Seasoned journalists Fitzgerald and Gould—co-producers of the 1981 PBS documentary Afghanistan Between the Wars—deliver a probing history of the country and a critical evaluation of American involvement in recent decades.
The authors had just finished a documentary in late 1979 on SALT II (Arms Race and the Economy) when Russia invaded the seemingly insignificant country of Afghanistan. In this densely researched work, they study the ancient ethnic makeup of the country, its fledgling attempts at democracy and the catastrophic rise of the Taliban, introduced by Pakistan refugee groups and funded by the Saudis. As the “meeting place of four cultural zones,” Afghanistan has constantly been overrun by invaders eager to get somewhere else, including Alexander the Great, early Arab armies that converted the country to Islam, Genghis Khan, and the mid-19th century invasion by the British, which sowed the seeds of destabilizing colonial politics that would wreak havoc until the present day. The country lived in perpetual fear of Russian invasion of its northern territories, and it became a natural base for Cold War confrontation. Internally, a conservative, traditional society in which Islam played a pious rather than political role was being radically transformed by the 1970s, “under the influence of outside religious and intellectual forces.” Most chilling to read is the American government’s hot-cold manipulation of the region for its own purposes. As the situation devolved into “a sea of drugs, covert operations, Islamic revolutionaries, and Maoist cadres,” and U.S. ambassador Adolph Dubs was murdered in February 1979, an aggressive anti-Soviet stance was set in play from Brzezinski to Reagan, and the entrenchment of Islamic extremism was assured. The authors ably demystify Afghan efforts in the wake of 9/11, delineating its destroyed culture and offering a cogent plan for the next American president.
A fresh perspective on a little-understood nation.