Audiobook Review: Games Without Rules

Games Without Rules:  The Often-Interrupted History Of Afghanistican, by Tamim Ansary, read by the author

I do not consider myself to be by any means an expert on Afghan history, but I do believe it is an area well worth knowing.  The author has some interesting ideas and as a native Afghan (although apparently not a Pashtun), he certainly brings some insight to the table when it comes to Afghan history and the way that Afghanistan has never managed to successfully coalesce as a nation.  Indeed, this book provides at least some of the reasons why this has been the case, and though I must say that my opinion of Afghanistan as a failed nation has not particularly changed as a result of listening to the author talk for more than thirteen hours about Afghan’s history as a would-be nation state, at least I think I better understand the problems that Afghanistan has to deal with and would at least be supportive of its efforts to be a nonaligned state so long as it stopped causing problems for other countries and was able to mind its own business and keep the peace.  Sometimes that is as much as can be hoped for.

This audiobook consists of twelve cds that are more than an hour in length that deal with Afghan history from the late 18th century to the present day.  The author talks about various dynasties that have periodically ruled over Afghanistan internally, all of which have had to deal with occasionally incompetent rulership and the struggle for power and control as well as the need to maintain peace and neutrality and independence from neighbors.  Once the Great Game between Russia and the United Kingdom heated up, Afghanistan neutrality grew more difficult to defend and the English sought some buffer between India and the growing Russian territories.  The collapse of Russia and later the end of British Imperialism in the Raj then led right into the Cold War, which then led right into a period of growing Islamic extremism.  In all of these cases Afghanistan was a part of the world that was making trouble for others and making a mess of things itself, all of which encouraged other nations to pour troops and money into the area seeking to serve their own interests.  And if the Afghan people have been resilient in the case of such disasters, he is honest enough to admit that often Afghanistan has sabotaged itself through its own demons, and thus not everything can be blamed on outsiders.

This book had a particularly poignant approach to discussing Afghan history, and that was the return over and over again to the essential internal problem that Afghanistan has never been able to resolve as well as the essential external problem that has continually caused difficulty between Afghanistan and its neighbors.  The first is that Kabul, and to a lesser extent other cities, has seen a gradual modernization that has led to the adoption of many Western habits and mores even as the traditional village life of Afghanistan has long remained with the same mentality as was present in the eighteenth century and before and has been periodically very violently opposed to efforts at internal reformation.  Additionally, Afghanistan has been without one of its five core cities, Peshawar, which has led to the Afghan people (especially its Pashtun plurality) using this obvious gap as a way of encouraging Afghan expansion to recover its lost territories.  All of this has made Afghanistan very unlikely to be long at peace within itself or with its neighbors, especially Pakistan, on whom it has such long-lasting claims given the presence of so many Pashtun in Pakistan.  The politics of culture and ethnicity make it unlikely that Afghanistan will find a great deal of peace, all of which encourages other people to intervene, with tragic results.  When will things be put right?

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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