I is for Infidel: From Holy War to Holy Terror in Afghanistan Paperback – Sep 5 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Drawing upon Gannon's years of experience as an AP correspondent in Afghanistan, this contemporary history of the country is strongest when it focuses on the ins and outs of reporting. Particularly compelling is her account of being the only Western journalist allowed into Kabul after 9/11. Less gripping, but still sound, is her "big picture" overview of the Taliban regime, from its origins as a humble vigilante force assembled to stop post-Soviet corruption to its eventual overthrow in 2001. Gannon takes the United Nations to task for refusing to confront the Taliban on women's rights, thereby abetting its repressive edicts, and argues that Osama bin Laden orchestrated the destruction of Afghanistan's ancient Buddhist temples in order to turn the country into a safe zone for himself. But Gannon also has little respect for the current mujahedeen leaders, underlining their reputation as "mass murderers" while noting their possible links to bin Laden. Some readers might wish that Gannon had tied together the various strands of her analysis more neatly, but her firsthand knowledge of the region ultimately gives her interpretation of its recent history strong legitimacy.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"A "vivid", "closely-observed" and "astute" portrayal of Afghanistan from 1986 to the present (Wall Street Journal) "(Kathy Gannon) is unusual among the present generation of foreign correspondents. The tendency now, even more pronounced than before, is for foreign correspondents to spend a few years in a country and then move on. Gannon has spent 18 years covering Afghanistan and Pakistan for the Associated Press news agency, finally leaving this year for a posting in Iran." The Guardian"See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
Gannon debated with leaders and moderate members of the Taliban movement, with commanders of the Northern Alliance as well as Pakistanis, intimately involved in recent events. Her analyses and conclusions don't make for comfortable reading, yet they are essential to appreciating the complexities and dangers of the political developments in the region. For example, she exposes the naïveté and short sightedness of western governments. Rather than building on their influence, she contends, they abandoned the Afghani people several times. Once the Soviet Army had withdrawn, the US and its allies left warlords and mujahedeen commanders in control. Many Afghans saw their new regime as a reign of lawlessness and arbitrary terror. When the Taliban fought back, many Afghans initially welcomed them as protectors. Yet, the West, Gannon claims, ignored the moderate Taliban, who were eventually overwhelmed by the movement's fundamentalists. There were strong indications that bin Laden and Al Qaeda commanders consistently influenced the Taliban leadership also towards its role in a global jihad.Read more ›
With its central location in Asia's cross-currents of trade routes, Afghanistan has been the focus of many imperial ventures. These intrusions have been efforts to make it somebody's client state. In the 19th Century the British used it to block Russian expansion southward, while the 20th Century witnessed a reversal of that effort. Kathy Gannon witnessed, sometimes dangerously closely, that latter invasion. Afghanistan was almost hopelessly overmatched by the Soviet forces, leading the United States to dabble with a new set of clients, the mujahedeen. When the invading forces were ousted, a new internal power struggle ensued, with the US-supported mujehadeen challenged by a vigilante group known as the Taliban.
Gannon's keen sense of background detail is revealed in her explanation of how the Taliban arose. It was formed to counter the exacting levies the successful mujahideen imposed on poverty-striken Afghans. The "resistance" was unexpectedly successful. The battle was with a succession of regional leaders, and the common goal gave the Taliban a "national" identity the warlords lacked or scorned. The rise of the Taliban captured the attention of neighbouring Pakistan's military intelligence.Read more ›
Well, I'm sorry, but you would never know it just from reading the main part of the book.
Here is a book by a seasoned journalist, although I've never read Ms Gannon's reportage, and it is poorly written, repetitive, but most importantly, it just fails to give the reader the much-desired understanding of a complex situation.
Even more, her credentials would lead us to expect some genuine enlightenment concerning the desperate matters in Afghanistan, a sparkling narrative history of events so incompletely understood. We do learn some things here, but the quantity, quality, and the consistency are meagre at best.
Moreover, I was quite troubled to read passages of the book, which seemed to me, could well have been written by a CIA operative: their tone and the direction in which they take the reader simply do not ring true for the observations of a genuinely independent journalist, at least not a first-rate one.
