I just finished reading Taliban, Ahmed Rashid’s study of the Taliban’s rise in Afghanistan, this weekend. The book was published early in 2001 (pre-9/11, that is), so its perspective about the civil war is untinged by What Would Come. Rashid does paint a very bleak picture about the region and the regime, and offers a ton of insight into how Afghanistan got so messed up.
The book is also a product of its time, of course. One of the “problems” with Taliban is that oil was priced around $13/barrel in the years leading up to its publication. That fact was a key to his understanding of Russian and Iranian policy, and it’s completely understandable; who would even entertain the notion that oil would someday trade for 5x that price?
I found myself marveling over how the country, long seen as the prize in The Great Game, achieved its present-day notoriety only when it fell under the radar and became an utterly failed state. Once “we” stopped paying attention to it, Afghanistan became the engine of the new world.
Which brings me to the end of the book. Usually, I don’t give away endings, but I don’t think I’m doing Rashid any disservice in this case. Here’s the final paragraph:
But if the war in Afghanistan continues to be ignored we can only expect the worst. Pakistan will face a Taliban-style Islamic revolution which will further destabilize it and the entire region. Iran will remain on the periphery of the world community and its eastern borders will continue to be wracked by instability. The Central Asian states will not be able to deliver their energy and mineral exports by the shortest routes and as their economies crash, they will face an Islamic upsurge and instability. Russia will continue to bristle with hegemonic aims in Central Asia even as its own society and economy crumbles. The stakes are extremely high.
I don’t mean to goof on Rashid by writing this, but isn’t it amazing how much worse it got than his most pessimistic projection?