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Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia

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Shrouding themselves and their aims in deepest secrecy, the leaders of the Taliban movement control Afghanistan with an inflexible, crushing fundamentalism. The most extreme and radical of all Islamic organizations, the Taliban inspires fascination, controversy, and especially fear in both the Muslim world and the West. Correspondent Ahmed Rashid brings the shadowy world of the Taliban into sharp focus in this enormously interesting and revealing book. It is the only authoritative account of the Taliban and modern day Afghanistan available to English language readers.

Based on his experiences as a journalist covering the civil war in Afghanistan for twenty years, traveling and living with the Taliban, and interviewing most of the Taliban leaders since their emergence to power in 1994, Rashid offers unparalleled firsthand information. He explains how the growth of Taliban power has already created severe instability in Russia, Iran, Pakistan, and five Central Asian republics. He describes the Taliban' s role as a major player in a new "Great Game"—a competition among Western countries and companies to build oil and gas pipelines from Central Asia to Western and Asian markets. The author also discusses the controversial changes in American attitudes toward the Taliban—from early support to recent bombings of Osama Bin Laden's hideaway and other Taliban-protected terrorist bases—and how they have influenced the stability of the region.

274 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2000

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About the author

Ahmed Rashid

46 books272 followers
Son of Ahmed (an engineer) and Piari (a homemaker) Rashid; married Angeles Espino Perez- Hurtado, 1982; children: Raphael, Sara Bano. Education: Attended Government College, Lahore, Pakistan, 1966- 68, and Cambridge University, 1968-70; earned B.A. and M.A. Religion: Muslim. Addresses: Homeoffice: Lahore Cant., Pakistan. E-mail: review@brain.net.pk.

Career: Journalist and broadcaster. Correspondent for Daily Telegraph, London, England, and formerly for Far Eastern Economic Review, Hong Kong; broadcaster for international radio and television networks such as British Broadcasting Corporation and Cable News Network. Member, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

Ahmed Rashid is a Pakistani journalist and best-selling author. Rashid attended Malvern College, England, Government College Lahore, and Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge. He serves as the Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review and the Daily Telegraph. He also writes for the Wall Street Journal, The Nation, and academic journals. He appears regularly on international TV and radio networks such as CNN and BBC World.

Rashid's 2000 book, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia, was a New York Times bestseller for five weeks, translated into 22 languages, and has sold 1.5 million copies since the September 11, 2001 attacks.[1] The book was used extensively by American analysts in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

His latest book, "Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia"[1], is a scathing critique of both America and Europe's failure to invest in rebuilding Afghanistan and Pakistan's role in allowing Taliban and Al-Qaeda elements to regroup in Pakistan.

His commentary also appears in the Washington Post's PostGlobal segment.

Rashid lives in Lahore, Pakistan with his wife and two children.

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5 stars
1,324 (29%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 388 reviews
Profile Image for Orsodimondo.
2,195 reviews1,818 followers
March 21, 2023

La Valle di Bamiyan: nella grande nicchia scavata nella montagna un tempo c’era uno dei due giganteschi buddha che poi i talebani hanno pensato di rimuovere alla loro maniera.

Ho sentito parlare di Ahmed Rashid per la prima volta da Daniele Mastrogiacomo, in occasione della presentazione del libro di Daniele I giorni della paura: ne parlava come di un grande conoscitore del mistero talebano, un must per chiunque volesse saperne di più su questo argomento.

Rashid appartiene a un'ottima scuola di giornalismo, la migliore, secondo me l'unica: quella che si fa sul campo, andando, camminando, incontrando, parlando, intervistando, facendosi domande e cercando risposte, indagando, ricercando...
Un giornalismo che non si fa a casa propria, commentando fatti appresi dalle agenzie di stampa - e non si fa neppure restando nei bar e nei ristoranti degli alberghi - sicuramente neppure al seguito del politico di turno.
Un tipo di giornalismo che mi pare in estinzione - un giornalismo che mai potrebbe essere embedded - un giornalismo che in Italia ha attecchito sempre poco e si è quasi del tutto estinto.
Per esempio, Rashid dice:
Mi ci sono voluti sette mesi di viaggi, oltre cento interviste e un'immersione totale nella letteratura del business petrolifero - di cui non sapevo nulla - per riuscire infine a scrivere l'articolo.
Per un solo articolo!


Il libro si ferma all'immediato post 11 settembre. Da allora la situazione è sicuramente molto cambiata e quindi è una lettura a suo modo datata.
Ma Rashid aiuta davvero a far capire come e dove nascano i Talebani, aiuta a entrare dentro la loro cultura, e dentro l'Afghanistan in generale, paese oltremodo affascinante.

Più leggevo e più pensavo alle analogie tra i talebani e i Khmer rossi, finché lo stesso Rashid traccia il parallelo diretto.
D'altra parte, cosa aspettarsi da chi dice:
Noi musulmani crediamo che Dio onnipotente nutrirà tutti, in un modo o nell'altro.
Quindi, perché preoccuparsi di economia, politica, istruzione, sanità, sviluppo sociale? L'Islam provvederà.


Totalmente incapaci di governare, incapaci di una visione generale che vada oltre la repressione dei costumi, di un'idea di sviluppo al di là dell'arricchimento immediato tramite il contrabbando, il traffico di droga e di merci rubate, i Talebani hanno sicuramente contribuito parecchio a rendere l'Afghanistan il paese con la più alta mortalità infantile, con un'aspettativa di vita da medioevo (43/44 anni!), dove le uniche fabbriche in funzione sono quelle in cui le organizzazioni umanitarie producono arti artificiali, grucce e sedie a rotelle.

