Games without Rules: The Often-Interrupted History of Afghanistan

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Overview

Today, most Westerners still see the war in Afghanistan as a contest between democracy and Islamist fanaticism. That war is real; but it sits atop an older struggle, between Kabul and the countryside, between order and chaos, between a modernist impulse to join the world and the pull of an older Afghanistan: a tribal universe of village republics permeated by Islam.

Now, Tamim Ansary draws on his Afghan background, Muslim roots, and Western and Afghan sources to explain history ...

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Games without Rules: The Often-Interrupted History of Afghanistan

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Overview

Today, most Westerners still see the war in Afghanistan as a contest between democracy and Islamist fanaticism. That war is real; but it sits atop an older struggle, between Kabul and the countryside, between order and chaos, between a modernist impulse to join the world and the pull of an older Afghanistan: a tribal universe of village republics permeated by Islam.

Now, Tamim Ansary draws on his Afghan background, Muslim roots, and Western and Afghan sources to explain history from the inside out, and to illuminate the long, internal struggle that the outside world has never fully understood. It is the story of a nation struggling to take form, a nation undermined by its own demons while, every 40 to 60 years, a great power crashes in and disrupts whatever progress has been made. Told in conversational, storytelling style, and focusing on key events and personalities, Games without Rules provides revelatory insight into a country at the center of political debate.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Long one of the most disputed territories in the world, Afghanistan holds a strategic geographical position that has placed it in the way of empires for centuries. However, over the past two centuries each time a major world power has attempted to intercede in Afghan affairs they have failed. Ansary (Destiny Disrupted), an Afghan-born US citizen and director of the San Francisco Writers Workshop, offers an illuminating history of the country, providing not only a chronology but a deep cultural analysis that allows outsiders a comprehensive picture of Afghan mores and practices. This insider's perspective fills large gaps in contemporary outsiders' understandings of why these powers have failed and hopefully points the way towards forms of international cooperation that will work for Afghanistan rather than against it. Ansary has a gift for using informal language to illustrate his points in a way that doesn't compromise the legitimacy of his narrative. His ability to contextualize the history and situate it in culture, as well as to remind readers of when to keep track of important figures (sometimes for decades) is refreshing. Ansary has produced an invaluable resource to those curious about this tumultuous region. Agent: Carol Mann, Carol Mann Agency. (Dec.)
Kirkus Reviews
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.
From the Publisher

Rajiv Chandrasekaran, author of Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan“In Games Without Rules, Tamim Ansary has written the most engaging, accessible and insightful history of Afghanistan. With gifted prose and revealing details, Ansary gives us the oft-neglected Afghan perspective of the wars, foreign meddling and palace intrigue that has defined the past few centuries between the Indus and Oxus. This brilliant book should be required reading for anyone involved in the current war there -- and anyone who wants to understand why Afghanistan will not be at peace anytime soon."

Kirkus
“A breezy, accessible overview of centuries of messy Afghan history, including the present military quagmire…. 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… Lively instruction on how Afghanistan has coped, and continues to cope, with being a strategic flash point.”

Christian Science Monitor“Games without Rules" explains longstanding problems and internal difficulties encountered in efforts toward nation-building in Afghanistan and shows how great power politics (and invasion) have been stalling the process for the past two centuries.”

San Jose Mercury News"Despite extensive reporting on the war in Afghanistan, San Francisco journalist and author Ansary thinks there's still a great deal of misunderstanding about the reasons for the conflict. In this history, he focuses on key developments that shaped current events."

Middle East Journal
“Ansary … sheds light on over two centuries of Afghan history, giving an account of the historical struggles undertaken by a fractious people across a landscape of rugged steppes and unforgiving deserts…. [He] argues that the fatal error of … unsuccessful modern invaders lies in their inability to recognize the internal struggles of those with whom they intervened.”

Booklist“Ansary tells the history of modern Afghanistan with a master storyteller’s confidence…this is a nuanced, sophisticated historical narrative that strives to tell Afghan history from an Afghan perspective…The author’s love for his native land and his optimism for its future shine through.”

Publishers Weekly, STARRED review
“Ansary, an Afghan-born US citizen… offers an illuminating history of the country, providing not only a chronology but a deep cultural analysis that allows outsiders a comprehensive picture of Afghan mores and practices. This insider's perspective fills large gaps in contemporary outsiders' understandings of why these powers have failed and hopefully points the way towards forms of international cooperation that will work for Afghanistan rather than against it. Ansary has a gift for using informal language to illustrate his points in a way that doesn't compromise the legitimacy of his narrative. His ability to contextualize the history and situate it in culture, as well as to remind readers of when to keep track of important figures (sometimes for decades) is refreshing. Ansary has produced an invaluable resource to those curious about this tumultuous region.”

Geographical Magazine“As an Afghan-American, Tamim Ansary is well placed to present the Western reader with a penetrating view of his complex and often baffling native land. With the 2014 draw-down of NATO combat forces from Afghanistan approaching a better-late-than-never understanding of how the country works and its history is crucial if we’re to avoid the mistakes of the past.”

New Statesman“(Ansary’s) is an authentically Afghan voice, offering not an authoritative account of the ebb and flow of foreign entanglement in Afghanistan but a personal account of how an intelligent Afghan observer sees the course of events from the outside.”

Irish Times“Ansary has that rare gift of being able to blend an academic’s knowledge with the skill of a natural storyteller. He if Afghanistan-born, and although he left when he was just 16, in 1964, he has clearly spent a lifetime collecting stories, which he has edited masterfully, knowing exactly when to move away from the major events and focus on the tiny details that give you a sense of what life must have been like for the country’s many poor villagers, who often had no idea what was happening in their capital city. Refreshingly he keeps his focus on Afghans, with the foreigners appearing for brief periods, usually offering little and understanding less. I was gripped as I read the first 200 pages of GAMES WITHOUT RULES… The author brilliantly describes the personalities of these men and the conflict, conceit or foreign intervention that brought them to power.”

