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Reaping the Whirlwind: The Taliban Movement in Afghanistan

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Chronicles the rise of the Taliban from their first appearance in 1994, examines their place in the context of Afghanistan's political instability, and discusses the significance of their brand of Islamic fundamentalism.

272 pages, Hardcover

First published April 1, 1998

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Michael Griffin

156 books51 followers
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Displaying 1 - 6 of 6 reviews
489 reviews36 followers
July 24, 2011
There is a grim nostalgia to reading "Reaping the Whirlwind" ten years after its publication. At that time of course the towers still stood and the people who worked in them were alive. Across the world where the plot was hatched, the last major obstacle to Taliban domination, was also alive (he was assassinated on Sept. 9), pent up in the unforgiving mountains of northeastern Afghanistan. The giant Buddhas of Bamiyan were still there (although one of them has taken some artillery). Bin Ladin merits some pages, but in this account he was something of a problem for Mullah Omar, despite their alleged familial relationship (there are rumors that both men married a daughter of the other), who at least at one point wanted the Saudi gone. Griffin also casts a knowing eye on the foundational myth of the Taliban, that Mullah Omar, after hanging a local warlord from a tank turret for raping minors (here two girls, in other accounts a boy), gathered the original group and were converted quickly and spontaneously into a religious fighting force. It is an article of faith that the Taliban were mentored by the shadowy Pakistani spymasters; Griffin argues that the policy originated at the highest levels, Benazir Bhutto's Interior Minister, a former general. That explains the rapid rise of the Taliban and their ability to quickly conquer a rough and fractious country. Professional management always helps when recruiting, arming, training, and moving large groups of men across difficult terrain to fight war-hardened veterans. Griffin goes deepens the cynical view of Pakistan's motives, going beyond the religious support, or the effort to control the northern border and keep the West off-balance in its support of India. The idea was to control Afghanistan and thereby allow for free commerce -- a pipeline for example -- between the old-producing regions in Central Asia and the ocean. Massoud does not come off lightly either, exposed as having meddled in Tajikistan's war and (the following charge is made elsewhere) taking turns with the Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's group in turning Kabul to dust. Rashid Dostum, the former Communist who ran the north central region--to the point of printing its own currency--comes off like a warlord, with the exception of military success. This portrait of the Taliban themselves makes have been much less unified in terms of imposing sharia and negotiating other accounts; the defeat of whatever moderate faction may have existed is measured by the number of Afghans punished and killed. Much of this is reported elsewhere; what Griffin excels at is exposing the way Pakistan, India, Central Asia, Russia and the United States all treated Afghanistan as a chessboard. Woe to the pawns.
Profile Image for Fahim.
38 reviews2 followers
March 11, 2013
I very detailed book on the birth of Taliban in Afghanistan. The author explains the Taliban movement in Afghanistan along with the roles of other countries such as Pakistan, United States, and some Arabic countries in lots of details. If you are not an expert on the region or the topic, or if you are not crazy about the movement and the politics, I would not recommend this book for you. This book is for experts.
Profile Image for Naeem.
388 reviews234 followers
November 26, 2008
Covers more or less the same terrain as Ahmed Rashid's Taliban but with more flair and poetry and less utilitarian precision.
Profile Image for Alejandro Teruel.
1,116 reviews213 followers
June 24, 2016
This is an account of the grim and depressing history of Afghanistan focusing on the grim, bloody and depressing decade (circa 1990 to 2000) which saw the rise and consolidation of the Taliban regime. If you are only superficially conversant with the area and its incessant power struggles, this is definitely an easy book to get lost in. The author thoughtfully starts the book with a chronology ranging from the overthrow of King Zahir Shah in 1973, the establishment of a communist state, the Soviet-Afghan War, the rise and fall of Mujahedin forces up to the January 3rd 2001 trial of Osama bin-Laden , in absentia in a Manhattan court, a mere eight months away from the assasination of Ahmad Shah Massoud one of the more enduring commanders resisting the Taliban, nine months before the US launched Operation Enduring Freedom and a year before the Taliban government was overthrown and they again became an insurgent movement. Unfortunately, only a very skimpy and inadequate political map of Aghanistan is provided which shows how its territory was (roughly) partitioned as of January 1996 between Rabbani's ousted government forces, the Taliban, NIMA (Dostum) and the Nangarhar Council.

The most confusing parts of the book arise when it delves into the thicket of details about political in-fighting, massacres, ethnic cleansings, and other war crimes and actual physical combat across Afghanistan which eventually led to a one of the highest -if not the highest- numbers of displaced and refugee population.

