The return of the Taliban from Northern Alliance defeat has many elements; religious, tribal, linguistic, economic and military. This book endeavours to place each in a relative order by examining the insurgency at local and national level and by interviewing the Talibs themselves. The picture of an organisation of pure jihadis, or of a proxy Pakistani militia, both crumble into something more indistinct. Anger at foreign intervention and at collateral damage all seem to have a bigger influence than is perhaps imagined. By opening up the various tiers of the movement one can clearly see that it is not a monolith nor is it without a sense of the need to appeal to its constituents. The Afghans are a feisty people and object to others oppressing them whether they be foreign or local. The importance of opium and the issues surrounding it are well explored. I was left with the overwhelming feeling that NATO isn't quite on song, but occasionally gets it right. I was particularly interested in the reach of the Taliban outside Pushtun areas.
Collections of essays always have the risk of being over-edited or widely different in quality. I felt both problems were admirably resolved in this useful and interesting book.
Antonio Giustozzi once again has turned out an excellent and useful book, this time with contributions from academic and colleagues from the print media. Books on the Taliban tend to date quite quickly -- there is always a new trend taking place -- but this book doesn't really have that problem: there's a very pleasing amount of background material relating to 'how we reached this point' which means each chapter retains utility. Highlights include Joanna Nathan on Taliban propaganda, Thomas Ruttig on the Haqqanis in southeast Afghanistan (a must-read article on its own), Martine van Bijlert on insurgent networks in Uruzgan province, Graeme Smith on a survey conducted with Kandahar's Taliban and many more. Read this book!