The Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan By Robert D. Crews and Amin Tarzi, eds. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009. 430 pages.)

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Francis Robinson

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Abstract

The latest estimate by Afghan expert Gilles Dorronsoro (International Herald
Tribune, 15 September 2010) states that no state structure remains in 80
percent of Afghanistan’s districts, that the Taliban are rapidly filling the vacuum,
that the NATO surge in the south has failed, and that the allies should
negotiate a settlement with them in order to achieve what assurances they
can about discouraging the presence of al-Qaeda before it is too late. This
book explains why such a limited success is the likely outcome of NATO’s
attempt to build a working central Afghan state. It contains essays by ten leading scholars in the field who met at a conference in 2004. Most of the
papers have been extended to a cut-off date of 2007.
The book sets out to answer several questions: Are the Taliban, usually
considered a militantly traditionalist movement, in fact a new phenomenon
in Afghan history? Are they no more than a foreign creation, an instrument
of Pakistan’s geopolitical interests in a post-cold war world? At the same
time, given their utopian theology that looks back to an imagined period of
early Islamic purity, should they be seen as essentially “medieval” and “antimodern”?
Are these sufficient characterizations of this extraordinarily effective
movement, or should more attention be paid to other factors, such as the
long history of state-society relations in Afghanistan and how they have
interacted with the great powers? ...

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