Afghanistan faded from American memories in the 1990s, only to resume center stage in 2001. By now, the average U.S. newspaper reader has been treated to many accounts about the country's ethnic mix and its main power groups. Griffin, a journalist who has worked for humanitarian groups aiding Afghanistan, provides a more detailed history of the country in the 1990s. His account has much detail, but the coverage is inconsistent and the analysis spotty. The strength of this volume is simply that there is not much better: few were interested at the time in the constantly shifting kaleidoscope of small, armed groups switching from one camp to another.
Griffin presents a comprehensive discussion of the autumn 1994 origins of the Taliban, though one has to piece together all the different hints scattered over many pages to realize that Pakistan's role in the Taliban success was much more central than Griffin acknowledges. If the analysis of Pakistan's role is weak, his discussion of Iran's role is worse. For instance, he writes not a word about a major 1998 controversy among the four theoretically neutral Central Asian countries about a train full of Iranian arms en route to the Northern Alliance, discovered by an overzealous Kyrgiz customs inspector. And Griffin relies too heavily on secondary sources, including some well known for inaccuracy (such as the writings of Yossef Bodansky), while not consulting basic documents, such as U.N. and U.S. reports on drug production. All that said, his account is not bad; the eight-page chronology alone is well worth consulting. But one hopes that better books about a country now so much in the news are in the making.