Reaping the Whirlwind: The Taliban Movement in Afghanistan / Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil & Fundamentalism in Central Asia

Article excerpt

AFGHANISTAN

Reaping the Whirlwind: The Taliban Movement in Afghanistan, by Michael Griffin. London: Pluto Press, 2001. xxi + 257 pages. Notes to p. 277. Index to p. 283. Map. Chron. $27.50.

Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil & Fundamentalism in Central Asia, by Ahmed Rashid. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000. xi + 216 pages. Appends. to p. 247. Notes to p. 265. Index to 279. $27.50.

Reviewed by M. Jamil Hanifi

The Taliban movement is intimately grounded in the Cold War, the Islamic Revolution of Iran, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the decision of the United States to embarrass and dishonor its Cold War adversary and, when that was accomplished, to depart the region leaving behind a collapsed state structure in Afghanistan and a paranoid government in a destabilized Pakistan. After the Soviet army left Afghanistan in winter 1989, the United States government abandoned the country and the tens of thousands of Afghans and non-Afghans (mostly Arabs recruited by Usama Bin Ladin, a CIA conduit) whom it had recruited, trained, and armed for the so-called ` jihad" against the infidel Russians. In April 1992, when these US-sponsored gangs entered Kabul, the state structure of Afghanistan collapsed, causing the disappearance of its weakened national market and the fragile center-periphery relationship.

The Taliban movement emerged in 1994 in Southwest Afghanistan in the context of a bloody civil war, devastation, lawlessness, and warlordism, conditions that made widespread smuggling a common feature of the Afghan landscape. By September 1996, the Taliban had captured Kabul, and, by early September 2001, they were on the verge of totally defeating the last pockets of resistance in Northeast Afghanistan. Had it not been for the tragedy of September 11, 2001, the Taliban would still be dominant in Afghanistan and the United States government would be negotiating with them on matters dealing with the construction of energy pipelines and curtailment of drug production. The reconstruction of Afghanistan and human rights would not be at the top of the agenda in these negotiations.

Michael Griffin and Ahmed Rashid, both journalists, provide useful accounts (each in 16 chapters and about the same number of pages) of the emergence of the Taliban in Southwest Afghanistan, and their rapid success and domination of the country. Both books start from the fall of the revolutionary government of Afghanistan in April 1992; Rashid's coverage ends in mid-1999, before General Pervez Musharraf's coup in Pakistan, while Griffin's account runs to the end of 2000.

The books provide a brief sketch of the various US/Saudi-subsidized factions that opposed the Soviet presence and the Afghan central government. We read at length about the role of the Pakistani Intelligence Services (ISI) in creating and subsidizing these factions. The United States government was the major force behind the creation of the "freedom fighters" or the "mujahedin." The CIA recruited tens of thousands of these would be terrorists from Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan in the 1980s and provided the ideology, funding, arms, and training for them. Frank Anderson of the CIA's Afghanistan Task Force has recently stated that the Afghanistan "war was fought with our [US] goal and their [Afghan] blood." Within a few years of entering Kabul in 1992, these groups and the devastation they wreaked on Afghanistan spawned the Taliban. Although Pakistan was the midwife at the birth of the Taliban, the authors provide some of the ample evidence of the approval of this role by the United States. And both governments nourished the baby to its feet before deciding to kill it.

The chaotic conditions surrounding the fall of the revolutionary government of Afghanistan in 1992 and the collapse of its soft state structure are narrated in both books. At every major turn in the narrative, the question comes up as to why the United States would encourage such a rag-tag collection of proven terrorist groups to take charge of Afghanistan? …