AFGHANISTAN: A Short History of Its People and Politics

Martin Ewans, Author . HarperCollins $25.95 (256p) ISBN 0-06-050507-9

Most people in the West were ignorant about Afghanistan before the tragic events of Sept. 11. With the publication of this narrative political history, there's no longer any excuse. Ewans, a former British foreign service officer, traces the history of this troubled nation back to the seventh century, when Arab armies brought Islam to a population that had been mostly Buddhist. Ewans is comprehensive, first detailing the invasions and tribal fighting that characterized a thousand years of the country's history, until an Afghan empire was created in the 18th century. Then, with the same patience and nonjudgmental tone, he turns to the modern era, starting with the struggle between Russia and Britain for Afghanistan in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Ewans concentrates on the details, and he makes clear that the 20th century—marked in its early years by hesitant moves toward secularism and in the latter part by foreign influence—is dominated by a continuing struggle to mix modernity and tradition. As Ewans writes of reforms instituted by Emir Amanullah, who ruled after WWI, "the modernists were unhappy with the concessions to religious concepts" while traditionalists "took exception to the idea that the state might have a partly secular basis." The author's cautionary words appear particularly apt as Afghanistan, and the world, confronts the post-Taliban era. Photos. (Feb. 25)

Reviewed on: 02/04/2002
Release date: 03/01/2002
Genre: Nonfiction
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