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The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban

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A National Public Radio reporter covering the last stand of the Taliban in their home base of Kandahar in Afghanistan's southern borderland, Sarah Chayes became deeply immersed in the unfolding drama of the attempt to rebuild a broken nation at the crossroads of the world's destiny. Her NPR tour up in early 2002, she left reporting to help turn the country's fortunes, accepting a job running a nonprofit founded by President Hamid Karzai's brother. With remarkable access to leading players in the postwar ...

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A National Public Radio reporter covering the last stand of the Taliban in their home base of Kandahar in Afghanistan's southern borderland, Sarah Chayes became deeply immersed in the unfolding drama of the attempt to rebuild a broken nation at the crossroads of the world's destiny. Her NPR tour up in early 2002, she left reporting to help turn the country's fortunes, accepting a job running a nonprofit founded by President Hamid Karzai's brother. With remarkable access to leading players in the postwar government, Chayes witnessed a tragic story unfold-the perverse turn of events whereby the U.S. government and armed forces allowed and abetted the return to power of corrupt militia commanders to the country, as well as the reinfiltration of bands of Taliban forces supported by U.S. ally Pakistan. In this gripping and dramatic account of her four years on the ground, working with Afghanis in the battle to restore their country to order and establish democracy, Chayes opens Americans' eyes to the sobering realities of this vital front in the war on terror.

She forged unparalleled relationships with the Karzai family, tribal leaders, U.S. military and diplomatic brass, and such leading figures in the Kandahar government as the imposing and highly effective chief of police-an incorruptible supporter of the Karzai regime whose brutal assassination in June 2005 serves as the opening of the book. Chayes lived in an Afghan home, gaining rich insights into the country's culture and politics and researching the history of Afghanistan's legendary resistance to foreign interference. She takes us into meetings with Hamid Karzai and the corrupt Kandahar governor, Gul Agha Shirzai, into the homes of tribal elders and onto the U.S. military base. Unveiling the complexities and traumas of Afghanistan's postwar struggles, she reveals how the tribal strongmen who have regained power-after years of being displaced by the Taliban-have visited a renewed plague of corruption and violence on the Afghan people, under the complicit eyes of U.S. forces and officials.

The story Chayes tells is a powerful, disturbing revelation of misguided U.S. policy and of the deeply entrenched traditions of tribal warlordism that have ruled Afghanistan through the centuries.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
When Sarah Chayes arrived in Kabul in late 2001, she was reporter for National Public Radio intent on covering the fall of the Taliban. But Afghanistan changed her; within months, she laid down her microphone and enlisted in the Herculean effort of rebuilding a thoroughly broken nation. Few other relief workers though could boast of sharing her personal access to leaders, including Afghan president Hamid Karzai and tribal elders. In The Punishment of Virtue, she records her disillusionment with an Afghan government hopelessly infiltrated by its own worst enemies -- and ours. This book is both a powerful narrative and a historic document.
Publishers Weekly
Afghanistan only uncovers itself with intimacy, and intimacy takes time," writes Chayes, a skilled but increasingly frustrated journalist, whose determination "to grasp the underlying pattern" during and after the toppling of the Taliban in late 2001 chafes against her editors' post-9/11 comfort zone. With keen sympathy for Afghanistan's indomitable people, Chayes eventually swaps NPR and its four-and-a-half-minute slots for an NGO, becoming "field director" of Afghans for Civil Society, spearheaded by Qayum Karzai, the president's brother. ACS's humanitarian work, which includes rebuilding a bombed-out village, brings Chayes into direct conflict with the warlords with whom U.S. policy remains disastrously entangled. This is the point of her engrossing narrative, which begins in Pakistan, inside the U.S.-backed Afghan resistance pushing northward to Kandahar, and is framed by the 2005 murder of police chief Zabit Akrem, a key ally in the fight against Kandahar's corrupt warlord-governor. Throughout, Chayes relies on exceptional access and a felicitous prose style, though she sacrifices some momentum to cover several centuries of Afghanistan's turbulent past in an account that adds little to those by Ahmed Rashid and others. However, her hands-on experience as a deeply immersed reporter and activist gives her lucid analysis and prescriptions a practical scope and persuasive authority. (Aug. 21) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Having reported on the conquest of Afghanistan for NPR, Chayes dropped reporting in 2002 to help the country by running a nonprofit-not, as she shows us, such an easy task with corruption all 'round. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A tale of good guys and bad guys in the Wild West of Afghanistan-save that "good" and "bad" are strangely fluid notions. Chayes, a onetime NPR correspondent, takes an anthropologist's and historian's view to explain how America got it so wrong following the post-9/11 invasion, and she is not shy of asking hard questions to make her point. For one, she asks, "Do we, as American citizens, wish to have the bulk of our foreign policy conducted by the Department of Defense?" United States military officers are doing just such work in Afghanistan, guided by supposed insiders who have axes to grind and enemies to dispatch-the very people, she adds, who convinced the Western press corps that U.S.-backed militias were fighting and winning desperate battles with the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Sometimes they were; mostly they weren't, though that didn't keep dollars from flowing. Chayes served as a lecturer and informal advisor to American forces ("She's like no journalist you've ever seen," one soldier exclaims. "She's a hawk!"), and in that capacity, she has urged them to do a better job of backing the right horses, such as an anti-Taliban friend of hers, a police commander killed by a suicide bomber for his troubles. But finding those horses is a challenge, for the convenient designations do not apply, and in all events, Chayes writes, the Taliban enemy were in essence a creation of Pakistan, meant to serve its narrow regional interests, "pressing into service ambitious petty commanders from the anti-Soviet period and uprooted, madrassa-inculcated youth from the refugee camps." And indeed, some of the Taliban she meets surely seem preferable to some of their supposed opponents, including onecorrupt governor who emerges from these pages as the worst of a very mixed lot. Absorbing reading-necessary, even, for anyone posted to a place where our performance "will determine where a lot of people come down on the clash of civilizations."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780641856082
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 8/17/2006
  • Pages: 400
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

From 1997 to 2002, Sarah Chayes served as an overseas correspondent for NPR, reporting from Paris and the Balkans, as well as covering conflicts in Algeria. When war broke out in Afghanistan in 2001, NPR sent her to report from Quetta, Pakistan, and then from inside Afghanistan, based in the southern city of Kandahar, as the Taliban fell. In 2002, she left NPR to take a position running a nongovernmental aid organization, Afghans for Civil Society, founded by Qayum Karzai. Now she has launched her own artisanal agribusiness, called Arghand. Her work as a correspondent for NPR during the Kosovo crisis earned her, together with other members of the NPR team, the 1999 Foreign Press Club and Sigma Delta Chi awards.

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Table of Contents

1 Suicide bombing 1
2 Covering crisis 8
3 Moving in on Kandahar 16
4 Reporting the last days 28
5 The fall of the Taliban 43
6 The road to Kandahar 50
7 Taking the city by force 58
8 A choice of allies 63
9 Dealing for the governorship 76
10 Kandahar, Afghan capital 84
11 Reporting Kandahar 103
12 The border 117
13 Civil society 133
14 Plunder and subsidy 145
15 Showdown with Shirzai 159
16 Zabit Akrem 172
17 Military matters 178
18 Security 186
19 The coming of Islam 195
20 How to fire a warlord 216
21 Murder 232
22 Mongol conquests and rebirth 246
23 Fighting with the pen 265
24 Misfire 288
25 Round three 298
26 Fear 305
27 The promotion of vice and the punishment of virtue 315
28 Mazar-i-Sherif 320
29 Kabul 330
30 Kandahar 338
31 Investigation 343
32 Cover-up 352
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