Taliban leader's Biography: Humanising the monster

BOOK REVIEW: Humanising the monster — by Dr Mohammad Taqi, Daily Times, March 5, 2010

My life with the Taliban

By Abdul Salam Zaeef
Translated from Pashto and edited by Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn; Hurst/Columbia University Press; Pp 331

In his foreword to Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef’s book, Professor Barnett Rubin of New York University sets the stage for the launch, ostensibly, of a refreshingly authentic work of this inaccurate and revisionist take on contemporary Afghan history.

My Life with the Taliban, written by the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, has been praised across the board by the media ‘Afghanologists’ such as Ahmed Rashid and Peter Bergen to academics like Antonio Giustozzi of the London School of Economics, without any critical evaluation. Some, like Christina Lamb, have gone as far as calling it a must read.

To those of us who grew up in the NWFP or Afghanistan at the height of US-Saudi-Pakistani anti-Soviet war, the crude lies presented in the account are all too apparent from the get-go, as is the translators-cum-editors’ shallow understanding of the local languages and culture.

From the outset, the village prayer leader (imam) is presented as a religious scholar and mosque madrassa as almost the counterpart of Notre Dame University. The basic Arabic text booklet — Quaida Baghdadi — which all Muslim children from Kabul to Kolkata read as an Arabic primer, is mentioned as “Al-Quaida”, only to be differentiated from the terrorist group in a tedious footnote — of which there is no dearth in the book. Frivolous and superfluous information is dignified by stuffing such footnotes with it, as is the glossary and an initial biography section. A flurry of names and events — as insignificant as a pinprick on the skin of Afghan history — have been deployed to bloat the work to roughly 300 pages.

Zaeef has taken serious liberties with the truth, which, to their discredit, the reviewers and endorsers have failed to point out. He confabulates that the Taliban were a distinct group during the anti-Soviet mujahideen wars and operated as such under their own identity and leadership.

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