Thomas Barfield introduced the audience to the bewildering diversity of tribal and ethnic groups in [...]Afghanistan, explaining what unites them as Afghans despite the regional, cultural, and political differences that divide them. He showed how governing these peoples was relatively easy when power was concentrated in small dynastic elite, but how this delicate political order broke down in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries when Afghanistan's rulers mobilized rural militias to expel first the British and later the Soviets. Armed insurgency proved remarkably successful against the foreign occupiers, but it also undermined the Afghan government's authority and rendered the country ever more difficult to govern as time passed. Barfield vividly described how Afghanistan's armed factions plunged the country into a civil war, giving rise to clerical rule by the Taliban and Afghanistan's isolation from the world. He examines why the American invasion in the wake of September 11 toppled the Taliban so quickly, and how this easy victory lulled the United States into falsely believing that a viable state could be built just as easily.
Thomas Barfield is professor of anthropology at Boston University. His books include The Perilous Frontier: Nomadic Empires and China, 221 BC to AD 1757; The Central Asian Arabs of Afghanistan; and Afghanistan: An Atlas of Indigenous Domestic Architecture.