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781610390941
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 11/27/2012
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Tamim Ansary

Tamim Ansary is the author of Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes; the memoir West of Kabul, East of New York, and The Widow’s Husband, a historical novel set during the First Anglo-Afghan War. He is co-author with Afghan land mine victim Farah Ahmadi of the New York Times bestseller The Other Side of the Sky, and editor of Snapshots: This Afghan American Life, an anthology of work by 15 young Afghan-Americans. For ten years he wrote a monthly column for Encarta.com, and has published essays and commentary in the San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, Parade, Salon, Alternet, TomPaine.com, Edutopia, and elsewhere. He is director of the San Francisco Writers Workshop. Born in Afghanistan in 1948, he moved to the U.S. in 1964.

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Table of Contents

AFGHANISTAN INTERRUPTED TABLE OF CONTENTS

1: The Seed that Became Afghanistan (1747 – 1839)
2: The First Anglo-Afghan War (1839-1842)
3: From Empire to Country (1843-1878)
4: The Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878-1880)
5: The Iron Amir and His Legacy (1881-1918)
6: The Third Anglo-Afghan War (1918-1929)
7: Stumbling Toward Modernity (1929-1978)
8: The Anti-Soviet War (1978-1990)
9: The Countryside Triumphant (1990-2001)
10: The Anti-American War (2001-the present)
11: tk

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 25, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Outstanding political and cultural history!

    Of all the histories I have read on Afghanistan, and I have read more than a few, Tamim Ansary’s is absolutely the best. Games without Rules begins with the rise of the Durrani line and brings the reader up through the present, with reporting through May of 2012.

    Tamim Ansary does a number of things in his book that make it especially accessible for readers, but chief among them is linking events in Afghanistan to events with which his readers might be more familiar, such as the fact that the opening of his work, the dawning of the Durrani Empire, with its founder Ahmad Shah Baba, known as Afghanistan’s Founding Father, happened in 1747, roughly the same time as the founding of the United States of America. Over the course of reading the book the reader will also learn a great deal about the histories of India, Pakistan, and the neighboring central Asian republics, as the destinies of these nations and that of Afghanistan are all inter-linked. Another fact about Mr. Ansary’s writing-this is not the writing of a dry, boring scholar of a historian-he manages to always keep a storyteller’s mien, full of adventure and humor.

    In addition to being written in an easily accessible style, this history is very well organized, carrying the reader seamlessly from one era into the next, clearly illustrating how each event, and not always those occurring solely within Afghanistan’s borders, caused the next to proceed. Perhaps most valuable is Mr. Ansary’s explanation of Afghanistan’s placement upon the world stage-the role that it has played over the last two hundred years, so often caught up geographically in the maelstrom between world powers, for instance, between Russia and British India.

    As he takes his reader along on a journey through the various powers, foreign and domestic, who have vied for power over her people, Tamim Ansary, in a marvelously conversant manner, gives a cultural education that is unparalleled. From the cities to the furthest reaches of the valleys, the governance and social customs of the country are explained, and he uses this information to break down for the reader exactly why he feels that attempts by various foreign powers over the centuries to govern the Afghani people have not succeeded. His analysis is insightful and well-laid-out, and for those not well-versed in the subject, this book will prove especially useful in helping you to understand exactly why the political and social situation there is so complex.

    My one very slight reservation for my conservative readership is that Mr. Ansary is very clearly a liberal, and that does bleed through, especially with regards to our current president. However, for the most part he does strive for partiality and is generally successful. No matter how conservative your leanings, you would be doing yourself a disservice not to read this book-Mr. Ansary’s political views only come into play in the very last section and are toned down enough that even this conservative reviewer did not find them obtrusive enough to overwhelm all the excellent material contained within the rest of the book.

    In four hundred pages of reading a person’s time will be well vested here. I give Tamim Ansary’s newest history my highest endorsement, not only for the knowledge it imparts, but for its readability. If you read one book on the modern history of Afghanistan, her culture, her politics, and her role in our global peace (or otherwise), this should be the one you reach fo

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2013

    Ansary not only relays historical facts and stories, but guides

    Ansary not only relays historical facts and stories, but guides the reader inside the Afghan psyche.
    I love his writing style, with it's light touch of humor and transparent even-handedness in discussing
    controversial aspects of Afghan history. After reading this book I understand why people supported the
     communist government in the 80's and why others fought against them. I now understand the same
    thing about the current war.
    Games without Rules reads like a novel but is well documented and authoritative. The bits of Ansary's
    personal and family history make it more real. As always, I find Ansary's comments on the current Afghan
    situation right on target, and his analysis prescient. I look forward to more books by this insightful author. 

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2013

    Highly Recommended, Unbiased and Easy to Read

    Because I am following the conflicts in the Middle East and Asia and I am an avid reader of Khaled Hosseini's books which depict life in Afghanistan over the recent decades, I wanted to educate myself about Afghan history. I started doing some research and discoverd Games Without Rules. This book is a perfect book for the layperson who is not a political scientist or historian, but who is looking for an easy to understand sequence of events. Ansary uses his excellent writing style to layout the history of the Afghan people. Anecdotes and colloquialism are mixed in with more serious hisotry and it makes for a good read. Ansary was born in Afghanistan and has lived in the US and he writes from a perspective that considers both countries' points of view, and he praises and critisizes both cultures where appropriate.

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