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on 1 November 2014
Without doubt the most intelligent informed and well written account of the Taliban ever written absolutely definitive. Ahmed Rashid identifies correctly that America had no idea of the difference between the Taliban and Al Qieda and the folly of this lead to so nuch suffering ..a truly awsome account .. 
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on 2 October 2001
Absolutely excellent book - and could hardly be more timely, nor more essential as background reading on the most important events many of us have lived through.
I knew not a lot about the Taliban and the complexities of the Afghan power struggle before I read this.. Rashid's explanation of every faction has lifted several veils from my eyes.
I was particularly interested by his discussion of the roles played by the colonial super-powers in trying to get or prevent the oil pipelines crossing Central Asia. The graveyard of the Soviet push to remain a super-power of course, Afghanistan has dealt harshly with every force that has tried to monster it. The great game is still being played out from the Khyber Pass to the Hindu Kush and Rashid's book is an essential reference for the (very) concerned spectator. High marks from this reviewer.
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on 27 December 2001
This is good not just for its description of the origins of the Taliban, but also for Afghanistan's recent history and the role the superpowers played. Probably the best starting point if you want answers to the question: "What is going on in Afghanistan today?"
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on 4 December 2001
Decades in preparation, this book presents the current Afghanistan tragedy in historical perspective and with personaL experience detailed in superb style and clarity. I am left wondering how, in a media-dominated global village, I could have remained so ignorant for so long. Essential reading for the post-Sept 11th age.
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Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid's detailed history of the Taliban was first published in 2000. After the events of September 2001 stimulated new interest in this erstwhile obscure book, a second & longer print-run put it into the best-seller lists. Since 2001 there have been many insightful (and a few less insightful) books on the Taliban and Sunni Islamist Jihadism but Rashid's book, written in the 1990s, was the first.

Rashid updated the book in 2010 with an extra chapter examining the history of the Taliban's reorganization after the US-led occupation of Afghanistan, but the bulk of the book remains unchanged. 12 years on, it's still worth reading for its valuable original insights.

One of the book's strengths is its detailed account of Afghan history and (mostly failed) attempts to weld this disparate collection of warring clans into a nation-state, partially successful only under the Durrani monarchy. The various ethnic groups speak different languages, practice different forms of both Shia-ite and Sunni Islam and have different cultures, for example those in and around Herat are historically influenced by Persian culture, those in the north ethnically Turkmen, Uzbeks and Tajiks. Tribal loyalties and traditional justice have always trumped central authority from Kabul or Kandahar, the Taliban's power-base, and when the Pashtun-dominated Taliban finally took Kabul their rule was despised and resisted by the larger part of the population.

The book is divided into three major sections.

The first is a chronological history of the Taliban's emergence during the civil wars following the Soviets' withdrawal in 1989. The Taliban promised stability, peace and an end to warlord extortion rackets, were mentored by the Pakistani ISI and aided with millions of US$ from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States. Rashid shows how the Taliban military campaigns against Herat, Massoud's forces in Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif and Bamiyan in the 1990s were characterized by murderous brutality against Afghan civilians. One now little-appreciated facet of the conflict is that after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989 the US disengaged with the region to focus on more pressing international issues like the break-up of the USSR and the emergence of eastern Europe, plus the 1990 `Kuwait war' against Saddam Hussein and the civil war in Yugoslavia. Afghanistan fell down the list of concerns: the Taliban were seen as a generally positive development which might help bring peace to Afghanistan, their visceral hatred of the `heretic' creed of Shi-ism a possible bulwark against Iranian expansion eastwards. It was only when in 1998 the Taliban leadership publicly proclaimed to the world at large that they supported the lethal Al Qaida bombing attacks against 2 American embassies in East Africa that the US State Department finally began to take notice, and demand the extradition of OBL to face trial in the USA - demands ignored by the Taliban.

Part 2 deals with the ideological underpinnings of the Taliban, their Deobandi origins, political & military organization (disorganization is more apt), marginalization of women & reliance on heroin trafficking for revenue. An enlightening section focuses on the `Arab Afghans' led by al Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden who, when he first heard of the Taliban whilst living in Jalalabad, had no idea who they were and initially thought they were young communists.

Part 3 examines what Rashid terms `The New Great Game'. It covers how regional players other than Pakistan - Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Turkey, Russia, Saudi Arabia - either supported, attempted to forge links with or - in the case of Iran - financed armed opposition to the Taliban between 1996-2001. Two long chapters cover attempts by President Niyazov of Turkmenistan, in co-operation with Pakistani officials, to get pipelines built to export his `stranded gas' via Turkey, Iran (against fierce US opposition) or through Afghanistan to Pakistan; in fact, any route that avoided Russia. This initiated protracted negotiations with the Taliban & the involvement of an Argentine oil company (BRIDAS) plus a rival consortium in which Unocal, a small US company, was a player. None of these plans ever got off the ground but Rashid in 2000 was not to know that the US invasion of Afghanistan the year following publication of his book & the resultant violent Taliban insurgency would end all hopes that any trans-Afghan pipeline would be built. This focus on now redundant priorities makes Rashid's book somewhat out of date.

