An awkwardly written history of Afghanistan that nonetheless provides a context for understanding events that have swept the country in the past couple months, from former Afghan mujahideen Nojumi.
It is no small feat what Nojumi endeavors to do here: introduce and make sense of the cultural and political forces that have shaped Afghanistan since 1970. This means he must contend not just with a simple historical timeline, starting with the establishment of the first republic, then the coup d'etat of 1979 and subsequent Soviet invasion, and on through the collapse of the post-Soviet governments and the ascension of the Taliban. He also tries to thread into the story the backgrounds of the dozens of small political factions that came and went; an understanding of Afghan folk culture, with its pride in honor and self-respect, individualism and eldership; the defense of home and hearth and tribe; the importance of Islam; and, under the conditions of the moment, its radical edge of jihad (holy war) and shahadah (self-sacrifice). To keep all these elements moving fluidly requires the art of a juggler, and Nojumi tries valiantly. His style, though, is stultifying: it reads throughout like a first-year political-science term paper: “The aim of this method is to create a state of progress and achievement in the social, economic, and political patterns of a nation.” Such prose makes it an effort to extricate the valuable material from the dross. Yet he does provide insights into the reasons the Taliban have come to power in the niche created by the chaos in the resistance leadership in 1992, and the appeal of their declared “cause to establish peace, security, and the formation of a national assembly,” and the application, or at least their interpretation, of Islamic law.
Bland but thorough, and capable of delivering those notes toward an understanding of the Taliban so obviously necessary today.