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The Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan

The Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan edited by Robert D. Crews and Amin Tarzi. Harvard University Press, 2009, 448 pp.

Robert Crews and Amin Tarzi’s The Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan is a must-read for those who want to gain insight into the Taliban and the complexities of Afghanistan. The book consists of eight essays, an expansive introduction, and an equally expansive epilogue that provide different perspectives of the history, background, and evolution of the Taliban movement in Afghanistan and Central Asia.

The editors note that “while presenting a range of interpretations and approaches, the authors focus on three overlapping themes” (p. 11). The first involves a description of the underlying history of Afghanistan and Central Asia that gave rise to the Taliban movement and limited its effectiveness as an “Afghan” or a distinctly Pashtun initiative. The second theme concerns the difficulty of building state institutions in Afghanistan—a problem that existed before the Taliban rule and that remains today. Third, each of the essays describes the great diversity in Afghanistan and the interaction of local communities and governing structures with the Taliban central authority (pp. 11–12). Also, the ethnic tension among residents of the different areas in Afghanistan and the region—particularly with the Pashtun majority—is a prevailing motif.

All of the essays, as well as the epilogue, make evident Afghanistan’s enormous complexity. Many of the well-intentioned actions by the United States and the International Security Assistance Force have proven counterproductive due to a failure to understand the country’s nuances and intricacies. As a result, the Taliban, given their understanding of the history and culture in Afghanistan, have evolved and remain a viable movement there. According to the editors, the actions of the United States “only expanded the wide fissures cutting through Afghan society and, in mobilizing diverse foes against the center, rekindled memories of grievances feeding thirty years of war” (p. 355). Crews and Tarzi note that the “book does not present explicit policy recommendations” (p. 13). Indeed, readers may sense that the situation in Afghanistan is too involved and complicated to formulate a coherent policy recommendation.

The Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan is well written and relevant for military audiences. Readers should note, however, that the book covers events only to 2008, prior to the “surge” in Afghanistan. Although this reviewer considers it a must-read for understanding that country, the book tells its story from a snapshot in time.

Col Jack D. Kem, PhD, USA, Retired

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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