In the book, there is little to commend the Taliban as they butcher their way across Afghanistan, proclaim a retrogard Sharia-inspired law which virtually condemned women to starvation within the walls of their home and made the amputations of hands and capital punishments a spectator sport:
The Deobandis represent the extreme of such attempts to regulate personal behaviour, having issued a quarter of a million fatw on the minutae of everyday life since the beginning of the [21st] century. There is eyewitness testimony to children, chained to their lecterns, rocking back and forth as they learn by rote a Koran written not in Pashtun but in Arabic.
[...]
[T]aliban misogyny went so beyond what is normally intended by that word that it qualified as a kind of 'gynaeophobia', one so broad that the merest sight of a stockinged foot or varnished finger was taken as a seductive invitation to personal damnation[...Women] had to be covered, closeted and, where necessary, beaten to prevent more sin from being spewed into society. The Taliban penalty for women showing their faces in public was set by the Office for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, a religious police established in Kabul to enforce such restrictions, at 29 lashes.
[...].
Teachers had been one of the soft targets of the jihad, with some 2,000 assasinated and 15,000 forced to abandon the profession out of fear for their lives. In Nangarhar, one commander admitted to burning down the local primary school and slaughtering its nine teachers, because 'that was were the communists were trained'
[...]
'Even a woman has trouble in examining a woman in Afghanistan,' a doctor with Médecins du Monde had explained in Herat over a year earlier. 'There are still women doctors, but for how long one doesn't know. If the access of females to medical studies is forbidden, there will no longer be any women doctors to assure a service of gynecology or obstetrics' [...] Afghan women stood a greater chance of dying in childbirth than anyone outside Sierra Leone; and they gave birth on average nine times in their lives.
No wonder a survey of 160 women reported that :
97 per cent showed symptoms of depression and 73 per cent reported a decline in their physical health status.
The titles of some of these chapters clearly reflect the author's stance, especially when the reader realizes that many of them are ironic if not downright sarcastic: “Warriors of God”, “Mission to Cleanse”, “Burning down the House”, “Ignoble Grave”.

Several of the more interesting -and accessible- chapters (“The River Between”, “The New Emirates”) dwell on the geopolitics of the region, as Iran, Pakistan, Russia, USA, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikstan and to a lesser extent (at the time) India and China, jockey -to put it mildly- for influence, political clout, economic and energy-related advantages and even territory at the expense of Afghanistan. There are devastating and telling chapters on the competition to build, operate or block gas pipelines across Afghanistan (“Nest of Vipers”, “A Fistful of Dollars”) -in which even an Argentine based corporation, Bridas, scrambled for opportunities- which leads the reader to think hard about the real, hidden costs of oil and gas:
Recent conflicts in Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, Turkish Kurdistan and Chechnya are all linked by a single golden theme: each represented a distinct, tactical move, crucial at the time, in determining which power would ultimately become master of the pipelines which, sometime in this century, will transport the oil and gas from the Caspian Basin to an energy-avid world.
[...]
After the fall of the Soviet empire in 1991, Turkey had been seduced into believing that its ties of shared culture and language would provide the template of a new imperial dimension to its Central Asian policy[...] While Turkey worked to deepen its links with a dream hinterland stretching from Azerbaijan to Xinjiang province in China, Iran had also seen its opportunity. As a revolutionary Shia state, Iran had less to commend it in Central Asia, where a lapsed Sunnism was universal after three generations of Soviet rule. Turkey's brash capitalism and its constitutional commitment to secularism held more appeal to Karimov and Saparmyat Niyazov, the president of Turkmenistan, who combined the Soviet predilection for cults of personality with a wide-eyed hankering for expensive construction projects. Analysts said Ankara was forwarding US strategy by providing a role model in tune with Central Asia's transition from the Soviet to the modern, but it was Tehran, a wealthier and better connected player in the region, which actually made the running.
[...]
To outside observers, the ensuing conflict [in Afghanistan] came increasingly to resemble the eruption of ancient hatreds, whether of race or sect, supercharged by Cold War weaponry and the logic of the post-Soviet vacuum in Central Asia.
There are also fascinating chapters on illegal drug cultivation and trafficking in Afghanistan and its neighbouring states and the unbelievable levels of corruption. The author also attempts to uncover the true extent of Osama bin-Lada's involvement in terrorism while living in Afghanistan and Pakistan's, Iran's, Saudi Arabia's, the US and Russia role in sponsoring, at the very least, terrorist training camps.

