As part of my Muslim Asia Reading Challenge, I grabbed Afghanistan: Current Controversies last Saturday while raiding the shelves at my local public library. Published in 2010 by Greenhaven Press it follows the same format as two books recently featured on this blog, namely Iran: Opposing Viewpoints and Pakistan: Opposing Viewpoints. In Afghanistan: Current Controversies various journalists, leaders and experts debate the pros and cons of the US-lead invasion in addition to the best strategies for promoting democracy as well as the country’s long-term stability.
The arguments presented in this book come from a variety of sources including newspapers such as the Boston Globe, Washington Post and the London Times. Several essays appear courtesy of such magazines as the New Republic, Atlantic Monthly and the Canadian periodical Maclean’s. Some material comes from assorted “think tanks”/nongovernmental organizations such as the International Crises Group and the Council on Foreign Relations. While the left side of the political spectrum seems well-represented, (with one opinion piece courtesy of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan) I think the collection could have used one or two more pieces from the right to balance it out a bit more. While opinion pieces from political leaders generally tend to be shallow and rhetorical, I was still pleased to see the inclusion of speeches from Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Afghan President/Mayor of Kabul Hamid Karzai. Lastly, it also included the text of a very good interview originally broadcast on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
While the various authors featured in this anthology might strongly disagree on many things, overall there seems to be a consensus regarding Afghanistan’s lowly plight. To be blunt, the country is an absolute mess. Plagued by poverty, instability, corruption and illiteracy Afghanistan ranks at the bottom of every known quality of life index. Totally dependent on foreign aid, the country has the unenviable honor of being the world’s largest heroin exporter, supplying close to 90 per cent of the global supply. Add to the mix a bloody insurgency, a burgeoning youth population with few employment prospects and a virtually nonexistent national infrastructure, Afghanistan has the classic characteristics of a failed state.