Minareto di Jam.-

Poi, hanno anche avuto un concreto aiuto in questa direzione da parte di altri...

Profile Image for Brett C.
805 reviews181 followers
May 2, 2021
This is an in-depth review of the rise of the Taliban out of the ashes of the Soviet war and US/CIA intervention. Rashid does a really good job of explaining the complexities, religious ideology, and human rights atrocities committed by the Taliban. I would recommend this as well as Ahmed Rashid's Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia. Thanks!
Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,310 reviews120k followers
May 26, 2013
I was prompted to read this by Rashid’s later work ,Descent Into Chaos. Where did the Taliban actually form, when, why. How did the Taliban grow to be the force it would become? There is much information here that helps make sense of what seems senseless. In a nation ruled by a bloody coterie of warlords constantly demanding payment from a much oppressed populace, constantly engaging in battles with each other, constantly undermining any possibility of rule of law, when a group emerges that appears able to make life stable, if unpleasant, it looks better than the devil you knew. With Pakistan doing its utmost to maintain instability within Afghanistan, funding an insurgent Taliban became a no-brainer. The details are in Taliban. While it was written and published before 9/11, the base information is here to help understand what is going on in that part of the world, to the extent that anyone can. Why are the Taliban so determined to marginalize women? How does opium production figure in Afghan politics? I was most impressed to learn about how the Taliban manages its money. I will not ruin the surprise by noting it here. While Rashid’s later book may be more current, this one is definitely worth your time. It is a slow read, though, for it’s low page count. There is much information packed into a small space.

Profile Image for fourtriplezed .
467 reviews100 followers
December 27, 2011
Fascinating. I could not put this book down and would consider it a must read for anyone who has an interest as to the rise of the Taliban and the consequences of the actions of the super powers.
Profile Image for Mike.
1,138 reviews151 followers
September 21, 2011

Announcer Brett: “Folks, we go our reporter in the field, R.V. Winkle, now for some breaking news. What have you got for us Rip?”

Reporter R.V. Winkle: “Brett, I have just finished this outstanding book, “Taliban”, and we need to do something about these guys, they are bad people!”

Announcer Brett: “Rip, you are a decade late, go back to sleep you idiot”

Ok, I have no excuse for not reading this book until more than 10 years after it came out and the title characters have caused so much trouble. I thought it was probably outdated when I first saw it. I was wrong then and now. This book is still relevant today. You get to see the rise of the Taliban with no romantic, “they just wanted to have peace” background music. You get a solid background in the ethnic groups and their leadership, still forming the main forces in play today. What I took from this book:

The breakdown of tribal ties and land ownership had/has a continuing impact on the stability of Afghan culture that may never be repaired. This was the main factor giving the Taliban leadership blind followers from the orphans and broken up families.

The imposition of extreme interpretation of Islam, especially on women, was hated by many of the Pashtu people and all the non-Pushtuns. The tensions between the local culture/customs and the religious mandates are discussed throughout.

Strange, I almost felt like doing *fist-bumps* with the Iranians, as they were the only Islamic group that apparently openly opposed the strict interpretation forced on women’s lives.

There are no “good” guys, only less bad. There is no trust or friendship without a time limit or a dollar amount.

You can skip the parts of the book about oil pipelines. The sections of the book detailing the influence of the transport “mafia”, Pakistan, and the ISI are very good.

How much did the UN and NGO’s enable the Taliban campaigns by supporting the population with food aid? Too Much? Why didn’t we stay minimally involved after the USSR left?

This book comes up in several other accounts about our early days in Afghanistan after 9/11. I’d like to see him update this book and reissue, it is still useful. Regardless, this is an important link to understanding Afghanistan in the years between the Soviet defeat and the US invasion. 4 Stars.
31 reviews
June 22, 2020
Meticulously researched and well-written. May be slightly dense for people with no background in the subject matter, but the author does a really good job of providing important context and details for the layperson. I appreciate that the author also talk about the role women and children play in Afghanistan, and the influence of the Taliban regime on these particularly vulnerable groups.

I was personally appalled (and surprised) by the role the U.S. played in supporting the regime at its beginning, as well as Pakistan's continued role in sustaining the Taliban. It's an important read for anyone wanting to understand international politics in the area.
Profile Image for Nazmi Yaakub.
Author 10 books259 followers
August 31, 2021
Mula baca buku ini ketika Kabul dan seluruh Afghanistan jatuh kepada Taliban kembali selepas Amerika Syarikat (AS) umumkan pengundurannya di bawah pentadbiran Joe Biden. Ia juga disusuli hantaran di Twitter sebuah parti politik demokratik sosialis di Malaysia yang ambil kesempatan kaitkan Taliban dengan parti Islamis, manakala sayap pemuda parti Islamis pula mengucapkan tahniah kepada ‘kejayaan’ Taliban itu hampir serentak dengan sebahagian tokoh atau kumpulan Islamis di Asia Barat dan Afrika Utara (MENA).

Tentunya untuk memahami antara pertembungan paling kompleks dalam sejarah moden khususnya membabitkan dunia Islam - kita tidak boleh menerima bulat-bulat apa yang diungkapkan parti politik baik Islamis mahupun yang bertentangan dengannya. Tambah lagi apa yang berlaku di Afghanistan seperti juga di negara seperti Syria ia sering ‘disederhanakan’ dengan pertembungan antara Islamis dengan bukan Islamis sama ada Barat mahupun ‘boneka’ mereka atau dilihat dalam kerangka sempit sektarian antara Sunni dengan Syiah seperti yang turut dipegang golongan Islamis dangkal atau ahli akademik yang sempit.