Some while back, I heard Ms Gannon on CBC Radio as part of a panel of people commenting on the conflict in Afghanistan. It was because I heard her say a few striking things that I so looked forward so much to this book, her first.
But what a disappointment it proved. Ms. Gannon's writing is so poor, something one does not expect from a seasoned journalist. She repeats herself many times in so brief a book, and there is a fair amount of padding which seems ridiculous in a book of about 160 pages.
But what I found most disappointing was the incompleteness and anecdotal nature of the story she tells.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Gannon has written a break-neck account of the violence, corruption and plain stupidity that has often defined Afghanistan since Soviet occupation. She takes no sides (unless you consider civilians caught in war a side) and is just as likely to point out the tragically blinkered view of American government as the obvious cruelty of the Taliban. Her criticisms and revelations make you wonder how she can feel safe in our War-On-Terrorism world.
The book is as compelling a read as there is on who the major players were in a geopolitical game that continues to use Afghanistan and its people as virtual colonials. It's almost too much to take in at once. Yet Gannon's access and insight provide treasures for anyone interested in this place and time.
Gannon debated with leaders and moderate members of the Taliban movement, with commanders of the Northern Alliance as well as Pakistanis, intimately involved in recent events. Her analyses and conclusions don't make for comfortable reading, yet they are essential to appreciating the complexities and dangers of the political developments in the region. For example, she exposes the naïveté and short sightedness of western governments. Rather than building on their influence, she contends, they abandoned the Afghani people several times. Once the Soviet Army had withdrawn, the US and its allies left warlords and mujahedeen commanders in control. Many Afghans saw their new regime as a reign of lawlessness and arbitrary terror. When the Taliban fought back, many Afghans initially welcomed them as protectors. Yet, the West, Gannon claims, ignored the moderate Taliban, who were eventually overwhelmed by the movement's fundamentalists. There were strong indications that bin Laden and Al Qaeda commanders consistently influenced the Taliban leadership also towards its role in a global jihad. Even after the defeat of the Taliban regime, western governments were not systematically supportive of re-emerging moderate forces in Afghanistan. This lack of engagement facilitated known criminal elements and brutal warlords to retake large parts of the country. In many Afghans' view only a strong and competent military presence of western allies could have overcome the political crises that continue to unfold, Gannon argues.
She presents solid evidence by way of examples. Several warlords, now participating in the government and supported by the US and its allies, were in fact close collaborators with first the Soviets, then the Taliban. They were also part of the group that welcomed Osama bin Laden into Afghanistan. For obvious reasons they had no interest later in handing him over. At the same time, under the disguise of exposing Taliban fighters, longstanding ethnic and political feuds are being violently settled, in particular against ethnic Pashtuns.
Gannon quotes extensively from her interviews with various leaders, conveying their positions directly and candidly. She depends on the insights of several contacts, who she has learned to trust over the years. The picture that emerges is highly complex defying simple interpretations and generalizations. Pakistan's role in Afghanistan is a case in point. Gannon is quite candid in describing the contradictory behaviour of political leadership and military in that country. While on the one hand supporting the US administration's "war on terror", there is continued support for the Taliban among Pakistani leaders. For example, Gannon provides disturbing insights into the role of the Pakistani Intelligence who seem to support the Pakistani jihadists and Al Qaeda in contradiction of official Pakistani positions.
Gannon's lively, engaging and personal style makes the reader forget how close to danger she often was during her travels. She does not question her reasons for being in the country despite the looming threats to her safety. While the immediacy of her reporting style had strengths, it also has weaknesses. She sometimes jumps the timelines and assumes context knowledge that may not be at hand for the less familiar with the region and its history. For all the information contained here, one can only hope that many will read this book to better understand the challenges we all face from the continued conflicts in the region. [Friederike Knabe]
Actually it was worse than that. Gannon reports on several incidents where the US military allowed the Northern Alliance warlords to direct US rockets and bombs at personal enemies or people allied with rival warlords. They told the Americans these people were Taliban, and got them mowed down.
Well, war is hell, you say. What Gannon argues is that the US only made a half-hearted effort to get Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, leaving most of the work to the Northern Alliance of murderous warlords (Reagan's old Cold War "freedom fighters") whose main desire was to retake their territory from the Taliban and return to business as usual. Which they have.