As a Pakistani, Rashid has a good inside track in understanding the region and is at his strongest when he sticks to the facts, personal knowledge of the players and their motives. He is on less firm ground when speculating on the geopolitical motives of for example the US State Department (read Steve Coll's book `Ghost Wars' for detail on that) or what motivates the different factions in Iran, though he is - surprisingly - broadly sympathetic to Iran's regional plight and perennial cold hostility to his native Pakistan.

Rashid's conclusion is that the virtual abandonment of Afghanistan by the international community following the Soviet withdrawal in 1989 was a major strategic blunder, offering a safe haven to violent Sunni Islamist militancy and enabling it to grow unchecked; easy to see with hindsight. The inadequate response of the Clinton administration to the growing Afghanistan-based threat, particularly after the African Embassy bombings in August 1998 and other concurrent anti-US operations hatched in Afghanistan, was compounded by misplaced loyalty to unreliable and deceitful allies Pakistan and Saudi Arabia who continually (perhaps innocently, perhaps not) nurtured lethal enemies of the west. Despite being dated, Rashid's book is still valuable reading for anyone who wants to understand Sunni Islamist fundamentalism and the nursery of violent Islamist Jihadism in the final decade of the 20th century.
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on 8 August 2001
A truly informative book. Ahmad Rashid has managed to cover every aspect of the Afghan crises, and in his analysis managed to bring up the view point of every single party to the conflict but still managed to stay amazingly unbiased. Both between the various countries involved in the crises since the Soviet invasion and between different Mujahideen groups fighting for control over Afghanistan since the end of the war.
Before reading this book I thought I knew a fair bit about the Afghan issue. I always did consider the issue as one of the main forces to determine the future of the whole of Asia, but this book has given me an insight into realities and possibilities I had no idea of.
It shows how much time and effort the author has put into the region, and how he has a deep love and affection for the ordinary people of the land. As he has a wide understanding and awareness of the whole Afghan problem and all the relating and influencing issues from the strong history of the land to the currant political, strategic and economic motives of the neighbouring and regional countries plus America. I only wish the book was slightly more up to date as I would like to know what effect, if any, the change of govt (the military take over) has had on the Pakistani approach to the issue. Plus the effect of the Sanctions applied on the Taliban (but not the opposition alliance). But I'm sure these topics would be covered in Ahmad Rashid's new book: Taliban : Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia , which came out after I had started reading this one, so I guess I'll be getting that too.
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on 7 February 2000
This book covers the taliban issue from three angles: 1 - the origins of the taliban which is about the end of the soviet afghan war, the CIA and pakistani ISI backing the mujahideen, and the initial pakistani ISI backing of the Taliban. 2 - The taliban's understanding of Islam, this part covers the connections with the Deobandi madrassas in Pakistan and the Wahabi/salafi movement in Saudi Arabia. 3 - finally it covers the Colonialists(US and Russia) game for control over the region so that perhaps a pipeline for oil can be built to transport oil from the central asian republics to Pakistan, Turkey or Iran. In this part it gives detailed analysis on the interests and activities of Taliban and the Foreign governments e.g. How Unocal lobbied the US government to recognise Taliban and how Russia funded the opposition factions so that fighting would continue and the interested oil companies would leave. Ahmed Rashid's book has produced a detailed picture of the reality that unfortunately spells out the extent of the devastation in the region which has resulted from the failure of the Taliban, Pakistan and others. Furthermore he exposes the Taliban's tribal nature which contradicts Islam and their political naivety which has landed them in the quagmire that is present day Afghanistan. However, I don't agree with the current thought that only the US can solve afghanistan's problem. Rather this for the muslims to resolve, after all the US has spectacularly messed up in this region already due to her ever changing interests. If the muslims adopt the correct thought and method from Islam without getting muddled in tribal or other issues it very possible for them to resolve this and other issues that they face today.
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Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid's detailed history of the Taliban was first published in 2000. After the events of September 2001 stimulated new interest in this erstwhile obscure book, a second & longer print-run put it into the best-seller lists. Since 2001 there have been many insightful (and a few less insightful) books on the Taliban and Sunni Islamist Jihadism but Rashid's book, written in the 1990s, was the first.

Rashid updated the book in 2010 with an extra chapter examining the history of the Taliban's reorganization after the US-led occupation of Afghanistan, but the bulk of the book remains unchanged. 12 years on, it's still worth reading for its valuable original insights.

One of the book's strengths is its detailed account of Afghan history and (mostly failed) attempts to weld this disparate collection of warring clans into a nation-state, partially successful only under the Durrani monarchy. The various ethnic groups speak different languages, practice different forms of both Shia-ite and Sunni Islam and have different cultures, for example those in and around Herat are historically influenced by Persian culture, those in the north ethnically Turkmen, Uzbeks and Tajiks. Tribal loyalties and traditional justice have always trumped central authority from Kabul or Kandahar, the Taliban's power-base, and when the Pashtun-dominated Taliban finally took Kabul their rule was despised and resisted by the larger part of the population.

