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Silk Road Books Literary Review

May 2014 


  • Great read
  • Thought provoking
  • Good
  • Could be better
  • Utter rubbish

Books Reviewed:                                                                                          

Afghanistan a cultural and political history   Thomas Barfield  2010


Rating:Could be better

Barfield book provides an interesting account of Afghan history. However, Barfield believes that Dost Mahomed Khan surrendered to Macnaghten in 1841 because, "like the Mughal Emperors whom they had supplanted, the East India Company now held the right to appoint the ruler of his country." The Mughals had of course ruled Kabul first and then taken the throne of Delhi. The Mughals had never appointed the ruler of Kabul but instead held sway over Kabul through appointment of Governors. Therefore giving this the reason for Dost Mahomed Khan's surrender is not compelling." Barfield writes "Dost Mahomed rightly concluded that the British need the cooperation of the old ruling elite to maintain control of places like Afghanistan" but in 1841 Shah Shuja was ruler of Afghanistan and there was no British need for Dost Mahomed Khan to rule Afghanistan at that time. Macnaghten did not know that Shuja was going to be assassinated in 1842, or that his wisdom in not executing Dost M Khan would mean that Dost would return to rule Afghanistan again.

In relation to the anti-soviet Mujahideedn leaders Barfield asserts "None of the seven Peshawar party leaders who agreed to the new(1992) government had done any fighting in Afghanistan". Maulvi Yunis Khalis was one of the seven leaders of the Mujahideen and he definitely did participate in the armed struggle against the Soviets in Afghanistan. It is unfortunate that Barfield who has spent so many years studying the history and culture of Afghanistan makes such lapses.

Barfield states that there were many experienced Afghan Communist era military personnel fighting for the Taliban driving tanks and flying jets. Barfield then makes a facetious point about the Taliban's desire to establish a caliphate, "How becoming the military backbone of a Salafist movement seeking to re-establish a Seventh century Islamic caliphate appeared to these champions of the Saur Revolution can only be imagined."However, the Taliban never championed the establishment of a Caliphate which would have meant running a state that sought to abolish borders and unify the Muslim countries into one state. Mullah Omar, like Dost Mahomed Khan before him took on the title of Amir-Ul Momineen ("Commander of the Faithful"). Omar is interested in Islam in Afghanistan and was not interested in Pan Islamic ideology. In the words of Barfield "Mullah Omar was a Stalinist who believed in Islamic Revolution in one country, while bin Laden was a Trotskite who believed in fighting a world Islamic revolution".

Barfield repeats the baseless accusation levelled against the Taliban that they did not allow girls to attend school. James Fergusson in his book The Taliban has confirmed that he met a Girls School headmaster in Kabul who operated his school during Taliban rule and had several thousand female pupils.

The book is nonetheless an interesting broad portrait of Afghanistan particularly through the Nineteenth Century detailing the development of an Afghan army under Sher Ali. It was this army that eventually drew out the British lion at Maiwand and delivered the coup de grace. The book could have been better edited to remove the facetious point made by Barfield and been proof read by someone familiar with the Mujahideen era of Afghanistan who could have put Barfield right on the contribution of Maulvi Yunis Khalis to the anti-Soviet armed struggle.

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