Sejarah Taliban ini ditulis wartawan veteran daripada Pakistan, Ahmed Rashid ini bukan sahaja dianggap antara sumber autoritatif, bahkan dapat memberikan gambaran lebih menyeluruh bahawa apa yang berlaku bukan dalam dikotomi sempit antara Islam dengan bukan Islam/sekular atau Sunni dengan Syiah sebaliknya ia jauh lebih kompleks kerana membabitkan ideologi ekstrem yang menggunakan label yang salah seperti ‘Sunni’ atau Deoband, memiliki percaturan geopolitik yang licik sama ada daripada negara jiran dan serantau mahupun kuasa-kuasa besar dan berlaku dalam sejarah panjang dengan hubungan antara etnik yang penuh dengan darah serta curiga.

Sudah tentu buku ini semata-mata tidak boleh digunakan sebagai satu sumber untuk melihat Taliban pada fasa kedua yang berlaku selepas kekalahannya pada AS, sebaliknya ia antara asas untuk membuat pertimbangan terhadap unjuran apa yang akan berlaku selepas ini.
Profile Image for Naeem.
388 reviews238 followers
November 26, 2008
I remember buying 5 copies of this book in October of 2001, devouring it in a day, and copying two chapters and passing them out to anyone that would stop by my office.

It is still the definitive account of the rise and demise of the Taliban. (Although Michael Griffen's Reaping the whirlwind: The Taliban Movement in Afghanistan tells the same story in more poetic form.

This book made Rashid a player in policy circles and in world class journalism. You can catch him twice a year on Terry Gross' show Fresh Air. He, Barnett Rubin, Olivier Roy, and Nancy Hatch Dupree probably know more about the Taliban and Afghanistan than any other set of people. So one questions Rashid's account at one own peril.

Still, for me, while Rashid lays out the historical and political narrative of the Taliban, he leaves its sociological and ethnological origins untouched. Nor have those origins been broached by any article or book that I have read. (Please, please correct me if I am wrong.) Nadeem Aslam's novel Wasted Vigil comes close. Still, the real account of the Taliban waits for someone who has the desire, the skill, and the courage.
Profile Image for Fabio Luís Pérez Candelier.
240 reviews13 followers
July 5, 2023
"Los Talibán" de Ahmed Rashid, ensayo imprescindible para adentrarse y comprender la irrupción de esta agrupación extremista en Afganistán: orígenes, vertiginoso ascenso, estructura interna, composición e ideología, y su repercusión en el juego de la política internacional de las grandes potencias.
700 reviews39 followers
February 27, 2020
Excellent read till the final chapter. The author first covers the history (involving the history of various cities of Afghanistan which I really enjoyed), trajectory of the Taliban movement up through 1999 or so, and then circles back to discuss various particular themes related to the rise and reign of this peculiar and in many ways frightening religious movement. These include their draconian and inhumanly strict social agenda (particularly their horrendous treatment of women), the role of the drug trade and smuggling generally in Afghani (and Pakistani) society, the roles of various religious and ethnic factions within the conflicts afflicting the region, the wider set of geopolitical conflicts involving Afghanistan's neighboring nations plus the larger powers such as Russia and the U.S., and the important role of oil and gas-related intrigue in the dynamics of the region.
Overall, a good read that gives a comprehensive account of the travails of the region. I really enjoyed reading this one, as the writing style and content was totally entwined with my interest. Can't wait to get my hands on his next book.
Profile Image for Hakan.
686 reviews474 followers
March 22, 2019
İlk kez 2000’de yayınlanan, 2010’da aradan geçen dönemdeki gelişmeleri içeren yeni bir bölüm de eklenerek basılan bu kitap, günümüzde tekrar ön plana çıkan Taliban’ı ve Afganistan’ı, ABD başta büyük güçler ile bölge ülkelerinin hatalı/yıkıcı politikalarını anlamak için çok faydalı. Tabii son yıllarda ülkemizin etrafında yaşanan çatışmalar ve bunun getirdiği sorunlarla bazı parallelikler kitabın bizler için ilginçliğini arttırıyor. Türkçe çevirisini Agora 2007’de basmış. Meraklısına...
Profile Image for W.
1,185 reviews4 followers
September 18, 2019
9/11 had not yet happened,when this was written.An interesting exploration of the Taliban's origins and their early years.
288 reviews4 followers
December 15, 2010
Fantastic book published in March of 2001 (with a 2010 aftwerward). Rashid could read the writing on the wall, even if it seems like he was the only one paying attention. Filled with details even the Old Man didn't know- particularly concerning the pipeline competition going on pre-9/11. Fascinating look at a country no one really has a handle on, but this author might have the best handle- he's been imprisoned by several Afghan regimes in his time. He whines a bit about how the US failed to save Afghanistan from itself in the 90s(I'm not sure why it's the American taxpayers' problem, in a cold calculation- it would be a violent morass whenever anyone goes to the Stan, no matter the decade). A lot of the fundamentalist issues are covered in Looming Tower and Ghost Wars, but Rashid hits the multi-national business side in a way I haven't seen elsewhere. It's heavy on the facts, dates and names, but it's a complex place. The timeline at the end is helpful for quick reference. Readiing this book will go a long way to explaining Afghanistan.
Profile Image for Erik Graff.
5,031 reviews1,168 followers
December 28, 2011
I borrowed this from friends upon their recommendation, read it and returned it. Beyond what passes for coverage in the press, some magazine articles, a school paper written about the Taliban by another friend and one history of the region covering the period before the Soviet involvement there, I had not previously read much about either Afghanistan or the Taliban. Since there was so much hype about them and their alleged involvement with Osama Bin Laden and his alleged involvement with 9-11 and since the USA had recently invaded the country, I figured I needed some more current information.
Profile Image for Muhammad Ahmad.
Author 3 books158 followers
September 18, 2021
On re-reading the book after nearly 20 years, I realise that I had been unfairly critical of it in the. It is actually a really good work of reportage. Anything that it lacks in depth it makes up for in the sweep of its historical and political scope. Smart analysis which has been mostly borne out by the years since.
Profile Image for Kalyani Soholkar.
12 reviews1 follower
August 17, 2021
Nice book to read if you want to know more about the origin of Taliban. Nice insights into the radical ideology of the group. Sad to see that 20 years on and all this is still valid and nothing much has changed really.
Profile Image for Tom Schulte.
2,985 reviews60 followers
April 27, 2023
This is a well-researched, detailed account of the origins and progress of The Taliban. First published in 2000, admittedly much has happened since. Some things I gleaned from this:

