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I’m not sure I’ll ever finish reading Descent into Chaos: the United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia by Ahmed Rashid, but like his previous book, Taliban, he proves himself immensely knowledgeable about Pakistan’s role in the “Afghanistan problem.” While both Descent and Taliban offer readers a framework for understanding the many strands of the conflict in Afghanistan, Rashid amps up his criticism of the many failures of the Bush administration, the tangled mess of Afghani warlords, and what he perceives to be the “terrorism central,” Pakistan, in his latter work.

Folks, Rashid does not skimp on the details. The book is jam-packed with information. You’ll find that if you are prone to underlining important passages in books that nearly every page will be thoroughly marked up.

If you want commentary on the last 10 years of turmoil in Central Asia, go for Descent into Chaos. If you want a more comprehensive understanding of Central Asia and the making of terrorist states, read Taliban. If you go for both, be sure to space them out and have plenty of trash fiction to read in between Rashid’s books.

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One book leads to another and then you’re nose-deep in Middle Eastern conflict non-fiction. Lone Survivor inspired me to learn more about the Taliban for myself. So, I checked out a book at the library called Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia by Ahmed Rashid, who is a Pakistani journalist who has followed the Central Asian region (which loosely includes Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, and Afghanistan) for many, many years and has managed to condense his experiences into a succinct summary of the regional difficulties that have given rise to terrorism and the Taliban.

This is an overview of political, economic, and cultural strands that have combined to spawn a new breed of extremism that has infiltrates Central Asia, especially Afghanistan, and beyond. This is not a political finger-pointing book; no side is innocent and no side is responsible for everything that has taken place in the region. Rashid details the emergence of the Taliban, the role of jostling ethnic groups for power, the atrocities committed on virtually every side of the conflict(s), the West’s blind eye (especially when it benefitted the U.S. in their attempts to take shots at Russia and Iran) to the rise of extremism, and the wooing of the Taliban by oil companies.

This is dense reading, readers. One has to concentrate and underline and be able to refer back. There are several handy-dandy appendices, which help readers have the overall timeline, summary of major events, and definitions of unfamiliar words (in the West) for reference. The index is invaluable.  Still, even if I haven’t processed everything (and it would take many, many, many readings and outside research), I am aware that I had NO awareness about Central Asia before. If you’re interesting in learning more about it yourself, give this one a try.

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