The hapless and, according the author, ultimately ineffective role of the UN and other NGOs is also covered in chapters such as “Hostages” and "Ignoble Grave":
Widows were doubly victimized under the Taliban. Not only were they denied paid employment, like other Afghan women, but they lost access to food aid, which under the new government, had to be collected by male relatives [...] Few [UN and NGO] agencies bothered to make their projects for widows credible... The bakery and sewing schemes supported by World Food Programme, UNICEF and UNOCHA did nothing to instill self-sufficiency or business skills among their illiterate beneficiaries who were granted a 'salary' of relief food, but below market prices for their bread or quilts.
[...]
An evaluation report [identified] three classic UN responses to the restrictions introduced by the Taliban. One was 'adaptive', and entailed continuing to operate within the dominant political values, and a second was 'defeatist', whereby all decisions were deferred until the political situation had altered. There was little to choose between them. The third, termed 'challenging', treated every violation of gender equality as a violation of human rights, to which the only coherent response was a suspension of social aid.
[...]
Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, three days later, confirmed the UN's commitment to Afghanistan, but only under the terms of its charter, which states that UN activities must be 'for all without distinction, as to race, sex, language or religion' [...] In the first week of October, the UNCR suspended seven Kabul programmes affecting 8,000 people [...] Oxfam reacted by closing all programs, including the multi-million Logar water supply project which, when completed, would have supplied clean, running water to half the capital's households[...] In November, Save the Children (US), which had closed land-mine awareness programmes when girls were barred from schools, reported a 300 per cent increase in casualties.
[...]
Michael Scott, manager of the UN agency Habitat's urban regeneration programme, summarised the communication breakdown: 'The degree of cognitive dissonance and communicative distance we can see and feel now with these new potential partners [the Taliban] is unlike anything we have experienced with previous Afghan factions, authorities or regimes.' He added: 'Neither in the new order does there appear to be any notion of accountability; the real authorities are to this day a nameless shura, who mediate the will of the Supreme Authority.'
As you struggle through the book with an increasing sense of shock and horror, and if you take a step back and a deep breath, you begin to grasp the enormity of what it means to truly attempt to enforce the UN Bill of Human Rights on a planetary scale, the manifold ways in which 'self-interest' as a basis for capitalism and governments can run seriously amuck in a society lacking adequate checks and balances and the depth of despair that can drive a big enough fraction of a society into the arms of a regime capable of inflicting such levels of psychological and physical violence. And you thank God you did not have to live in Afghanistan, at the very least between 1990 and 2000.
Profile Image for Maria.
155 reviews
June 10, 2020
Pues la verdad es que no me acuerdo de mucho de lo que hablaba la primera mitad del libro ya que me pareció algo monótono y creo que lo que son los talibanes conquistando Afganistán habría sido mucho más cautivante visto desde el punto de vista de individuos, en lugar ser tan generalizado. Sin mirar la cronología del principio del libro no puedo acordar mucho la verdad. Después de la expulsión de Rusia de Afganistán, las milicias que recibieron dinero de los Estados Unidos y tal, ahora tienen armas y la materia para coger el poder del país. Están los talibanes, que viniendo del sur (creo), muestran el espíritu de sus soldados y los líderes, que no son afectados por la gran cantidad de gente de sus legiones que resultan acabar muertas, pero aun así vencen en poco a poco aterrar ciudades, quemar a los rebeldes y conquistar la mayor parte del país. De este modo llega a apoderarse del país está organización que hace solo unos meses estaba entrenando y radicalizando a los jóvenes afganos. Aunque se ralentizan antes de llegar a Kabul, yendo contra la alianza de los poderes del norte, todavía después de muchas muertes también atrapan la ciudad. Habiendo ocupada una gran parte del país, ahora se esfuerzan para obtener el reconocimiento de instituciones internacionales como la UN, Pakistán o los Estados Unidos. El país está un poco en el caos, con los precios de comida creciendo, siendo grandes exportadores de heroína y enforzando la ley Sharía, que en con en conjunto con todos los otros factores, expulsa a muchas ONGs que daban de comida a gran parte de la población. Con las condiciones estando como están, grupos como Al Qaeda empiezan a surgir y el bombardeo de algunas embajadas estadounidenses hace que la amenaza del terrorismo empieza a realizarse, trayendo a Estados Unidos a descartar los problemas de las mujeres, declarando el querer que Osama Bin Laden sea extraditado, con una posición en la UN como recompensa. Y aquí termina el libro con la busca de Bin Laden en marcha.
Profile Image for Tim.
93 reviews
May 14, 2011
Published in January 2001, this smart synopsis drawn from news accounts and the author's own brief sojourns in Afghanistan recounts the rise of the Taliban movement. It is a story that foretells the events of 9/11 on the ninth anniversary of which I finished reading this book. The book today might better be titled "In Plain Sight," since what we live with in the news today was in plain view in the international press already a decade and more ago.
Displaying 1 - 6 of 6 reviews

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