* Pakistan’s Support for the Taliban
* The historical hatred for the Taliban by Shi'a Iran for Mazari's abduction, torture, and murder.
* By neglecting their population's basic needs until it was picked up by NGOs, The Taliban abrogated their responsibilities and were able to spin things like like of international recognition put the blame for societal woes on other nations.
* The Taliban are Sunni Muslim-the majority religious sect in Afghanistan. On the ethnic side, the Taliban movement is primarily Pashtun, the majority ethnic group that ruled Afghanistan for the past two and one-half centuries.
Profile Image for Jerome Otte.
1,764 reviews
February 24, 2012
You’ve read Taliban, the dense, influential book by superstar reporter and author Ahmed Rashid, right? Of course you have, everybody has. And everybody seems to have it on their bookshelf, displayed prominently as proof of their interest and expertise in Afghanistan.
In March 2009, the European Journal of Communication asked citizens of Britain, Denmark, Finland, and the U.S. to answer questions on international affairs. The Europeans clobbered America. Sixty-eight percent of Danes, 75 percent of Brits, and 76 percent of Finns could identify the Taliban, but only 58 percent of Americans managed to do the same—even though we’ve led the charge in Afghanistan.
My fellow Americans,that is absolutely pathetic. You should all read This EXCELLENT book. I highly recommend his other one, "Descent Into Chaos."
Rashid begins with a history of Afghanistan. I was unaware of all the Unocal-Bridas oil diplomacy, so that was interesting, but it got boring and repetitive after a while.
Interesting how the rise of these mullahs managed to destabilize an entire region.
Rashid relies heavily on the usual cliches, such as traditional Afghan independence. For example, "Throughout Afghan history no outsider has been able to manipulate the Afghans, something the British and the Soviets learnt to their cost. Pakistan, it appeared, had learnt [sic] no lessons from history while it still lived in the past, when CIA and Saudi funding had given Pakistan the power to dominate the course of the jihad" (p. 185). Rashid makes no attempt to explain the apparent contradiction between his claim that Afghans resist outside influence, and his simultaneous claim that Pakistan heavily influenced the Afghans.
Profile Image for Ayushi Singh.
4 reviews
September 1, 2021
Ahmed Rashid starts the book with a brief history of Afganistan and further explains the rise of the Taliban. This book perfectly encompasses the social, economical, political, and religious factors that made Taliban a threat to its nation and the world.

The plight of a disturbed state and people, devoid of basic human rights, crippled with poverty is disturbing to read but provides an insight into human's ability to commit atrocity under the umbrella of religion.
Taliban started as a savior for the people of Kandahar from the corrupt Mujahideen leaders but ironically they became what they were fighting against.

It will be an interesting read for people who are curious about geopolitics, religion, ethnic diversity and social conditions of Afganistan after the defeat of the Soviet Union in 1989.
The New edition also includes the events that followed 9/11 and how the United States changed its foreign policies and urged Pakistan to stop supporting the Taliban. This part also covers the impact of Taliban in neighbouring countries like Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan (2000-2009).

I admire the courage of Ahmed Rashid, who interviewed various leaders of the Taliban and the Anti-Taliban alliance amidst the chaos, packed with violence and fear. The book is an honest and truthful description of the brutal events that took place.
Profile Image for Roberto.
307 reviews39 followers
April 17, 2023
Una storia affascinante, ma complicata

Sono ormai anni, tanti anni, che siamo abituati a pensare alle vicende afgane come a qualcosa di incomprensibile. Una terra arida e ai margini, una economia inesistente, un popolo di pastori e cultura tribale, una società patriarcale e retrograda. Eppure via fondamentale di passaggio, produttore di oppio ai vertici mondiali, insieme di comunità e culture ed eroi che nel corso degli anni hanno affrontato e sconfitto occupanti greci, persiani, inglesi, indiani, pakistani, russi e americani. Una terra e una storia che sono da sempre mistero e preoccupazione, mentre non trova pace dalle sue montagne ai suoi deserti alle sue valli fertili.

E così, di fronte a questo enigma antico che, nonostante la sua apparente irrilevanza e distanza, pure tante conseguenze ha portato e ancora porta, mi sono trovato a incontrare Ahmed Rashid e la sua missione impossibile: farci conoscere e capire l'Afghanistan di oggi raccontando la sua storia. La storia delle culture indomabili che lo compongono, decine e decine, diverse per etnia, lingua, religione, paesaggi, tradizioni e valori. E di una economia carovaniera e di rapina, lungo le vie della seta, oggi come ieri. E che è anche la storia dei suoi vicini, dal Pakistan all'Iran alla Russia alla Cina, che continuamente cercano di influenzarne le scelte.

