Taliban: The Unknown Enemy

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From a small group of religious students formed in 1994, the Taliban quickly grew into a national movement that occupied all of Afghanistan. Led by the mysterious Mullah Omar, the group established a theocracy based on strict observance of Sharia law. When the Americans overthrew the Taliban in 2001, the United States thought the regime had been defeated. Yet today, nine years later, the Taliban continue to wage a bloody insurgency.

In this extraordinary and compelling account of the rise, fall, and return of the Taliban, author James Fergusson, who has unique access to its shadowy leaders, presents the reality of themovement so often mischaracterized in the press. His surprising and, perhaps, uncomfortable conclusions about our current strategy in Afghanistan should be required reading for anyone who wishes to understand this intractable conflict.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Kirkus Reviews, 5/15/11
“An intriguing argument for negotiations with the Taliban presented as the necessary precondition for a political settlement and withdrawal.”

BostonGlobe, 6/1/11 “This sympathetic and eye-opening account should be required reading for anyone seeking to understand contemporary Afghanistan.”

San Francisco Chronicle, 7/31/11
“Fergusson’s critique of the West’s failures in Afghanistan is devastating, and his insightful conversations with Afghans, including Taliban and their supporters, are very much worth reading.”

Reference and Research Book News, October 2011 “Fergusson…offers a portrait of the history and current status of the Taliban in which he hopes to counter Western images of the group as mere ‘bearded bigots’ and to impress upon the reader that the only way out of the mess that is the war in Afghanistan will be through a negotiated settlement with the Taliban.”

Kirkus Reviews

An intriguing argument for negotiations with the Taliban presented as the necessary precondition for a political settlement and withdrawal.

Journalist Fergusson (A Million Bullets—The Real Story of the British Army inAfghanistan,2008, etc.), who has reported on Afghanistan for 14 years, draws on his wide-ranging experience and extensive personal network. The author is convinced that the Taliban is not just unknown, but misrepresented in Western thinking and coverage. He concedes that elements of the Taliban's program and activities are abhorrent to Westerners, especially their treatment of women, but he insists that there is another side to the story. The misrepresentation leaves out what was going on in Afghanistan before the Taliban took power in 1996, and what they tried to put an end to, and ignores the fact that there are different views within the movement. Thus, when the Taliban said they were protecting women, it was partially true, at least relative to the murder, violence and rape that accompanied the rule of mujahideen commanders like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. The Taliban, writes the author, are primarily Pashto, a tribal people with traditions of great antiquity, among other tribes, ethnicities and religions. Those who follow such ways, and their leaders, must be treated with respect while they work out their differences. Stopping night-time assassinations of civilians and ending the continued employment of Soviet-era prison facilities and political police would contribute as well. The misrepresentation is part of the persistent refusal of the United States and its allies in the International Security Assistance Force to open negotiations with those who might move things forward. "The Taliban has made some terrible mistakes," writes the author, "and I do not condone them. But I am also certain that we need a better understanding of how and why they made those mistakes before we condemn them."

If wars are ended through negotiation between enemies, then the Taliban will need to be among those at the table who will help bring this one to an end.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780306820335
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press
  • Publication date: 5/24/2011
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 432
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

James Fergusson is a freelance journalist and foreign correspondent who has covered the Taliban extensively. He is also the author of the award-winning book A Million Bullets. He lives in Edinburgh.
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Table of Contents

Introduction 13

Part I

1 The Tank of Islam: Kandahar, 1994 23

2 The Army of Orphans: Peshawar, 1996 37

3 'Try Not to Hurt the People!': Kabul, 1996-1998 72

4 The Government that Might Have Been, 1998-2000 101

5 The Al-Qaida Hijack, 1999-2001 121

6 Surviving the Daisycutters, 2001-2003 145

7 Like a Jam-jar to a Swarm of Wasps: The Insurgency Explodes, 2003-2009 168

Part II

8 The McChrystal Plan: Sawing Wood with a Hammer 195

9 'This One, This Is the Big One': Mullah Zaeef and the Prospects for Peace 213

10 The Trouble with President Karzai 249

11 Getting Rich Quick in Tajik Kabul 259

12 Not Black and White, But Grey: Hizb-i-Islami and the Afghan Parliament 282

13 How to Talk to the Taliban 309

14 In the Jalalabad Fief of Shirzai 326

15 The Taliban of Chak 354

Postscript 383

Notes 389

Bibliography 396

Picture Credits 399

Index 403

Illustrations 192

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