The book is divided into three major sections.

The first is a chronological history of the Taliban's emergence during the civil wars following the Soviets' withdrawal in 1989. The Taliban promised stability, peace and an end to warlord extortion rackets, were mentored by the Pakistani ISI and aided with millions of US$ from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States. Rashid shows how the Taliban military campaigns against Herat, Massoud's forces in Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif and Bamiyan in the 1990s were characterized by murderous brutality against Afghan civilians. One now little-appreciated facet of the conflict is that after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989 the US disengaged with the region to focus on more pressing international issues like the break-up of the USSR and the emergence of eastern Europe, plus the 1990 `Kuwait war' against Saddam Hussein and the civil war in Yugoslavia. Afghanistan fell down the list of concerns: the Taliban were seen as a generally positive development which might help bring peace to Afghanistan, their visceral hatred of the `heretic' creed of Shi-ism a possible bulwark against Iranian expansion eastwards. It was only when in 1998 the Taliban leadership publicly proclaimed to the world at large that they supported the lethal Al Qaida bombing attacks against 2 American embassies in East Africa that the US State Department finally began to take notice, and demand the extradition of OBL to face trial in the USA - demands ignored by the Taliban.

Part 2 deals with the ideological underpinnings of the Taliban, their Deobandi origins, political & military organization (disorganization is more apt), marginalization of women & reliance on heroin trafficking for revenue. An enlightening section focuses on the `Arab Afghans' led by al Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden who, when he first heard of the Taliban whilst living in Jalalabad, had no idea who they were and initially thought they were young communists.

Part 3 examines what Rashid terms `The New Great Game'. It covers how regional players other than Pakistan - Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Turkey, Russia, Saudi Arabia - either supported, attempted to forge links with or - in the case of Iran - financed armed opposition to the Taliban between 1996-2001. Two long chapters cover attempts by President Niyazov of Turkmenistan, in co-operation with Pakistani officials, to get pipelines built to export his `stranded gas' via Turkey, Iran (against fierce US opposition) or through Afghanistan to Pakistan; in fact, any route that avoided Russia. This initiated protracted negotiations with the Taliban & the involvement of an Argentine oil company (BRIDAS) plus a rival consortium in which Unocal, a small US company, was a player. None of these plans ever got off the ground but Rashid in 2000 was not to know that the US invasion of Afghanistan the year following publication of his book & the resultant violent Taliban insurgency would end all hopes that any trans-Afghan pipeline would be built. This focus on now redundant priorities makes Rashid's book somewhat out of date.

As a Pakistani, Rashid has a good inside track in understanding the region and is at his strongest when he sticks to the facts, personal knowledge of the players and their motives. He is on less firm ground when speculating on the geopolitical motives of for example the US State Department (read Steve Coll's book `Ghost Wars' for detail on that) or what motivates the different factions in Iran, though he is - surprisingly - broadly sympathetic to Iran's regional plight and perennial cold hostility to his native Pakistan.

Rashid's conclusion is that the virtual abandonment of Afghanistan by the international community following the Soviet withdrawal in 1989 was a major strategic blunder, offering a safe haven to violent Sunni Islamist militancy and enabling it to grow unchecked; easy to see with hindsight. The inadequate response of the Clinton administration to the growing Afghanistan-based threat, particularly after the African Embassy bombings in August 1998 and other concurrent anti-US operations hatched in Afghanistan, was compounded by misplaced loyalty to unreliable and deceitful allies Pakistan and Saudi Arabia who continually (perhaps innocently, perhaps not) nurtured lethal enemies of the west. Despite being dated, Rashid's book is still valuable reading for anyone who wants to understand Sunni Islamist fundamentalism and the nursery of violent Islamist Jihadism in the final decade of the 20th century.
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on 15 July 2009
Mr Rashid brings an incredibly detailed and excellent account of the Taliban and the backgrounds of its emerging in Afghanistan. Through his experience as a reporter in the country make his narrative one of high detail and justly draws upon the influences that made the Taliban the force it became.
It is to be highly recommended to be read by the wider public for its relevance in today's and tomorrow's politics.
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on 4 December 2000
Ahmed Rashid writes a seemingly objective analysis of this fascinating movement. Throughout history when looking at the start of a movement it is never a simple result of one man leading a people. Movements and people are thrust to the fore by circumstance. Rashid does an excellent job of explaining these circumstances and the results of Pakistan's and America's approaches to Afghanistan. I wasn't aware of the extent of oil influence in Afghanistan.
I was working in Peshawar, Pakistan in 1991-2 and remember the hope of my Afghan pupils when the Communists were finally defeated in Kabul. A six year old pupil gave me a note one morning with "Afghanistan is free" in Pushtu. A short while later these hopes were dashed as the civil war continued and people in the camps near me were resigned to calling Pakistan home. We started to see new refugees in Peshawar, affluent Kabulis with their left-hand drive cars.
Sadly a beautiful people of a beautiful country have been permanently damaged by the continual selfish interests of various groups. Compromise for the sake of the country and the future has never been considered.
Afghanistan: Sterai mashai
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