Il racconto di Rashid è assolutamente illuminante. Approfondito e appassionato, concentrato di anni di inchieste, interviste esclusive, conoscenza diretta inclusi i bombardamenti. Racconto che non trascura, anzi approfondisce, gli aspetti meno conosciuti della vicenda sebbene critici. Come gli interessi economici legati al petrolio, quelli della lobby del contrabbando col Pakistan o legati alla produzione di oppio. E gli interessi politici e religiosi associati alle nazioni confinanti e non, musulmani per la maggior parte e non solo, divisi tra sunniti, sciti e anche wahhabiti, moderati o integralisti dalle madrase.

Non è un percorso semplice e lineare quello di Rashid, e leggere il suo libro non vi lascerà con le idee chiare. Ma questa era una missione impossibile davvero, perché è l'Afghanistan stesso che non ha mai vissuto un percorso lineare. Nato da linee antiche tracciate sulle mappe in modo artificiale, molto poco lega l'un l'altro i popoli che vi furono racchiusi: dai pashtun sunniti indoeuropei durrani e ghilzai nel sud est ai tagiki sunniti persiani dell'ovest, dagli uzbeki e turkmeni al nord ai nomadi nuristani, beluchi e brahui, dagli hazara sciti di origine mongola ai qizilbash di Kabul agli sciti wakhi e farsiwan, e così via tra monti e valli.

Missione impossibile, ma affascinante e coinvolgente. E assolutamente importante. Per capire questo nostro mondo dai meccanismi di funzionamento contorti e dagli interessi economici dietro ogni sconvolgimento e guerra. E per conoscere meglio un popolo, quello afgano, che seppure tracciato in origine solo sulla carta, ha sempre dimostrato di esistere sul campo. Di poter difendere la propria indipendenza e autodeterminazione dalle ingerenze straniere, di poter generare dalle sue montagne combattenti invincibili e di poter sconfiggere alla lunga ogni invasore e ogni cultura aliena. Nonostante tutto e tutti.

Finchè, naturalmente, non cominciano a lottare tra loro.
Profile Image for Noel نوال .
642 reviews37 followers
December 16, 2022
"The USA and Unocal were essentially faced with a simple question in Afghanistan. Was it preferable to rely on Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to deliver the Taliban and obtain a temporary Afghan consensus in the old-fashioned way by reconquering the country? Or was it preferable for the USA to engage in peacemaking and bring the Afghan ethnic groups and factions together to form a broad-based government, which might ensure lasting stability? Although Washington's broad-brush policy was to support a widely based, multi-ethnic government in Kabul, the USA for a time believed in the Taliban and when it ceased to do so, it was not willing to rein in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia."~Ahmed Rashid

This is a meticulously researched and well documented account of the rise of the Taliban. Published in January of 2000 it reads as a warning of bad things to come because of foreign superpower involvement which made this book even more ominous to read. I appreciate Rashid's attention to detail and the way the information in this book was organized. This is a deeply important book that reveals how the Taliban was on America's payroll to fight the Soviets and generate more land grabs for the purpose of what the United States loves the most about the 'middle east'; OIL.
I was fairly familiar with a lot of the geopolitics that led to the rise in power of the Taliban, but reading this book was helpful in filling in some of the gaps. Reading 'Taliban' is a bitter pill to swallow knowing this has been a huge chapter of the 'War on Terror' and how the invasions, unethical wars, western occupations, and takeovers for oil have led to the fractionation and rise of extremist terrorist groups within the numerous nations western imperialism has destabilized over the last few decades.
So when the US left Afghanistan overnight in August of 2021 it was no surprise how quickly the Taliban took over and the apathy of the US government in the wake of sabotaging the country they claimed they had 'invaded to help'. 'Taliban' is an extremely important book to read to help people better understand the foundation of what led to 9/11, the 'war on terror', the formation and rise of extremist groups throughout the SWANA region, the invasion and destabilization of Afghanistan, and etc.
I'm interested in reading Rashid's books that were written later that will hopefully act as a supplementary 'sequel' to what unfolded after 'Taliban' was published.
Profile Image for Tomas Repka.
8 reviews1 follower
August 16, 2021
I read this book along with 'Descent into Chaos' during the Taliban's gradual takeover of the country in August 2021. Although the 2021 version of the Taliban will not be the same as the 1994, the book offers a decent insight into the background of the movement. Its origins and ties to regional geopolitical players - Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

Some of the author's considerations can be applied to the current analysis of the situation and show how he predicted some events.

The open question from the book : "Could the Taliban also change or moderate their policies and absorb Afghanistan’s rich ethnic and cultural diversity to become the country’s legitimate rulers?" is probably one of the most current at the moment.
65 reviews4 followers
September 28, 2020
Now I know, that Taliban means student organization. Worth reading to undersrand the big business and high level interests behind Taliban. What a sad story behind land-locked Afganistan country!
Profile Image for wally.
2,537 reviews4 followers
May 7, 2017
finished this one yesterday afternoon, 6 may 2017, good read, i liked it and then some, 3.830201 stars.
informative, enlightening, though-provoking, instructive...to read some history relevant to our lives today.

1. is it safe to conclude that ghenghis khan was one force that swept through afghanistan, one force who rushed in where angels have feared to tread, one force who likely neglected to study any history at all, damned history, and did what as he pleased in afghanistan? unlike the fabled british and russians and of course the americans?

2. well, no, others have had their way with afghanistan so the mystique of that country unconquerable, as they claim, while also laying out information about others, ghenghis khan among them, arab armies in 654 a.d....persian saminid 874 to 999 a.d....the khan in 1219...others since. so no, afghanistan and its people have been witness to this, that, the other.
the khan left behind the hazaras, one tribe of many in that land, the result of locals and mongols breeding, life continues.

