First time in paperback, with a new Introduction and final chapter
World affairs expert and intrepid travel journalist Robert D. Kaplan braved the dangers of war-ravaged Afghanistan in the 1980s, living among the mujahidin--the "soldiers of god"--whose unwavering devotion to Islam fueled their mission to oust the formidable Soviet invaders. In Soldiers of God we follow Kaplan's extraordinary journey and learn how the thwarted Soviet invasion gave rise to the ruthless Taliban and the defining international conflagration of the twenty-first century.
Kaplan returns a decade later and brings to life a lawless frontier. What he reveals is astonishing: teeming refugee camps on the deeply contentious Pakistan-Afghanistan border; a war front that combines primitive fighters with the most technologically advanced weapons known to man; rigorous Islamic indoctrination academies; a land of minefields plagued by drought, fierce tribalism, insurmountable ethnic and religious divisions, an abysmal literacy rate, and legions of war orphans who seek stability in military brotherhood. Traveling alongside Islamic guerrilla fighters, sharing their food, observing their piety in the face of deprivation, and witnessing their determination, Kaplan offers a unique opportunity to increase our understanding of a people and a country that are at the center of world events.
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November 26, 2001
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Excerpt from Soldiers of God by Robert D. Kaplan
5. The Growth of a Commander As we all know, memory is selective. Individuals, like tribes and nations, continually revise their own pasts to conform with current self-images. This was especially true for the Pathans. "Facts," observed a British friend, "were so interwoven with fiction on the Northwest Frontier that one might as well unstitch all the carpets in the Khyber bazaar before finding a stitch of truth." Between trips inside, I fell into a pattern of seeing Abdul Haq at least two times a week. I have only Haq's word for the seminal events of his youth. But that was all I wanted. It was his attitudes and image of himself, rather than the bare-bones literal truth, that I was after. Haq's headquarters in a guarded Peshawar villa was one of the few places in the Third World I'd seen where real work--rather than the usual conspiracy-mongering over endless cups of tea--seemed to be done, where I knew that I was taking up valuable time. In the waiting room I always saw a group of muiahidin nervously clutching notes, waiting to see "Haji Sahab" (Mr. Haji). One entered Haq's private office only after removing one's shoes. Apart from that, his office had a surface resemblance to that of any businessman or lawyer in the West. Haq would usually be talking on one of his two desk phones while simultaneously reading a report and writing notes on a separate sheet of paper. Next to the two phones were a small globe and a red desk lamp. Papers were stacked at neat right angles to the other objects on the desk and separated into "in" and "out" piles. Behind the desk on the wall was a large map of Soviet posts in Kabul. (In the adjacent "war room" was a nine-foot- high Soviet wall map of Afghanistan, with a sandbox that had markers for planning battles: this was the room where John Gunston's pictures were displayed.) Haq, always dressed in a grayshalwar kameezand vest--the equivalent of a pin-striped suit in the West--would be on the phone for a few minutes after I came in the office. Inevitably, a succession of mujahidin would file in, take seats opposite him, make a request, and give him a note to initial before being ushered out to receive a stack of money from Haq's Tajik accountant. The tone of each man was submissive. Listening to their requests, Haq looked discerning, impassive, and slightly smug, as if he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he could accurately size up the character and actions of every man under his command. His was a face that at times reminded me of Marlon Brando playing Don Vito Corleone in the opening scene ofThe Godfather. Profusely apologizing for the interruptions, Haq would hobble over to the couch opposite me, order tea, and patiently submit to my queries about his life. He took only one lump of sugar in his tea and didn't smoke--unusual for an Oriental male. Scratching his beard, he would joke: "The eyes of a journalist scare me almost as much as the eyes of a doctor with a knife about to cut into my foot." Abdul Haq was born Abdul Rauf on April 23,1958, in Nangarhar province west of Jalalabad. But he spent his first years in the faraway southern province of Helmand, near Iran and Pakistan, where his father, Mohammed Aman, was the representative of a Nangarhar construction company. A clash of wills between the two dominated Haq's first childhood memories. In his mind, he and his father were the only actors on stage. The rest of the family didn't exist. The eerie Helmand steppes provided a beautiful yet threatening background. "I was on a bus with my father," Haq said. "For hours I was asking him questions. I don't remember about what, but I kept asking them. He got so tired of my questions that he started screaming and slapped me. Everybody on the bus was a stranger. We didn't have any friends in Helmand. I was four. It is my ea