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The Afghanistan Wars.

The Afghanistan Wars by William Maley. New York, Palgrave McMillan, 2002. x, 340 pp. $21.95 US (paper).

Professor Maley's present book is a straightforward chronological narrative of events spanning the coming of Afghan Communists to power in 1978, Soviet invasion and withdrawal, the anti-Soviet Afghan Jihad, collapse of Communist regimes, the Mujahideen's civil wars, the rise and rule of the Taliban, the September 11, 2001 tragedy, and the consequent American military action that led to the fleeing of Taliban and al-Qaida forces from Kabul in November 2001.

Its magisterial narrative is aptly documented, making it all the more valuable for both undergraduate and graduate courses in regional as well as global history and politics. Professor Maley picks up the more significant themes as he goes from crisis to crisis, synthesizes the already existing theories, and offers insights based on his own deep study of the country and its people.

The Mujahideen who could bring down Communism in Afghanistan, and with it, arguably, the Soviet empire in the world, could not bring themselves to work together for peace, stability, and reconstruction of the war-torn country. Their factionalist, tribal, or ethnically-fragmented mindset stopped them thinking in the larger interest of their Fatherland. They played havoc in the lives of the people they came to save from the Soviet Union.

Professor Maley iauds Mikhail Gorbachev's decision to withdraw Soviet forces from Afghanistan--a decision in line with his "New Thinking" that inspired the genie of glasnost and perestroika that cost him the presidency and which created brand new opportunities for Afghan Communist and Mujahideen leaders to come together in a national government. This, alas, never happened. Professor Maley laments the United Nations' indecision, Pakistan's myopic Afghan policy, and the detestable behavior of a spoiler, Gulbadin Hekmatyar, the one Mujahideen leader who received the lion's share of American money and munitions during the Afghans' struggle against Communism.

The book raises two of the most frequently-asked questions: first, did Afghanistan become the Soviets' Vietnam? And second, did the US abandon the Afghans once, as they believed, they had served the Americans' purpose--in other words, bringing the "Evil Empire" down while millions of Afghans perished in Jihad against Communism? Professor Maley seems to agree with like-minded scholars who believe that "Afghanistan was not the Soviet Vietnam, but something even worse" (p. 164). At the end of the Vietnam War, the United States, though terribly shaken, still stood solid, whereas at the end of the Afghan War, the Soviet Union collapsed not only because of the war, but also due to the exacerbation of the impact of the already existing centrifugal forces in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. So far as American culpability is concerned, Professor Maley reminds us that although after the collapse of Soviet Union, "Afghanistan was no longer a key east-west issue ... the Bush Administration did not set out to 'abandon' the Mujahideen. Certain glitches in the early days of the Bush Administration left the Mujahideen under-resourced at a time when steady resource flows ... would have been of significant value, but these did not reflect any malevolent intent to cripple the resistance" (p. 179). Tell that typical establishment story to the rank-and-file Mujahideen whose bitter anti-American feelings are currently fueling al-Qaida and the Taliban Jihad Number Two in Kandahar, Khost, and Waziristan.

Professor Maley ascribes the rise and rule of the Taliban to Pakistan's sinister desire to have the Pashtuns in power in Kabul. "The emergence and advent to dominance of the Taliban movement was one of the oddest things ever to happen to modern Afghanistan," he says, but he ignores the history of the rise of the Afghan religious leaders who led their followers, right or wrong, to achieve a desired goal. Mullah Hadda, Mullah Chaknaur, and Mullah Shoarbazar were popular leaders who turned the established regimes upside down. The rise of the Taliban was the result of the international community, and, especially, the United States abandoning the Afghans to the competing agendas of cutthroat politicians and warlords, who further attracted more darker forces to the Taliban's Afghanistan, which eventually perpetrated the tragedy of September 11, 2001.

"The notion that Afghanistan would be a graveyard for the Americans in much the way it unquestionably proved to be for the Soviets was highly misleading," observes Professor Maley. Why? Because "Afghans do not automatically resent foreigners: much depends upon what foreigners actually seek to do"(p. 267). True, but simply putting Hamid Karzai on the throne of Kabul or writing a constitution to legitimize his administration is not sufficient to avert another debacle: the international community in general and the United States in particular have the sole responsibility of investing in the national reconstruction of Afghanistan. They owe it to the Afghans.

All in all, Professor Maley's book surely helps a reader understand the complexity of the situation. He backs up his assertions with sufficient bibliography and sound insights that make the book an engaging read. It is truly a mine of information on the recent tragic history of Afghanistan.

Abdul-Karim Khan

University of Hawaii--Leeward
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Author:Khan, Abdul-Karim
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Aug 1, 2004
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