Wednesday 30 May 2012

A couple of good books

A couple of books worth mentioning:

Alex Strick van Linschoten & Felix Kuehn, An Enemy we created: The myth of the Taliban/al-Qaeda merger in Afghanistan 1970-2010, Hurst, London, 2012, £30.00.
A good read on the early history of the Taliban and the organisation's relationship with Osama bin Laden. The thesis is clear: even though al-Qaeda operated out of Afghanistan, planning its biggest terrorist attacks and influencing the political direction of the Taliban, there was never a formal political merger. In fact, the authors argue, the relationship between the two groups was fractious and difficult at the best of times.
Much new material here from the authors' excellent contacts in the south of the country. However, it is a measure of the massive void of knowledge on the internal politics of the Taliban that the organisation's relationship with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan is barely touched. Even some mainstream figures in the Afghan Taliban, such as their former defence minister Mullah Obaidullah, who died in a Pakistani gaol in mysterious circumstances in March 2010, are only briefly mentioned. An important book for anyone interested in understanding the organisation.

Douglas A Wissing, Funding the Enemy: How US taxpayers bankroll the Taliban, Prometheus Book, New York, $25.00.
Wissing describes in detail how the billions of dollars spent in Afghanistan over the last decade might just have well been thrown out the back of an airplane for all the good it has done. The squandered money has done little good except build 'narco-tecture' - disgusting palaces for the opium-trading members of Afghanistan's elite - and fund the continuing insurgency by the Taliban. Wissing describes in detail the squalid nexus between the Afghan kleptocracy, US policymakers and careerist 'aid' organisations. It's all here - the Beltway Bandits who cream off a percentage of US aid even before it leaves the USA, the judges who dispense justice for money, the civil servants earning an official pittance who live in palaces, the trucking companies that pay off the Taliban. Possibly one of the most important and truthful books on Afghanistan to be published in the last decade.

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