Afghanistan-Graveyard of Empires: A New History of the Borderland

Article excerpt

Afghanistan--Graveyard of Empires: A New History of the Borderland

by David Isby

New York: Pegasus

Books, 2010

440 pages

$28.95

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Although the market for books on Afghanistan has not witnessed any dearth in quantity or in variegation of quality in the last ten years, this history by David Isby offers excellent value to this growing corpus of works. The author spent considerable time in Pakistan and Afghanistan since the Soviet-Afghan War. Isby has also testified before Congress as an independent expert, and he has appeared on a host of news media, including CNN and C-Span. He has authored three books and hundreds of articles on Afghanistan and national security topics. This book offers a comprehensive, candid, and timely insight on the prospects and costs of success or failure in South Asia. The author understands what is at stake in Afghanistan and he is sanguine about the effort succeeding. He does not, however, relent in his clear and cogent candor regarding the impediments and risks that jeopardize the prospects for success in the region. This reviewer would be remiss if he did not pillory the staleness and inaptness of the title. The graveyard of empires metaphor indeed belongs in the graveyard of clich6s. The Coalition in Afghanistan is not some imperial conquest, is not the Soviets, and is not the Victorian British. Nor do the Afghans perceive it as such.

Isby postulates that the war in Afghanistan is still winnable if the Afghans and their Coalition partners can implement a strategy to undermine the Taliban insurgency and prevent it from again taking over the Afghan state before time for the West runs out. In other words, before the international community loses patience and the will to see the war through to a successful conclusion. The book is comprised of three major parts that offer comprehensive analyses on the history of what the author describes as the "vortex" in South Asia; the source of conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan; and the author's prescriptive recommendations for winning the wars against insurgents and terrorists operating in and from this vortex. The author frames his analysis in terms of five interrelated conflicts in South Asia: the conflict against al Qaeda's international terrorist movement; the war against the Afghan Taliban insurgency; the fight against narcotics production and trafficking; the internal multifaceted conflicts inside Afghanistan; and, finally, the insurgency inside Pakistan linked to the insurgency in Afghanistan. The transborder insurgencies threaten stability and security in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the region.

For the purposes of brevity, however, and given the grave risks and strategic impediments engendered by the insurgent and terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistan's border areas, the rest of this review focuses on the author's insight related to Pakistan. Pakistan's willingness and capacity to provide support and sanctuary to the Taliban is one of the gravest risks to Coalition success in Afghanistan, to stability in Pakistan, and to the security of the US homeland. …