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War in Afghanistan: A Short History of Eighty Wars and Conflicts in Afghanistan and the North-West Frontier 1839-2011, by Kevin Baker

Dural, NSW: Rosenberg / Portland, Or.: International Specialized Book Se, 2011. Pp. 264. Illus., maps, append., notes, biblio., index. $35.00 paper. ISBN: 1921719125.

Generations of War in a Warlike Land

Opening with a caution that he’s only going to cover the most notable events, Baker (Australian Defence Force Academy), gives us an overview of eighty international, tribal, factional, sectarian, and border wars, conflicts, and feuds, mostly involving some degree of foreign intervention, in Afghanistan and what is now northwestern Pakistan from the outbreak of the “First Anglo-Afghan War” in 1839 through the current internationalized struggle that began in 2001.  In what is one of the most unstable regions in the world, a complex mix of tribes, sub-tribes, and clans, overlaid by rival brands of Islam, presents an almost impossible obstacle to any efforts to develop long-term institutions. 

Baker points out that the most stable period in the region’s history, one characterized by slow reform and modernization, were the six decades that followed the “Third Anglo-Afghan War”, under kings Amanullah and Zahir Shah (1919-1973).  But in 1973 a republican coup overthrew the monarchy, in an effort to rush modernization, which produced considerable resistance.  A Communist coup followed, which sparked even greater resistance, leading to Soviet intervention (1979-1989), followed by the collapse of a post-Soviet regime at the hands of the Taliban, which in turn abetted the 2001 attacks on the United States, leading to American intervention and an ongoing war.  A country of almost continuous war. 

War in Afghanistan is a sobering read.

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Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   


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