Afghanistan, Graveyard of Empires, A New History of the Borderland

The war in Afghanistan is still winnable, but only if both the US and Afghans make immediate and forceful changes to enable them do what is necessary to prevent the Taliban from winning by default by waiting until the world loses patience. The hope for a better life that led Afghans of all ethnolinguistic groups to support the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001 has deteriorated and needs to be revived through a cohesive strategy. This is the conclusion of Afghanistan, Graveyard of Empires. A New History of the Borderland, a new book by David Isby, published by Pegasus Books in New York.

The author, who has studied the conflicts in Afghanistan since the Soviet invasion in 1979, has published three previous books on Afghanistan, written extensively in journals such as USA Today, The Washington Times, Janes Intelligence Review, Janes Defense Weekly and other publications, testified before House and Senate committees as an independent expert, and has appeared discussing Afghanistan on CNN, Fox and Friends, PBS News Hour, the McLaughlin Group, C-SPAN, the BBC, the Voice of America and many other broadcasts.

This is a book about Afghanistan, the Afghans and conflicts that have come to define them both. The author sees Afghanistan as having become a country defined by five distinct but interconnected conflicts that are currently shaping its future, conflicts against the international terrorism of Al Qaeda, that against the insurgents, especially the Taliban movement; that against narcotics cultivation and trafficking (Afghanistan produces the vast majority of the worlds supply of illicit opium), and, finally, Afghanistans multifaceted internal conflicts. Pointedly, the fifth conflict that will shape the future of Afghanistan is not in that country at all, but in Pakistan, where the insurgency is essentially part of a single trans-border conflict including Afghanistan. Pakistans internal instability threatens the future of its neighbors as well.

The book sees Afghanistans conflicts as having a direct impact on the US. Al Qaeda planned and trained for the 9/11 attacks in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. The Taliban insurgents the US are fighting represent a movement that has the potential to destabilize the three strategic reasons bordered by Afghanistan: Pakistan and the subcontinent, Iran and the Gulf and central Asia. A Taliban resurgence would present a model of how Western influence can be forced out of an Islamic country by a radicalized minority with access to external support, here delivered through sanctuaries in Pakistan.

While the book sees the long-running conflicts in Afghanistan as still winnable, losing allowing the insurgents to achieve their goals remains a real possibility unless US and Afghans alike change. US disengagement from Afghanistan would be unlikely to reduce the impact of subsequent success by Al Qaeda and the Taliban and prevent future threats both to the US and to the stability of the regions.

The author has spent much time on the ground in Afghanistan and Pakistan, starting in the 1980s. He has met, talked, argued with and listened to many of the leading figures on all sides of each of todays conflicts, as well as those from all walks of life. While the conflicts are about many things, none is more important than what happens to the hope that Afghanistan had in such abundance when the Taliban fell in 2001. What happens to that hope for a better future, whether it can be revived or if what remains of it will turn to dust and Afghanistan will face a future of seemingly limitless conflict, is the central issue of Afghanistan, Graveyard of Empires.

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