan
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating insight into a complex situation, 13 Dec 2012
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This review is from: Cables from Kabul: The Inside Story of the West's Afghanistan Campaign (Paperback)
As the former British ambassador Sherard Cowper-Coles is best placed to make comment about both the political and military approach to Afghanistan. It's not just for political historians, it will appeal to anyone concerned about NATOs presence in this pivotal part of the world. Often humorous and always informative, this makes for a jolly good read.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting memoir from a diplomat's perspective, 10 Feb 2012
This review is from: Cables from Kabul: The Inside Story of the West's Afghanistan Campaign (Paperback)
The value of this book is less about the writer's overall prognosis on the Afghanistan problem than his lively anecdotes about the mechanics of international conflict diplomacy and British Embassy life in Kabul. This aspect has not been covered in other Afghanistan related pulp non-fiction, as those books are mainly focussed on military campaigns, terrorism, Islamism and the Taliban.

Cowper Coles writes in elegant, clinical prose and has a keen eye for the idiosyncrasies, flaws and constraints of current western policy in Afghanistan. Of most interest to me are his passages about the paranoia and irrational behaviour of the man on whom the West relies upon so much to set Afghanistan on the right track, Hamid Karzai, as well as the Afghanis collective inability to sort out their own country. It's also interesting to note Cowper Coles' quite candid diagnosis of the strategic errors that Western (mainly US) policy makers continue to make, and which repeat earlier debacles in Afghanistan throughout the past 200 years.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars understanding pakistan, 7 Aug 2011
An outstanding opportunity to learn so much more from an Author who has given such important public service to Pakistan and ourselves.
Easy to read with a bookmark keeping you in step with his despatches.
John Winterbottom Swanage August 2011
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3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An important work but be aware of its limitations, 19 Aug 2011
By 
David C. Isby (Alexandria, VA USA) - See all my reviews
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Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles' CABLES FROM KABUL is an important book. Whatever the ultimate outcome in Afghanistan, decisions made during the author's involvement will have been vital in shaping policies. Anyone with a serious interest in the current situation in Afghanistan should read this book. Yet there are substantial limitations and shortfalls here that may not be apparent to those that have not spent a lot of time in Afghanistan.
In fairness, many of the limitations are not the fault of the author. The security review process, though it worked with startling speed for this book's publication, seems to have been a substantial limitation. While the author does not call attention to it, the cliché of "conspicuous by its absence" applies to many of the issues that must have pre-occupied him: Afghan corruption, Pakistan and its role in the insurgency, the Afghan opposition and leadership, and much more.
It also needs to be pointed out that while the author is a distinguished diplomat and had access to the resources of HMG, he gives little indication of actually having understood Afghanistan and the Afghans or even the different world on the other side of the Durand line that is today Pakistan and tomorrow may be Somalia with nukes. To be fair, that was not really his job. His job was to primarily to interface with the US, the UN and other members of the vast, improbably and often fiercely counterproductive international coalition that has shaped Afghanistan since 2001. At time, the author shakes his head that Britain's role in this must be as a junior partner in coalitions, as if looking past the reality of history back to 1956 and, further, to 1943 when this became painfully apparent. The Afghan political class with which he acted is, however admirable and great the rectitude of some of the individuals among it, remains an embarrassment and non-functional even by Afghan standards (and that is saying a great deal). It has largely forgotten that stealing is bad. The author shows some of how the coalition encouraged this thinking, but cannot provide anything like a full picture of the complicated and painful dynamic how the best of intentions and very good people have made a world-class failure. Perhaps not failure past redemption, but failure is the world that summarizes what the book describes.
This is a book about failure: the failure of people, of institutions, of the Afghan elites, and ultimately of the English-speaking democracies. It certainly includes the author's personal failures, despite his best efforts, in his two high-level diplomatic appointments. In the end, the Pakistani ISI may remain, the last man standing, when all others have failed. The question remains how much the failure of the democracies, who can no longer pay their bills and make political decisions, will come home from Afghanistan. America is betting that, will bin Laden gone, disengagement from Afghanistan will not have the negative impact it did in the 1990s and that failure in Afghanistan will have no greater impact that America's failures in Southeast Asia in the 1970s, Lebanon in the 1980s, or Somalia in the 1990s. All hard on the local population, but no one in America lost their job or felt bad about it.
"My name is George Nathaniel Curzon. I am a most superior person" was the satirical limerick of a century ago, but one of the more annoying elements of the book is that the author at times appears to be channeling the spirit of Curzon that was so memorably mocked. True, he never acts as a snob nor expresses amazement that the lower orders have such white skins, but he always points out that he rubs elbows with those who matter, politicians, historians and millionaire celebrity journalists alike, with a little reminder that he inhabits a world with social and professional contacts that he belongs in and others are admitted only as escorted visitors, with a pass to be returned as soon as they have finished their business. Even when his brother dies tragically of a heart attack while horseback riding, he finds it appropriate to allocate space to point out the rarified millieu of what was obviously a great personal loss, which was not made mote compelling by reminding us that it was one of the King's Troop RHA horses he was riding and that he belonged to the Honourable Artillery Company riding club. Even he death he manages to remind us where his family belongs. This is not like saying, for example, "my brother was a captain in the Grenadier Guards", which is an objective statement despite what it may convey.