3. 1761 ahmad shah durrani...another...defeats the hindu mahrattas...considered the father of the afghan nation

4. the durand line, british arbitrary line although probably not to them...stalin too, drew lines on a map in the region of c.a.r. to the north...problems problems. pashtuns on the one side, pashtuns to the other side. i'm not completely clueless...have heard this prior, wasn't familiar with the name...knew the source.

5. kandahar is the site of the cloak of the prophet, mullah omar mohammed wore the cloak briefly to do this, that, the other. (there's also information about a buddhist site...afghanistan...and this is the surprise...is the site, origin of some buddhist history...rock carvings. reminded of all those genital smashings and nose amputations in the hellenistic world...rocks thrown through the windows of the old c&h buildings.)

6. if there is one lesson from history that people the world over have failed miserably to get it is that one cannot waste/throw money at a problem with the idea that money will change or bring about desired results. so often, the result is the complete opposite of what is desired. you'd think that a debt trillions of dollars deep would enlighten the unenlightened but fate is the ultimate pre-existing condition and there is no insurance coverage. not for that pre-existing condition, alas, and hi-carumba!

7. in one of the other non-fiction and recent reads of...about six or seven now...which one? possibly Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan or No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War through Afghan Eyes the point was made that the russian invasion, occupation, and departure changed afghanistan...that previously, tribal elders held sway...and afterward...warlords held sway. rashid, here too, makes that point in a sense...and too...another result is orphans...young boys specifically...who grew up motherless, fodder for what came afterward, a ready-made ingredient.

8. have now a better understanding of pakistan's role, place in the scheme of things here...and back to the money pit again, too. the durand line. pashtuns here, pashtuns there. and the money, always influencing things...and whose money. american money...saudi money...iranian money. and how for pakistan that money changed who holds sway there in that country...not elected leaders...more so the i.s.i. and the like. information that is ironic...one party hides behind the line for this problem...another party hides behind the line on other side for this other problem. and yet for many...pashtuns...the line does not exist. sanctuary cities. pakistan, by the sound of it, could easily become the next, fabled, hot-spot. perhaps that is happening now.

9. najibullah, the president of afghanistan, was brutally executed and his body defiled, the first symbolic act by the taliban after the capture of kabul in 1996.

10. information related to the sense that the fabled money pit again...fuels conflict. humanitarian aid in a sense releases those who should know better from any obligation to know better.

11. twenty years of continuous warfare [published 2000] has destroyed afghanistan civil society, the clan community and family structure which provided an important cushion of relief in an otherwise harsh economic landscape. related to the idea expressed as noted above, more willingly, in another non-fiction related to the topic. overall, did not get a sense of a before and after related to the russian involvement in this one, not as clearly and precise as in the other. rashid does make the same point, i believe, just not as precise as in the other. and he does bring in other elements...the orphans...other information.

12. a 1999 amenesty international report said there were over 300,000 children under 18 enlisted as soldiers worldwide.

13. in february 1999 the cia claimed that through monitoring bin laden's communication network by satellite, they had prevented his supporters from carrying out seven bomb attacks against overseas facilities in saudi arabia, albania, azerbaijan, tajikistan, uganda, uruguay, and the ivory coast--emphasizing the reach of the afghan veterans. the clinton administration sanctioned us$6.7 billion to fight terrorism in 1999, while the fbi's counter-terrorism budget grew from us$118 million to us$286 million and the agency allocated 2,650 agents to the task, twice the number in 1998.

one, perhaps they would have been wise to remain silent about preventing bomb attacks. why toot your own horn, although the payment and paid vacations are nice, perhaps 9/11 would have been prevented, as well? and then there are the numbers. millions. 2,650 agents. so? what can one conclude? one is left with less than a peaceful, easy feeling. 'cause we know, hey, the gov't has let us down before. and then, too, the other side of the coin, the powers-that-be could make the argument that they remain silent about successes (and so we all remain under the ever-watchful eye of big brother) to keep the successes (really?) flowing.

13. afghans has long ago mastered the art of telling an interlocuter what he wanted to hear and then saying the exact opposite to their next guest. what i wondered while reading that other. goes toward the prism reflecting the light the prism wants to shine on the populace. so say we all. so say we all, 24/7, the information network. i don't believe the afghans have minted anything new. but.

14. there is presented, perhaps unwittingly, information about governance. the idea of a strong, central government. the taliban are bucking the entire trend of afghan history because they have no understanding of it. rashid makes the point that the taliban have a lack of a central authority...this, that, the other. rashid, afghanistan's internal settlement can no longer be achieved by what is euphemistically called 'a broad-based government.'...instead, what is needed is a cease-fire, a weak central government for an initial period... okay...perhaps not unwittingly. but reading this now, after the fact as they say...here and now in 2017...and all that has happened since. (where has the time gone?)...and back again to the fabled money pit. no easy answers but look at all that money. just waiting for a cause.

can't help but wonder (conclude) that the current insistence....insistence?...on a 'big central' government in kabul won't work now, either. you'd think one would look at what worked in the past. the 13 states. each with its own agenda...how is that any different than the various tribal regions in afghanistan? but no...those areas are ignored by insisting on a big central government...
we're watching you! watching your every move! watching you! watching you!

