Views on Afghanistan and the Taliban

My Life with the TalibanLast night, President Obama articulated his new strategy for the war in Afghanistan, which is now in its eighth year.

Needless to say, the complicated nature of Afghan politics, which is characterized by both change and chaos as well as and continuing violence, the persistence of the Taliban, in various forms, and the presence of warlordism necessitate the need for new, in-depth, and ground-level perspectives on Afghanistan. Here are some recent and forthcoming books that reveal a great deal about the challenges that the Obama administration and the U.S. military will surely confront in the coming months.

My Life with Taliban (forthcoming in March 2010) is the eagerly anticipated and much-discussed autobiography of Abdul Salam Zaeef, a former senior member of Afghanistan’s Taliban and a principal actor in its domestic and foreign affairs.

In the book Zaeef describes his experiences as a poor youth in rural Kandahar and joining the Jihad to defeat the Soviet Union. He then recounts his time with the Taliban, first as a civil servant and then as a minister who negotiated with foreign oil companies and Ahmed Shah Massoud, the leader of the Afghani resistance. Zaeef served as ambassador to Pakistan at the time of 9/11, and his testimony sheds light on the “phoney war” that preceded the U.S.-led intervention. In 2002, Zaeef was delivered to the American forces operating in Pakistan and spent four and a half years in prison, including several years in Guantanamo, before being released without trial or charge. His reflections offer a privileged look at the communities that form the bedrock of the Taliban and the forces that motivate men like Zaeef to fight.

We will have more on the book in the coming weeks but there is a Web site for the book and a Facebook page. Also, here are some early reviews for the book.

Over the past few years Antonio Giustozzi has emerged as a leading expert on Afghanistan. He has spent more than a decade visiting, researching, and writing on the country and the Taliban. Based at the Crisis States Research Centre at the London School of Economics, he is the author or editor of three recent books on the country.

Decoding the New Taliban: Insights from the Afghan Field, edited by Giustozzi and recently featured by Steve Coll in the New Yorker examines how the Taliban’s organizational structure and tactics have changed over the past eight years and the ways in which it has remained steadfast in its approach to reclaiming power in Afghanistan. The contributors also review current theories for defeating the strategies and propaganda of the Taliban.

Giustozzi’s other books include Empires of Mud: Wars and Warlords in Afghanistan and Koran, Kalashnikov, and Laptop: The Neo-Taliban Insurgency in Afghanistan, 2002-2007, which just came out in paper and can also be browsed using Google Preview.

Finally, Giustozzi recently spoke at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. You can watch a video of his talk and the Q&A (the sound quality is not great.)

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