Small Wars Journal

Graveyard of Empires

Afghanistan: Graveyard of Empires: A New History of the Borderland

David Isby

ISBN 978-1-60598-9 Cloth $28.95 6 x9 xxii, 440 pages

Afghanistan, Graveyard of Empires, published by Pegasus Books in New York, is an in-depth analysis of the conflicts currently taking place in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The author sees Afghanistan as defined by distinct but interconnected conflicts that are currently shaping its future. The book concentrates on the realities of these conflicts in Afghanistan. In Pakistan, internal instability threatens the future of its neighbours as well. The book also makes recommendations for effective future policies.

An illuminating history of modern Afghanistan: the story of a country caught in a vortex of terror. Veteran defense analyst and Afghanistan expert David Isby provides an insightful and meticulously researched look at the current situation in Afghanistan, her history, and what he believes must be done so that the US and NATO coalition can succeed in what has historically been known as "the graveyard of empires."

Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world with one of the lowest literacy rates. It is rife with divisions between ethnic groups that dwarf current schisms in Iraq, and all the groups are lead by warlords who fight over control of the drug trade as much as they do over religion. The region is still racked with these confrontations along with conflicts between rouge factions from Pakistan, with whom relations are increasingly strained. After seven years and billions of dollars in aid, efforts at nation-building in Afghanistan has produced only a puppet regime that is dependent on foreign aid for survival and has no control over a corrupt police force nor the increasingly militant criminal organizations and the deepening social and economic crisis.

The task of implementing an effective US policy and cementing Afghani rule is hampered by what Isby sees as separate but overlapping conflicts between terrorism, narcotics, and regional rivalries, each requiring different strategies to resolve. Pulling these various threads together will be the challenge for the Obama administration, yet it is a challenge that can be met by continuing to foster local involvement and Afghani investment in the region.

David Isby, the author, has published three previous books on Afghanistan, written extensively in journals such as USA Today, Jane's Intelligence Review, Jane's Defense Weekly and other publications, testified before House and Senate committees as an independent expert, and has appeared discussing Afghanistan on CNN, PBS News Hour, the McLaughlin Group, C-SPAN, the BBC, the Voice of America and many other broadcasts. The author has spent much time on the ground in Afghanistan and Pakistan, starting in the 1980s. Afghanistan, Graveyard of Empires is available at bookstores nationwide and on-line from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell's and others.


I don't understand what question this book is supposed to answer. Imtiaz Gul has a better handle on what's happening in Pakistan; Tom Barfield has a better handle on Afghanistan. Paddy Docherty has a more comprehensive history of the area around the Khyber Pass. And Victoria Schofield has already written about the "Trans-Durand" area in multiple books.

So, what's the value-added? To be honest, the "Graveyard of Empires" line makes me instantly distrust any analysis it might contain.