15. & final point most afghans felt demoralized by the fact that the islamic world declined to take up the task of condemning the taliban's extremism. pakistan, saudi arabia and the arab gulf states have never issued a single statement on the need for women's education or human rights in afghanistan. nor did they ever question the taliban's interpretation of sharia. asian muslim countries were also silent. surprisingly, iran issued the toughest defense of women's rights under islam.

where does one stop? what does one conclude?

i guess next up would be to find a non-fiction work that honestly looks at the koran, at the life of the prophet mohammed, and to discover if there is any honest discussion of that. one gets it ad infinitum when the subject is christianity and its crimes, real or imagined. but there is nothing i've ever read, that honestly questions as nobody honestly questions the tenets of islam and the life of mohammed. unless it be on a chat-board, places where people are resigned to "speak bitterness" campaigns, facebook and the like. and would it matter in the end?

gracious! i almost forgot: one final point. reading about the taliban-querrta-this-that-the-other free trade agreement...and the dollar amounts again. ironic, how pakistan's influence and push, unintended consequences again, how that has affected pakistan. this smuggling free trade thing. the money. the dollar amounts. and, instead of going into the coffers of, say pakistan...the money instead goes into the pockets of others. not affiliated with any elected authority. governing authority? perhaps some. not others. material and goods moving one direction to another not only in afghanistan, but in, through, and sometimes back out again. there is a staggering number cited herein, cars stolen in pakistan, into afghanistan, back to pakistan. sold. to the man wearing the white sombrero.

and how that might possibly relate, analogize...to the fabled nafta trade agreement...the t.p.p. and...the fabled money pit. you know money is changing hands. nafta. t.p.p. whatever. makes one wonder...who is ultimately benefiting? 'cause...money changed hands prior...in this area, afghanistan/pakistan...money changed hands since...but not into the hands of governing agents as before...unless it is under the table, so to speak. that likely happen(s)ed to a degree. so what about here...now? is there any reason to doubt money is involved? goods traversing the world.

guess i'll go pound some more nails. that floor i'm replacing out bootjack is calling. don't ya hate when the floor of your camp built during the depression rots out beneath your feet?
Profile Image for Babur.
100 reviews2 followers
November 5, 2020
Really well written. This book provides a lot of detail into who the Taliban are, how they came into power and who enabled them to stay in power, without focusing too much on 9/11 which helps in understanding the group.
Profile Image for Martin.
204 reviews6 followers
April 9, 2009
What I read in this book made me ashamed to be a member of the human race.

For thirty years the people of Afghanistan have suffered mass death, destruction of their lands and homes, privation, dislocation, and exploitation by foreign powers. From my comfortable life in New Jersey I wonder how people can maintain a civilization after so much damage has been done.

In "Taliban," Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid details the political history of the mysterious group of Islamic theology students educated in madrassas in Pakistan's squalid refugee camps who fought their way to power in Afghanistan. As a journalist, I found Rashid's work inspiring.

Like most Americans I knew very little about the Taliban when terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center on 9/11. Now our enemies, the Taliban were once accepted by the United States, a relationship that soured when the Taliban refused to hand over another person once useful to the USA, Osama bin Laden.

This is a political history, not social or cultural. Rashid briefly examines how never ending war and the Taliban's extreme interpretation of Sharia affected the lives of ordinary Afghans. But these passages are the most compelling.

Page 108: Bibi Zohra, a war widow who ran a bakery in Kabul before the Taliban took over. "Look at my face, don't you see the tragedy of our lives and our country marked all over it?"

Hungry children being torn to pieces by land mines and playing amid discarded artillery shell cases. Fertile valleys and culturally thriving cities turned into lunar landscapes. One generation after another learning only that life is misery fed daily in a pool of undrinkable water. Afghanistan is human suffering brought to a pitiless consummation.

Rashid excels in detailing the Taliban's rise, the interference by foreign powers in Afghanistan's civil war, the amazing battle over the construction of gas and oil pipelines between the companies Bridas and Unocal along with their state sponsors, and how men like bin Laden ever arrived in Afghanistan.

The behavior of the United States, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan was beyond shameful-- and ultimately self-destructive, from the funding of the Afghan jihad in the 1980s to the neglect of Afghanistan in the 1990s. Russia, Iran and the Central Asian Republics picked their favorites, too, among the warlords and factions carving up Afghanistan into bloody little pieces.

Rashid provides more evidence that terrorists only become a problem for a country once they begin to point the guns that country bought for them in the wrong direction. The people with whom the US are now engaged in a "war of civilizations" were once very useful to us. Other nations picked sides in Afghanistan's civil war based upon the fastest possible start date for the construction of a pipeline. All the while the people of Afghanistan died by the thousands.

I had no prior knowledge of most of the information Rashid revealed in this book. Shame on me, too. As I read the chapters, I wished I could hand copies to some people I know-- to wake them up from their comas. The Taliban lived and ruled by their warped sense of Islam and Sharia-- but they spoke another language, too: money. And money and oil was all that really mattered in Afghanistan. And that is why I felt such shame. The United States has its hands in Afghanistan for a long time-- and they emerged soaked in blood.

I highly recommend this book-- because you will learn so much about contemporary history.

"Taliban" was published in 2000. On the last page Rashid writes, "If the war in Afghanistan continues to be ignored we can only expect the worst."

