Before Taliban: Genealogies of the Afghan Jihad

Before Taliban: Genealogies of the Afghan Jihad

Before Taliban: Genealogies of the Afghan Jihad

Before Taliban: Genealogies of the Afghan Jihad


In this powerful book, David B. Edwards traces the lives of three recent Afghan leaders in Afghanistan's history--Nur Muhammad Taraki, Samiullah Safi, and Qazi Amin Waqad--to explain how the promise of progress and prosperity that animated Afghanistan in the 1960s crumbled and became the present tragedy of discord, destruction, and despair. "Before Taliban "builds on the foundation that Edwards laid in his previous book, "Heroes of the Age, "in which he examines the lives of three significant figures of the late nineteenth century--a tribal khan, a Muslim saint, and a prince who became king of the newly created state.

In the mid twentieth century, Afghans believed their nation could be a model of economic and social development that would inspire the world. Instead, political conflict, foreign invasion, and civil war have left the country impoverished and politically dysfunctional. Each of the men Edwards profiles were engaged in the political struggles of the country's recent history. Theyhoped to see Afghanistan become a more just and democratic nation. But their visions for their country were radically different, and in the end, all three failed and were killed or exiled. Now, Afghanistan is associated with international terrorism, drug trafficking, and repression. "Before Taliban "tells these men's stories and provides a thorough analysis of why their dreams for a progressive nation lie in ruins while the Taliban has succeeded. In Edwards's able hands,


The bootlickers of the old and new imperialism are treacherously struggling to nip our popular government in the bud. They think that since we took over power in ten hours, they would, perhaps, capture it in fifteen hours. But they must know that we are the children of history, and history has brought us here.

—Nur Muhammad Taraki, President of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, August 2, 1978

Woe to the children of history. Still exultant four months after the coup d'état that brought his Marxist party to power in Afghanistan, Nur Muhammad Taraki could boast to an assembly of army officers that he and his comrades had been raised to their position by transcendental historical forces. Fifteen months later, Taraki was dead—assassinated by his own protégé, Hafizullah Amin—and a month after that the Soviet Union landed an invasion force in Kabul in a vain effort to try to resuscitate Taraki's faltering revolution with an infusion of troops and military hardware. History, it would seem, was a harsh and capricious parent. Or perhaps it was Taraki's Marxist vision of history that was defective. With every passing year, it is more difficult to recall or comprehend that as late as 1978 many people still believed that history had a motive force, that it moved inexorably forward in progressive, dialectical, even sentient fashion. Though many of his comrades, Hafizullah Amin included, may have had a more cynical take on the Marxist vision of history, there is good reason to think that Taraki at least believed this much to be true: that history was moving toward a resolution and that he was part of the vanguard of that process.

Like all parents, history, in fact, did have lessons to teach, but they were of a local nature and not the sort of universal lessons that Taraki had in mind when he spoke in August 1978. There were many such lessons, including one about how Afghans treat outsiders who try to control their homeland and another about how they feel when people in authority interfere in their domestic affairs. and Taraki himself would have benefited, if he had only listened, from the many tellings and retellings of the stories of rulers who trusted too much in those around them. Afghan history is replete with moral tales from which value can be gained. But Afghan children, like all children, often do not want to listen, and this was certainly the case with the . . .

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