From Gannon's tone and from the evidence she presents, the warlords are in some ways worse than the Taliban. Be that as it may, and both are pretty horrible, the fact remains that we killed a lot of people in Afghanistan but really did not do anything substantial in ending the terrorist threat. The main reason for that, according to my reading of Gannon, is that the Bush administration found no way to get to the real source of Al Qaeda terrorism which just moved inside Pakistan. Bush talked to Pervez Musharraf, the head of Pakistan's military government and got his assurance that he would support the US in its war on terrorism. That was it.
The problem for Bush was he had no plan to force the military government in Pakistan to hand over bin Laden and no plan to make Musharraf close down the madrassas religious schools that flourish to teach young men how to be terrorists and indoctrinate them into hating the West. Toppling the Taliban in Afghanistan was only one step in the war against terrorism, the easy part. The hard part remains: how to persuade Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and some other states from supporting terrorism. Bush had--and apparently still has--no idea how to do that. He couldn't invade Pakistan. Regime change there was too dangerous considering Pakistan's nukes and other considerations. He didn't dare go after the Saudi princes who are the source of the wealth of many of his top supporters. Instead he did a non-sequitur: he invaded Iraq.
What is most enlightening about this book is how it reveals the dismal failure of the Bush administration to meet the challenge of terrorism. But the book is also a vivid and fascinating reportage on personalities of the warlords and the Taliban in Afghanistan and the extremist Muslims in Pakistan, some of whom Gannon personally interviewed at great personal risk. She is one gutsy reporter and does the profession proud. She could easily have ended up on Al Jeerza television begging for her life. She was also lucky not to have been bombed or rocketed by the US military since she was in Kabul when the strikes began.
I have only one small fault with this book. She writes that the West ought "to take a critical look at itself and examine the apparent double standards at work that allow it to attack Iraq for possessing weapons of mass destruction but not North Korea, whose leader shares Saddam Hussein's megalomaniacal qualities; that permit it to rail against Iran about nuclear weapons but be silent about Israel's arsenal..." (p. 172)
Actually, if anything North Korea's Kim Jong Il is even worst that Saddam Hussein in what he has done to his people. However, it is one thing to attack a second-rate conventional force in the Middle East and quite another to attack a nation with nuclear weapons and a million-man army that has Seoul in virtual hostage. And as for the difference between Iran's incipient nuclear program and Israeli's established (although illegal) program, it is essential to understand that Iran is run by radical Islamic clerics who have expressed their hatred for the West and their desire to wipe Israel off the map. Israel is a democratic country with checks and balances whose leadership is interested in self-defense first and foremost--not to mention that as a practical matter there is nothing the West can do about Israel's arsenal.
Gannon believes the primary reason the Bush administration failed to put enough boots on the ground in Afghanistan and relied almost exclusively on the warlords to get Al Qaeda was because George W. and the neocons wanted to save the troops for the big splash in Iraq. In other words, Al Qaeda kills 3,000 Americans and in response you topple a dictator in another country. However that doesn't explain why it took the Bush administration so long to act. They knew immediately who had attacked America. Bush's response to the attacks on America amounts to a kind of bait and switch. Here are the murders, but we can't really get them, so we switch to a "shock and awe" demonstration of our military strength and our will to use it. That ought to work, or at least keep us in office.
If you want the appalling reality about Afghanistan and the war on terror not seen on the sanguine six o'clock news, I recommend that you read this book.
What's worse, Ms. Gannon's failure to give a full picture of many of the stories she covers, and her habit of criticizing actors, parties and institutions for both doing an action and not doing the same action makes the book extremely frustrating.
She repeats consistently through the narrative the evils of the Northern Alliance (rightly so) and condemns them for their connections with Al-Qaeda. And yet, she fails to stress that the leader of the Northern Alliance was in fact assassinated by two Al-Qaeda suicide bombers and that the Arab jihadists had thrown their lot in with the Pashtun Taliban and not the Tajik/Uzbek Northern Alliance.
Personal details of individual cases in Afghanistan are always needed and thus this book adds to our understanding of what it means to live in a country savaged by war for over thirty years. Unfortunately, her analysis gives us nothing more than hear-says and unanswered and undocumented to boot, narrative on a country in desperate need of stability.