Afghanistan's Endless War: State Failure, Regional Polities, and the Rise of the Taliban

Article excerpt

Larry P. Goodson, University of Washington Press, Seattle, 2002, 264 pages, $22.50

Working on his doctoral dissertation and armed with a grant from the American Institute for Pakistan studies, Associate Professor Larry P. Goodson became hooked on the region. His first book is a great find for those with little knowledge about modern Afghanistan The easy-to-read book delves into the events that have shaped a war-thorn country and the character of its people.

The first chapter eloquently describes four factors that are obstacles to nation-building in Afghanistan. First, Afghanistan's population features deep, multifaceted cleavages. Primarily, people are divided ethnically and linguistically and further subdivided into tribes and sectarian and racial divisions. Second, although Afghanis are united by faith, local customs are interwoven into religion, causing variations in the way Islam is practiced and interpreted. Third, the Afghan social system is based solely on communal loyalties, emphasizing tribe above state. Fourth, Afghanistan's rugged terrain serves to isolate it, not only internationally, but also from the central government in Kabul. These factors undermine any efforts at establishing a viable government.

Although the nation possesses Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara, and Aimaq populations, the Pushtuns have led the country since the mid-18th century. Goodson identifies the major groupings of the Pushtuns: the Durranis, who ruled from 1749 to 1978; the Ghilzais with whom the Durranis compete for power; and a patchwork of 11 smaller tribes classified as true Pushtuns.

Pushtun dominance ensured the adoption of their tribal code as the law of the land. Known as pushtunwali, the tribal code includes such basic concepts as melmastia (hospitality), nanawati (asylum), badal (revenge), and ghayrat (defense of honor). The Pushtun tradition also includes the convening of the tribal council also known as jirga to resolve major issues. NonPushtuns resent such ascendancy and dominance and have attempted to destabilize the ruling ethnic group. This begins to explain why the nation continues to lapse into civil war after foreign enemies have been defeated.

In trying to understand the totality of the Soviet intervention of Afghanistan and beyond (from 1978 to 1998), Goodson identifies eight distinct phases of the decade-long war. …

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