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Rashid owned the Taliban story,
This review is from: Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia (Paperback)A cliche is appropriate here. Ahmed Rashid owned this story.
A long-time correspondent based in Central Asia, Rashid was singularly situated to tell the world about the Taliban. Written well before the United States invaded Afghanistan, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil, and Fundamentalism in Central Asia is a testament to the author's power of observation, ability to cultivate excellent sources, and prowess as an interviewer and a researcher. To the outside world, the Taliban seemed insane. Rashid chronicles why that distant perception was correct. Years as a journeyman reporter provided Rashid entree into places few independent sources could go. This unprecedented access, and Rashid's talent as a writer, convey the sheer madness that gripped Afghanistan. The result is the definitive book on the Taliban.
Rashid proves to be a brilliant analyst as well as an intrepid reporter. As an example, the author gives the best explanation to date of why the Taliban was so virulently misogynistic. Many of these Islamist fanatics, Rashid explains, were raised in all-male orphanages, educated only by men, and lived exclusively among other boys. This incisive explanation of the gender issue is typical of the author's best analyses, some of which come across almost as throwaway lines ("failed states are not necessarily dying states" springs to mind). Rashid also has a keen eye for the absurd. The number of Taliban officials missing limbs, eyes and other body parts, he notes, was quite disconcerting.
On a serious note, Rashid also examines the wider issues the Taliban represented. In the process, he spares no one. Such diverse personages as American oil barons, old-style Russian expansionists, Islamic religious fanatics, atavistic communist tyrants, and corrupt Muslim officials all receive the harsh treatment they richly deserve. The Taliban's Afghanistan truly became a quagmire for its enablers and enemies. As some regional powers promoted their vision of a religious utopia, they also sowed the seeds of their own destruction as Afghan-based terrorists put those very governments in their crosshairs. Unfortunately for the West, this failed state also gave al-Qaeda and heroin producers a sanctuary. Western energy interests, Wahhabi-promoting Saudis, Central Asian dictators, and power-crazed Pakistani intelligence officers sacrificed national interests for their narrow concerns, and Rashid makes it clear the world is a much more dangerous place as a result.
This book is a triumph precisely because the author ties together all these seemingly disparate evils--terrorism, repression, gratuitous violence, corporate greed, geopolitical hegemony, Islamic radicalism, drug trafficking----and makes a compelling case that the Taliban was more their symptom than cause.