Fascinating, comprehensive, and timely, Afghanistan examines the troubled history of a nation whose global relevance continues to hold the international spotlight.
Reaching as far back as the seventh century A.D., when Arab armies imported the new religion of Islam into a predominantly Buddhist country, Martin Ewans shows how centuries of invasions, fierce tribal rivalries, and powerful dynasties led to the creation of an Afghan empire during the eighteenth century. From there he moves on to examine the various milestones on the country's road to the twenty-first century. During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Afghanistan was caught up in the "Great Game," the struggle between Britain and Russia for supremacy in Central Asia, until it was finally able to declare independence in 1919. The ruling Afghan dynasty was overthrown by a communist coup in the 1970s, which was answered in turn by a Soviet invasion in 1979. Roughly a decade later, the Soviet Union was forced to withdraw and left Afghanistan with a civil war that was to tear apart the nation's last remnants of religious and ethnic unity. It was into this climate that the Taliban was born.
What emerges in Ewans's lucid and dispassionate prose is the story of a once powerful empire whose traditions and political stability have in recent years been reduced to ruins. Today Afghanistan is war-torn and economically destitute, struggling under a brutal and extremist regime. Martin Ewans, a former senior diplomat in the British embassy in Afghanistan, carefully and concisely weighs the lessons of history to provide a frank look at Afghanistan's fragile relationship with its neighboring countries and the national and international resonances of the Taliban's concept of Islamic society.
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Sir Martin Ewans, a former officer of the British Diplomatic Service, served in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, as well as in diplomatic missions in Africa and North America. He holds a degree from Cambridge University and is currently chairman of the international charity Children's Aid Direct.From Booklist:
September 11 drastically changed the fate of this scholarly history of Afghanistan. Before, it might have found an audience in a few college classrooms, but now, few libraries will want to be without it. Ewans begins by glossing over early Afghan history and the triumph by Islam over Buddhism and indigenous religions, and giving a brief overview of the occupations by Genghis Khan and Timur. Most of the book is devoted to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. There aren't a lot of bright spots in modern Afghan history. The people share no linguistic, religious, or ethnic traditions and have come together only to fight common enemies. Two wars with the British and the mujahadeen resistance against the Soviets devastated both the people and the economy, but the anarchy following the wars was equally crippling. Often lacking a centralized government, the few rulers Afghanistan has known, from Daoud to Mullah Omar, have been charismatic personalities but hugely ineffective leaders. With a comprehensive understanding of Afghan history, Ewans portrays the rise of the Taliban in the context of a nation that had known no peace in 40 years and little peace in all its history. An epilogue, which contains the most compelling writing of the book, explores the aftermath of September 11 on Afghan history. Though the dry, scholarly political history will turn off casual readers, this is a fascinating story and the best book-length examination of Afghanistan's history we're likely to have for some time. John Green
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