Everyone knew some things about the war in Afghanistan and its impact on the world politics in general. This was in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks and the policies and practices of the then Bush administration towards Afghanistan left a lasting impression on the world. While stories of the trials and tribulations and heroism of the American military are there for the world to see, the impact of the war on the lives of normal Afghan people and also the Taliban factions opposing the American rule has not been chronicled so far.
Anand Gopal in his book ‘No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban and the War Through Afghan Eyes’ brings about a whole new dimension to this war by telling the stories of three people caught in the conflict: a civilian woman, a Taliban fighter and a US commander. Public opinions regarding the war and its outcomes have been divided. While it is true that the general administration under US rule in Afghanistan improved, and schools and roads were built, the manner in which these changes were brought about actually did more bad than good for the Afghans.
The author tells us how the Taliban was ousted from the entire country (except for a few pockets) by using the famous American dictum of ‘either you were with us or against us.’ The American forces had two things which the Taliban did not have: money and modern weaponry, and it was actually the first which hurt the Taliban more. Almost immediately, the top faction of the Taliban either turned up as informers for the Americans in return for amnesty and huge sums of money. The Taliban commander interviewed by the author recalls seeing for the first time the amount of firepower the Americans carried and what it did to the morals of his group. Neither did it help that most of the Taliban top brass were simple village preachers with no knowledge of advanced weapons.
The civilian population was not saved either. The author documents how innocent farmers would be picked up for questioning and then shipped to Guantanamo on some trumped up charges and then released a few months later for lack of evidence only to be arrested again and subjected to the same treatment. The author devotes a significant amount of space and time in his book to talk about the contractors or local warlords who made millions when US government subcontracted work to them which included supplying fuel for their vehicles and turning informers.
But probably the highlight of this book is the story of a civilian woman who rose through the confines of the traditional Afghan system after her husband was murdered and went on to become a senator for her province in the Afghan assembly. The story of Heena is really worth feeling proud of.
While the author started with the old Afghan proverb, I would like to end with it: ‘There are no good men among the living, and no bad ones among the dead.’ This is the book that one must read to have a comprehensive understanding of the affair from the point of view of those who ‘lost’ in the war (I quote lost in inverted commas as in a war, ultimately everyone loses).