Afghanistan Revealed: Beyond the Headlines

AfghanistanRevealedby Caroline Richards & Jules Stewart

“It would be a tragedy to fail Afghanistan; to allow our economic problems, war weariness and conflicts elsewhere in the world to distract us at this important juncture in the country’s political, social and economic development. If the Afghan people lose confidence in the West the consequences could be serious for us and potentially devastating for them.”

In other words, “in for a penny, in for a pound.”

Because the war of words is as unwinnable as the war with weapons this book doesn’t waste energy on rehashing just how the wider world ever got roped into making the fight in Afghanistan its “project” in the first place but seeks to give people who want to be done with it a reason for not walking away cold turkey. Besides, another proverb is true too: “For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.” Many things in recent years have been decreed to be “too big too fail”—Afghanistan and the global consequences if it cannot attain stability must surely be one of them.

Now, as Western military forces are “withdrawing after almost ten years of bitter and inconclusive combat there,” it is clearer than ever that Afghanistan will not disappear from the headlines for years and years to come. The quote in the preceding sentence, incidentally, is not related to the 2014 withdrawal of NATO-led combat troops but from a 2006 book about the futility of a 1988 air campaign waged by the “Limited Contingent of Soviet Forces in Afghanistan” prior to the Russians calling it quits.

Standing at what historian W.K. Fraser-Tytler calls “the meeting point of three great empires,” Afghanistan has a history, a long, long history of being the buffer between larger centers of powers that are unfriendly towards each other. This long and often bloody history is too complex for soundbites and headlines and so this book offers insights into the country’s and the conflicts’ roots, politics, and psychology. It also wants to offer—hope. This hope is not based on the unrealistic notion that all of a sudden “we’ll all just get along” but by accepting that the multitude of conflicts cannot be “ended” and therefore need to be “managed” in a way that no longer leads to violence but can be addressed in the arena of politics. More talking, less shooting.

To that end native and foreign scholars, historians, journalists, photographers, aid workers, policy makers have compiled this book of essays portraying the early Aryan migrations and the emergence of Islam, the country’s role as a key Central Asian trade center, the Anglo-Afghan wars and the Soviet invasion, and the present-day—and, hopefully, future—post-Taliban state. The thoughts they seek to impart are to be the antidote to gloom and doom and never, ever breaking the downward spiral that is the “eye for an eye” school of thought.

This book is not all lofty concepts and dusty history but also culture and cuisine. Seventy percent of the country’s population is under 25 years—its native children have as much to discover about their own country as foreigners do! Being in essay form does mean that certain strands of the story get picked up by more than one writer, meaning there is some repetition—but repetition is part of learning, no?

Caroline Richards’s husband is General Sir David Richards who commanded the International Security Forces in Afghanistan in 2006/7. She (and others) founded the Afghan Appeal Fund in 2006 which champions educational projects and the building of schools; all projects from the sale of this book go to the AAF.


Copyright 2014, Charly Baumann (

Afghanistan Revealed: Beyond the Headlines
by Caroline Richards & Jules Stewart
Frontline Books/Pen & Sword, 2014
304 pages, 15 color photos, hardcover
List Price: $39.95 / £25
ISBN-13: 978-1848327542

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