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Afghanistan, Graveyard of Empires: A New History of the Borderland

Afghanistan, Graveyard of Empires: A New History of the Borderland by David Isby. Pegasus Books, 2010, 464 pp.

Afghanistan: Graveyard of Empires differs from other histories of that country in its focus on the borderland between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Author David Isby attempts to define the region and the various conflicts involving these two nations, examining the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and the North West Frontier Provinces on the Pakistan side and discussing how these areas affect what happens in Afghanistan. The author shows how the future of this area may evolve by addressing five major conflicts: (1) the fight against the international terrorism of al-Qaeda, (2) the conjoined insurgencies in Afghanistan and Pakistan, (3) the actions directed against the cultivation and trafficking of narcotics, (4) the multifaceted internal strife within Afghanistan itself, and (5) the conflict within Pakistan, where the insurgency is essentially part of a crisis of governance that has directly affected its neighbor Afghanistan (p. 373). By examining these conflicts, Isby identifies the various issues within the region and provides a comprehensive look at the area in terms of political, social, ethnic, and economic considerations. Thus the reader comes to understand why certain ethnic and insurgent groups behave the way they do. Furthermore, the author points out the linkages between Afghanistan and Pakistan and explains why the war on terror had to expand into the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and North West Frontier Provinces to be successful against various terrorist groups in the region.

Throughout the book, Isby demonstrates his vast knowledge of the area, augmented by contacts and personal relationships established over the many years that he has researched and studied Afghanistan. Indeed, his attention to detail makes this book a must-read for anyone who will deploy to that country, since a better understanding of the motivations of some of the regional insurgent groups facilitates the conduct of intelligence assessments. Although some of the data is a bit dated and no longer valid, it nevertheless helps to explain the rationale for some of the military actions now taking place there, such as the drone strikes that occur almost daily.

The book is especially effective in its holistic assessment of the history, culture, and ethnic conflicts prevalent in the region, including both sides of the border. The level of detail, ease of reading, and amount of information conveyed are also commendable. Moreover, it is one of the few studies of this area to concentrate solely on the borderland. Consequently, as mentioned above, anyone deploying in and around this area, especially the Kandahar region, should read Afghanistan: Graveyard of Empires.

"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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