What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A counter-narrative

I am reading mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef's book, My life with the Taliban. A book by a founding member of the post-1994 Taliban movement who was the Taliban's ambassador to Pakistan in 2001. That sentence in itself could be sufficient for a blogpost perhaps. This book is a piece of history, and, unsurprisingly, a treasure trove of information for observers of Afghan matters. I am including the book cover's image here, to draw attention, by putting an end to the visual starving of those who are now curious.
As it is noted on the book's webpage, My life with the Taliban offers a counter-narrative of standard accounts of Afghanistan since 1979, plus, as it is noted in Kandahar: Portrait of a city (pp. ix-xxiv) by editors Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn, it offers not simply gap-filling but essentially it fulfills a void-filling role as to Kandahar's history, of which you could hardly read much in English before.
I will still get back to writing a more thorough review of the book, but I want to contemplate what I have to say in such a review (it is not easy at all).
As illustration of the worth of the book, I am including some examples below of what kind of new details I can add now to an earlier, sort of "OSINT version" of the Taliban's rise that I assembled at this blog back in 2007.
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1) Pp. 21-55. The chapters in this section offer fascinating insight into the "small t" taliban's history. Into the story of the groups of madrasa students who either fought for (partly religiously defined, Kandahari) public good, so to say, or mediated and played judge in good faith in local disputes in southern Afghanistan's history, including during the 1980s' jihad. Reconciliation is something they were particularly well-positioned to do back then just as much as nowadays, given their aspiration to transcend tribal and other dividing lines and their reference to Islamic principles.
The book's narrative of the 1980s jihad offers an unconventional portrayal of the combat around Kandahar, especially in Zhari-Panjwai, where taliban groups as such may have played a far greater role than many standard accounts tell us. Often the likes of Mohammed Omar are mentioned as just fighters of Hizb-i-Islami's Khalis faction during the jihad. In fact, their "fronts," the "taliban fronts," while they were certainly supported from somewhere logistically, through HIK networks as well, probably, were autonomous from central control at least in an ideological sense (in their own, quasi-anti-ideological way). They clearly saw themselves as apart from the rest of the mujahedeen to a degree.
2) The Taliban's start is detailed in the chapter titled Taking action. Light is shed on the up-till-now rather murky sequence of events. Abdul Qudus and mullah Neda Mohammad are named as key initiators of the movement (the former was killed on the Shomali plains, fighting Massoud's forces; the latter was killed already post-2001, in a coalition raid); although I presume that at around the same time others like them were also asking around, looking to mobilise the dormant taliban networks that went partially inactive after Kandahar was seized by feuding mujahedeen militias. The latter development could take place, in Zaeef's narrative, essentially because the taliban took their eyes off the ball at the end of the jihad.
Abdul Salam Zaeef seems to have been a vital link in the early organising, based on his own narrative, and Pashmol and Sangisar (mullah Mohammed Omar's home village) were apparently the key meeting points early on. The first Taliban checkpoint was set up at Hawz-e Mudat, on the Herat-Kandahar road, and it was after defeating a neighbouring checkpoint commander, Daru Khan, that the Taliban's expansion began (bandwagoning clearly playing into this as well). If you check out Kandahar's map, you can find Hawz-e Mudat (or "Hawz-e Madad") in today's Zhari district. Zhari's shape as it is today was tailored in 2005, and so I cannot say with absolute certainty where Hawz-e-Madad fell back then. Abdul Salam Zaeef refers to this area as "Maiwand and Panjwai districts." It was from there that the Taliban set out to raid Spin Boldak and, meanwhile, gradually take over Kandahar with mullah Naqib's help...
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Too many names? Need some explanation? I am not giving away more. Find it all in the book.
This should be enough encouragement to check out a book that you must not only have, but one that you could read a couple of times, including all the endnotes, while taking notes yourself, if you want to be knowledgeable about southern Afghanistan. Moreover, after his account of the Taliban's rise, Abdul Salam Zaeef covers the years of which his narrative becomes even more of a counter-narrative...


iago18335 said...

Thanks for the recommendation. It's going on my list now...

Péter MARTON said...

You are welcome!