A breezy, accessible overview of centuries of messy Afghan history, including the present military quagmire.
Ansary has previously written history from “Islamic eyes” (Destiny Destroyed, 2009, etc.); here, he casts the perplexing trajectory of Afghanistan as a kind of chaotic but nonetheless functioning scrimmage interrupted periodically by foreign invaders bent on their own “great game.” First united under the neo-Persian young leader Ahmad Shah, the various Pushtoon tribes first grew into a national awareness of "Afghanistan" by the mid 18th century. All the while, they remained wary of the Europeans, specifically the British and the Russians. Repeated invasions helped coalesce the Afghan state, firm up its borders and establish the capital at Kabul, as well as helping “unleash the unruly energy of Afghan tribal society.” As a native of Kabul, Ansary lends precious insight into the makeup of the typical Afghan village, with its tidy, self-sufficient, patriarchal hierarchy and need to keep the nomads at bay. The loss of Peshawar, institutionalized in the arbitrary Durand line drawn up by the eponymous British diplomat in 1893, continued to be a thorn in the Afghanis’ side until the present. The modernizing period ushered in by Amir Amanullah in the 1920s sidestepped Shariah and fostered a brief period of reform, followed by 40 years of royal family–run government that was fairly indulgent, even modern and enterprising, thanks to Western cash for development projects such as the Helmand Valley Authority. The Cold War again placed the country in a tug of war, this time between the Soviets and Americans, resulting in one morass after the other—and it’s still ongoing, exacerbated by the Taliban, al-Qaida, refugees, drugs, corruption and discoveries of mineral wealth.
Lively instruction on how Afghanistan has coped, and continues to cope, with being a strategic flash point.