A History Fit for the Taliban

A History Fit for the Taliban
AP Photo/Massoud Hossaini

After the Taliban government collapsed in the autumn of 2001, hopes were high for a fresh start that would bring security, women's rights, development and democracy to Afghanistan. This book reveals why and how these hopes have not been fulfilled. Lee explores the emergence of the modern Afghan state, tracing its origins to the extensive empire created by Ahmad Shah (d.1772), a military leader from the Durrani Pashtun or Afghan (the words were originally synonyms) tribal confederacy, based in Kandahar. After his death the empire gradually shrank and by the 1830s had been reduced to what is now eastern Afghanistan.

At this time Russia was advancing across Central Asia. British armies twice invaded Afghanistan with the aim of turning it into a buffer between Russia and India. In 1880 they allowed Abdur Rahman Khan (d.1901), also a Durrani, to take control of Kabul and began paying him a subsidy. Many of Afghanistan's current difficulties can be traced to his reign because he created a centralised administration that ruled with an iron hand over the country's diverse population and bequeathed an authoritarian legacy to his successors. Nevertheless, much of the 20th century was relatively peaceful until growing Soviet influence led to a left-wing coup d'état in April 1978. This was followed by widespread revolts, Soviet occupation, the western-supported jihad, Soviet withdrawal, civil war and then, in the mid-1990s, the emergence of the Taliban.

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