Updated 2/25/2007: Added amazon link.
Afghanistan: A Short History of Its People and Politics, by Martin Ewans, is a fantastic book. This fascinating account of this plucky country was chock full of facts that have immediate relevance. Covering from ancient times to 2002, this book provides a traditional history–no stories of the working classes or women. But it covers the byzantine regime changes of Afghanistan very well. It als does a fine job of explaining how the Afghanistan state was in constant tension between the local tribal powers and the more modern central authority of the king. The foreign situation was also an exercise in balance, with the Afghans depending on money, guns and expertise from British India to fend off the Russian Empire. However, the relationship with the Brits wasn’t entirely golden, as the three Anglo-Afghan wars suggest.
While the history was intensely interesting, the last chapters of the book, which cover the politics and battles of the last two decades which have left Afghanistan such a mess, were the most relevant for me. If you want to know how mcuh the CIA spent supporting the Taliban, it’s in there. If you want to know which external nations supported which of the warring factions, it’s in there. If you want to know why Afghanistan grows the majority of the world’s opium, it’s in there.
I won’t say this book was easy to get through. The writing is quite dense. The frequent re-appearance of characters was at times confusing, but I fear that is more a feature of Afghan history than a shortcoming of the book. For a concise political history of a nation that we’re becoming more and more involved with, check it out.