CRF Blog

Three books on Afghanistan

by Bill Hayes

The Financial Times reviews three British books on Afghanistan: Cables From Kabul: The Inside Story of the West’s Afghanistan Campaign by Sherard Cowper-Coles; The Wars of Afghanistan: Messianic Terrorism, Tribal Conflicts and the Failures of Great Powers by Peter Tomsen; and Dead Men Risen: The Welsh Guards and the Real Story of Britain’s War in Afghanistan by Toby Harnden.

The history of Afghanistan is littered with examples of misguided foreign interventions, from the massacre of British imperial forces at Maiwand in 1880 to the Soviet invasion and retreat a century later. The west’s latest foray into the Afghan morass began in 2001 as a punitive US-led mission to destroy the al-Qaeda network responsible for the September 11 attacks and topple the Taliban regime that harboured Osama bin Laden’s terrorist group. It has since morphed into an altogether more ambitious venture: to establish a client state with a semblance of democracy in a hostile region with no tradition of strong independent institutions or basic human rights.

Cowper-Coles excels in highlighting the muddled thinking that has bedevilled western efforts to stabilise Afghanistan ever since it served as a buffer state between British India and Imperial Russia. He argues persuasively that the war against the Taliban is unwinnable because it is at heart a Pashtun insurgency that enjoys broad support in the south of the country as well as covert sponsorship in neighbouring Pakistan. The best hope is that military pressure will create the conditions for a political settlement. Yet despite the courage shown by British forces, of which more later, a political solution to the conflict remains as elusive as ever. [more]