Afghanistan: The Rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan: Mass Mobilization, Civil War, Ant the Future of the Region / Afghanistan's Endless War: State Failure, Regional Politics, and the Rise of the Taliban

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The Rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan: Mass Mobilization, Civil War, and the Future of the Region, by Neamatollah Nojumi. New York: Palgrave, 2002. xii + 231 pages. Chron. Abbrevs. Notes to p. 247. Bibl. to p. 251. Index to p. 260. $65 cloth; $18.95 paper.

Afghanistan's Endless War: State Failure, Regional Politics, and the Rise of the Taliban, by Larry P. Goodson. Seattle, WA and London, UK: University of Washington Press, 2001. xv + 188 pages. Appendix to p. 193. Notes to p. 227. Gloss. to p. 236. Refs. to p. 253. Index to p. 264. $35 cloth; $22.50 paper.

Reviewed by Henry S. Bradsher

During the period between the end of direct Soviet involvement in Afghanistan in February 1989 and the beginning of an American military role there in October 2001, the outside world occasionally noted with dismay Taliban practices. Mostly, the country was ignored. These two books offer understandings of Afghanistan's situation in the 1990s. Both are useful; each gives a new perspective on some aspects of the country's long turmoil. But the misfortune of publishing before that turmoil had drastically changed at the end of 2001, with the changes revealing new aspects of what had been happening, limits the books' value for comprehending the overall situation between the Communist and post-Taliban periods. Although both titles promise to relate the "rise of the Taliban," neither provides a clear, comprehensive account of this point of major interest in recent Afghan history.

Nojumi identifies himself as having been a mujahideen fighter against the Soviets for more than a decade (p. xii). He attempts to explain Afghan changes within a "theory of mass mobilization." This is strained, and his comparisons with mobilization in Mao's China and Gandhi's India show inadequate understanding of either country. Nojumi concludes that neither Afghan Communists nor mujahideen organizations "was able to form a political institution that represented the national interest of the Afghan people" (p. x), but his explanation is more disjointed than clear.

The most valuably original part of his book is the account of internal resistance forces and their political struggles, a subject neglected by numerous books that focus on Peshawar-based resistance leaders. He describes efforts by "internal front leaders" to coordinate their activities as "one of the most significant political developments among the Afghan Mujahideen" (p. 106). However, Nojumi notes, this made Pakistani and Saudi intelligence services nervous: "After their vast involvement and investment in Afghanistan, any development out of their channel of command and control would jeopardize their interest in Afghanistan" (p. 108). The Saudis and Pakistanis worked to undermine coordination of internal commanders. Nojumi blames misjudgment by guerrilla leader Ahmad Shah Mas `ud of the political situation as the Najibullah regime collapsed in April 1992 for the failure to establish a broader-based government. Such a government might have avoided the civil war that devastated the capital and led to Taliban control.

Nojumi seeks to explain how the inability of the internal forces and mujahideen to represent national interests related to Pakistan's manipulation of mujahideen politics to serve its own national purposes. Although Nojumi relates this story in disconnected bits of information, he nonetheless concludes, accurately, that: "The external interference of neighboring countries, especially Pakistan, in supporting the most fanatic elements of Afghan society suppressed the moderate and democratic political forces... Afghan local communities have not had the chance to express their will" (p. 230). And, basic to understanding the problem with some Pakistani-backed mujahideen groups and the Taliban, "Islamic fundamentalism was a politically motivated force that did not have roots in the social and cultural fabric of Afghanistan" (p. 217).

An epilogue - added by Nojumi after September 11, 2001, but before the Taliban collapsed due to Pakistan's withdrawal of support - rehashes themes of the book while giving new attention to Al Qaeda's role during the Taliban period. …