The Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan in 1994-96 reawakened interest in Afghanistan because the movement's actions, especially those toward women, shock world opinion, while the unresolved civil war blocks international plans for oil and gas pipelines. Most press reports are episodic and confusing, however, leaving the context of events unclear. To remedy this, Maley, Australia's most prominent Afghanistan specialist, has brought together a dozen experts to provide a coherent picture of the Taliban and the new Great Game in eight chapters. They discuss the emergence of the Taliban, their military development, the civil war, and their relations with foreign powers.
Several of the authors conclusively demonstrate that the Taliban (and their organized opposition) are the creatures of external powers. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia effectively created the Taliban, brought them to power, and maintain them; Russia, Uzbekistan, several other former Soviet states, and India keep their Northern Alliance opponents afloat; Iran plays all sides. Richard Mackenzie provides a devastating summary of the ineptitude with which U.S. policies have been conducted. Maley and Michael Keating provide equally damning analyses of United Nations bungling. The academic contributions are less directly useful, however. Olivier Roy, a long time supporter of Islamist movements, discusses whether the Talibans' Pushtun identity diminishes their potential theological influence beyond Afghanistan. Nancy Dupree's stance as a "sympathetic observer" of all views weakens her report on women.
There are some significant lacunae. Iran's complicated involvement is minimized as is Afghanistan's conversion into a major international terrorist training center. Nor does any author offer a practical solution for the Hobbesian anarchy engulfing Afghanistan. M. Nazif Shahrani urges Afghans to abandon the "post-colonial" nation-state model for a sketchily-defined "more holistic or ‘political ecological' approach," while Maley suggests a long, possibly permanent U.N. occupation contingent on near-utopian preconditions. In fact, the volume makes it all too clear that outside powers will determine Afghanistan's fate.