The treacherous mountain passes and blasted desert plains of Afghanistan have been the graveyard of every would-be conquering army since the days of Alexander the Great. With America, Britain and NATO committed to a long-term political and military engagement there, it is imperative to understand the country's complex and bloody history. Afghanistan emerged in the mid-eighteenth century from the collapse of the Persian Safavid Empire and the decline of the Mughal dynasty in India. The nineteenth century saw the country ravaged by the rivalry of warring elites, and their great power supporters. In recent times, Afghanistan has experienced the Soviet invasion of 1979, the Pakistan-backed internal conflict of the 1990s, the Taliban regime and then the US invasion after the catastrophe of 9/11. Today, whilst the US-backed government is struggling to expand its control beyond Kabul, narco-warlords, jihadists and Western troops fight out the battle for control of this strategically vital country. Why has Afghanistan's course of development been so turbulent? Why does it remain so vulnerable to domestic instability, foreign intervention and ideological extremism?
In reconstructing the tempestuous narrative of modern Afghanistan, Amin Saikal provides a sweeping new understanding of its troubled past. He identifies the country's inability to develop stable political structures as stemming from the inter-dynastic rivalry (exacerbated by polygamy) that scarred successive royal families from the end of the eighteenth century until the pro-Communist coup of April 1978. Outside interventions further weakened the country internally, preventing socio-economic development and leaving the country ripe for the politics of ideological extremism. Modern Afghanistan: A History of Struggle and Survival is the definitive study of Afghanistan and its troubles. It will be vital reading for all those who are interested in the changing politics of the Middle East and Central Asia.
Chosen by The Wall Street Journal as One of the "Five Best" Books on Afghanistan
"As an Afghan scholar based in Australia, Amin Saikal starts out with the advantage of fluency in the languages of original source documents and just a degree or two of separation from many of the contemporary figures he discusses in Modern Afghanistan. Saikal conveys some hard truths about his native land, including his broadest point: No Afghan government has been able to maintain itself in power without foreign support. He sometimes lapses into fashionable anti-Americanism, but he is right to note the many opportunities that America missed to influence Afghanistan as far back as the 1920s. Even in June 1976, with Soviet interference mounting, progressive nationalist President Sardar Daoud's entreaties to the Ford administration for help went unheeded. Less than a year later, this flawed strongman -- who looks pretty good compared with what came later -- had been toppled by Afghan communists and killed. The effects of the civil war and the Soviet invasion that ensued are still unfolding." --Ann Marlow, The Wall Street Journal “An original contribution to the field.”--Robert D. McChesney, New York University
"Successfully sustains a new approach to Afghan history…excellent and lucid: a much needed account."--Peter Avery, King's College, Cambridge.
‘Saikal's contribution to our understanding and analysis of modern Afghanistan post 9/11 is a very important one.’ –International Affairs ‘Fascinating...if you want an insider's interpretation of modern Afghanistan (and one that is remarkably free from one-sided ideology), this is an excellent primer.’ –Sydney Morning Herald ‘authoritative’ –The Middle East Magazine ‘Excellent and lucid’ –Peter Avery, King's College Cambridge
"'Rare is the country that has sustained as many blows, and such hard blows, as has Afghanistan…’’ the author writes in the introduction. A native Afghan who is now a director at the Australian National University, he describes in detail the twists and turns of Afghan politics over the last two centuries: the creation of the Durranni monarchy in 1747; the ‘’Great Game’’ Anglo-Russian rivalry of the 19th century; attempts by Afghanistan to achieve a semblance of independence at the beginning of the 20th century; the experiment with democracy in the 1960s; communist rule and the Soviet invasion; the Mugahideen and the Taliban; and finally, the consequence of 9/11 for Afghanistan. Why has Afghanistan demonstrably failed to achieve political stability? The author puts it down to three main interrelated variable- royal polygamy, foreign interference and ideological extremism.’’-- Oxfam Development Resources Review