The book is certainly several notches above the standard recent political memoir. These quickly appear as its author reluctantly steps out of the spotlight. These volumes' contents can all be abridged as "I was at the centre of things and no one else was any good". It rather reminded me in many ways of the Suez and pre-1939 volumes of Anthony Eden's memoirs, being perceptive and valuable essays in self-justification.
A few of the more interesting points are:
p. 18 Author is shocked to find Britain is a junior coalition partner.
p. 19 Author creates a straw man in US eradication policy, though flawed for many reasons, is simplistically portrayed here.
p. 21 Author's lack of background and understanding of Pakistan is introduced; to hang over all following action.
p. 33 Makes point that "real war" is that being waged by SOF (plus UAVs).
p. 33 Does not say way the British destroyed minarets in Herat, makes it sound like vandalism.
p. 36 One of his few encounters with the ethnolinguistic divisions of Afghanistan and the fact that there is a transborder Pushtun Civil War in progress, which he does not seem to be aware of.
p. 41 points out lack of reality as crisis develops and HMG refuses to consider they've screwed up.
p. 46-47 description of past events, though brief, show a lack of understanding.
p. 49 Soviet-built 130mms are guns, not howitzers. If you're going to provide details, get them right or use a more general term.
p. 50 Puts in claim for view that failure comes from Washington, not home-grown in Kabul.
p. 54 Reminder that US self-delusion did not end with the G.W. Bush administration.
p. 59 Another simplistic explanation, this of insurgency and Pushtuns in the south.
p. 60. Again, two things he explains but does not understand, Afghan attitudes towards conflict and external and internal violence and what a neo-con is, which he uses like "rootless cosmopolitan" throughout.
p. 62 makes some good point on insurgency but does not understand what an arbaki was or its function.
p. 68 Does not consider WHY Karzai so believes.
p. 69 One of few mentions of critical economic dimension of the conflicts.
p. 76 He calls attention to the problems of "war in peacetime" in which internal bureaucratic agendas are more important than operational concerns or elusive "victory". We see this repeated with the UK policy on unit and command rotation.
p. 84 Use of dialect as a cheap shot at the source in support of his campaign against a misguided policy that the author has dressed as a foolish straw man.
p. 103 How Rory Stewart became one of the People That Matter and hence a name to be dropped by this author remains a mystery to me. May he have much joy of his celebrity on the government back benches.
p. 104 And which Afghan aircraft existed that you so assumed? Shows an inability to understand even a most transparent part of the Afghan government.
p. 110. Here the author brings in his second, bigger, straw man, that he stands for a holistic approach to Afghanistan rather than a militarized alternative that has failed to produce results. Again, there are enough real failings that he did not have to do this, and it suggests he really did not understand what was going on and the institutional and leadership actors involved.
p. 128. I note that the only individual (unnamed) cited as an "Afghan Patriot" had fought on behalf on Moscow and the Taliban and Pakistan. Shows where the author believes loyalties should lie.
p. 131 By the time he gets to Benazir here, the name dropping is out of hand and showing that he belongs among the good and great of this world as a matter of right and not just being HMG's representative.
p. 136 Here he raises but dies not discuss the important issue of the perceptions and worldviews of Afghan and Pakistani elites, a vital issue. They really believe this stuff. I wish he had told us what he meant for him in his job.
p. 138 Again, he identifies the policy change, that Karzai was going to consolidate power on the model of Durrani overlordship, but does not (most likely was unable) to say why and what this has entailed.
p. 150 Does not seem to be aware of what Wardak's role as MinDef really is or is too diplomatic to mention it.
p. 157 Perceptive view of the limitations of the Bush-Karzai relationship BUT no consideration of how the Bush-Musharref relationship did even more harm.
p. 181 The first sentence of this chapter summarizes the author's lack on understanding. He lived in Afghanistan without Afghans. He was also the centre of his universe. He's missing something here. Shall we tell him what it is, boys and girls? (Chorus of kiddies at Punch and Judy show: BEHIND YOU! BEHIND YOU! IT'S AFGHANISTAN!).
p. 203, Again, a lack of understanding on many things, ranging from Afghan history to what a Wapiti was.
p. 236 Perceptive summary on tactics of Karzai relationship.
p. 250 Does not tell us why the age of the SRAP was so brief or how Holbrooke got to be marginalized before he died.
p. 257 Presenting a "military approach" as the alternative to Holbrooke puts us back in straw man territory again.
p. 267 I've seen and admired this particular rifle, it's a Snider.
p. 275 Shows lack of awareness of problems of US DoS as an unreformed bureaucratic institution.
p. 283 And the author will show us how things are much better in the UK which lacks these constitutional limitations on state power?
p. 290, "this could all have been avoided" shows continued lack of understanding and convenient amnesia about the impossibility of engaging with the Taliban (the Bamiyan Buddhas).
p. 291 Stresses importance of Afghan approaches.
p. 293 In the final analysis, Petraeus succeeded in doing his job, which is somewhere between 20 and 49 percent of what needed to be done. The author failed to provide part of the overall solution.
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3 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not good value for Kindle readers, 10 July 2011
This book sounds very interesting, and I'd love to read it on my Kindle. Unfortunately, the publisher has set the price for the Kindle edition higher even than the hardback edition - ridiculous, and a shame for the author who will lose out because of it.
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Cables from Kabul: The Inside Story of the West's Afghanistan Campaign
Cables from Kabul: The Inside Story of the West's Afghanistan Campaign by Sherard Cowper-Coles (Paperback - 2 Feb 2012)
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