Profile Image for SirJo.
218 reviews3 followers
November 29, 2017
Avevo 19 anni quando i sovietici invasero l'Afghanistan, all'epoca, io giovane combattivo di belle speranze, come tanti scesi in piazza a dimostrare contro la terribile invasione in favore dei poveri afghani invasi dagli orribili comunisti. A distanza di anni, col senno di poi, devo dire che non rifarei questa cosa. Certo col senno di poi siamo tutti bravi a giudicare, e comunque anche i russi non avevano diritti o giustificazioni ad invadere l'Afghanistan. Però dobbiamo ammettere che alla luce di quanto successo i russi forse erano stati il male minore. E' anche vero che fu proprio a causa dell'Afghanistan, e non solo, che l'impero sovietico inizio a sgretolarsi.
E qui, per tutti, iniziano i problemi. Problemi e questioni che questo saggio di geopolitica illustra magistralmente a mio parere. Gli americani foraggiarono i Mujaheddin senza sapere chi fossero, senza considerare che questi si presero miliardi di dollari non solo per combattere i sovietici. Il Pakistan dirigeva questi Mujaheddin pensando di utilizzarli per i suoi scopi egemonici, l'Iran da sempre ha cercato di difendere i suoi interessi, il crollo sovietico ha costretto le repubbliche centro-asiatiche a trovare una dimensione e visibilità. Insomma un gran bel ginepraio di problemi. Il risultato finale sono stati i talebani in Afghanistan, dapprima finanziati e incoraggiati da americani, sauditi e pakistani, poi, quando emergono le bestialità commesse, abbandonati a parole e non nei fatti. Solo gli americani, quando ormai diventano indifendibili, li lasciano al loro destino. Ma perchè l'Afghanistan è così importante? In realtà il paese è una immensa pietraia abitati da tribù di analfabeti, incapaci di organizzare uno stato degno di questo nome. La risposta è la costruzione di gasdotti e oleodotti, le cui vie più agevoli passano per forza di cose da questo paese. Il libro analizza molto compiutamente tutto ciò.
Ma la storia insegna qualcosa ai partecipanti di queste vicende? Si direbbe di no, politiche cieche basate su traffici di droga e di armi, interessi politici esportati in paesi che hanno tutt'altre preoccupazioni hanno generato conflitti, campi profughi, popolazioni disastrate e terrorismo.
E come sempre più spesso accade negli ultimi anni gli americani si sono distinti per la loro incapacità di giudizio, per la loro insipienza nell'affrontare le vicende economiche e politiche, guidati da bassi interessi di bottega che si ritorcono poi contro (finanziarono e coprirono Bin Laden, i talebani, i pakistani). Si sono distinti per l'incapacità di capire che per costruire accordi economici e duraturi non puoi non accordarti, nella regione, con russi e persiani, non puoi non comprendere che la logica del "tanto peggio tanto meglio" in politica non funziona.
E' anche questo un segno dei tempi, cioè che stiamo vivendo una trasformazione epocale, che l'egemonia americana è in fase decadente da "fine impero", ormai incapace di essere giuda illuminata ma soltanto una ottusa difesa di una egemonia incapace di comprendere realtà diverse dalla sua.
Profile Image for Reza Amiri Praramadhan.
490 reviews23 followers
September 2, 2021
One of my enjoyments of reading and collecting books is when knowing that one of the books within my collection suddenly thrust into relevance due to actual world issues. And in this occasion, it was the sudden ascendancy of Taliban to power in Afghanistan after fighting a guerilla war for about twenty years, toppling Afghan government and, its US-backed, armed and trained military, like house of cards, and sending US the greatest humiliation since the Vietnam War, a proof that history repeats for everyone who failed to learn from it.

In this authoritative book, many aspects of Taliban were discussed in great detail, from the background of its establishment, the who's who within it, how they can emerge victorious and actually ruled Afghanistan for quite a while for some time, how it profited from smuggling, toll business and narcotics. Also important, were the discussions on how foreign powers came to shape and be impacted by the existence of Taliban. From its immediate neighbours, The Central Asian Republics, who were anxious for peace and Afghanistan to let the gas and oil flow, Pakistan, who imagined that they could play the role of puppetmaster with the Taliban as its puppet (a role that increasingly exchanged between them), and even superpower like US, who, evidently, did not learn from the reputation of Afghanistan as the graveyard of empires, with the likes of Great Britain and Soviet Union had their backsides kicked out Afghanistan.

However, the most important aspect of this book, and probably which captured the most of popular imagination, was how Taliban became so intertwined with Al-Qaeda, how Taliban provided Osama Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda with sanctuary, while in turn Al-Qaeda taught Taliban its tactics, turning Taliban from an overly zealous peasant army into a full-fledged terrorists who are committed to export its jihad zeal around the world. In this updated edition, also explained how the US-led foreign coalition managed to send Taliban to their hiding places, yet utterly failed in assisting Afghanistan in nation-building, through many follies, such as choosing to cooperate with corrupt and questionably loyal warlords, closing eyes to problems such as vote rigging during presidential election and narcotics trading, no wonder that Afghanistan fell as quickly as they are today to the hands of Taliban, who managed to bide their time for 20 years.

In the end, I highly recommend this book as your first reference when learning about Taliban, and what happened to Afghanistan now and then. A very informative book.
Profile Image for Andrew.
172 reviews4 followers
June 14, 2012
The books covers the origins and rise of the Taliban from a journalist who was there and lived it.

Another excellent book on Afghanistan. It further highlights how all the nations in the region jockeyed to create an Afghanistan government/leadership that would be friendly to them. Then use this government to secure deals for resources and be a friendly ally for future conflicts. No one cared how the Taliban really treated its citizens or that they developed camps to train foreign fighters to spread their radical ideology. And by the time people started to notice or care it was too late. Everyone was neck deep into their commitments and to end them would cause a further collapse and possible isolation on the world stage.

Should you read it?
If you want to know more about the Taliban’s origins or just why this end of the world is so messed up, then give this book a read right away. Then you’ll be depressed realizing this still is going on today to some degree, with rival factions supporting the Taliban and other fighters to stop the U.S.. It seems no one learns, they just switch partners and go on about their business.
Profile Image for Stephen.
456 reviews53 followers
November 17, 2017
Read this several years ago. Good summary of the region, politics and the rise of the Taliban. The most interesting character: Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Lion of Panjshir who fought first the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and then the Taliban for Afghan independence. An heroic figure he was posthumously named "National Hero" by President Hamid Karzai after the Taliban were ousted. Sad that Afghanistan continues to struggle with sectarian violence and war.
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