My Life with the Taliban is the autobiography of Abdul Salam Zaeef, a former senior member of Afghanistan's Taliban and a principal actor in its domestic and foreign affairs. Translated for the first time from the Pashto, Zaeef's words share more than a personal history of an unusual life. They supply a counternarrative to standard accounts of Afghanistan since 1979.
Zaeef shares his experiences as a poor youth in rural Kandahar. Both his parents died when he was young, and Russia's invasion in 1979 forced Zaeef to flee to Pakistan. In 1983, Zaeef joined the jihad against the Soviets, fighting alongside several major figures of the anti-Soviet resistance, including current Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar. After the war, he returned to his quiet life in Helmand, but factional conflicts soon broke out, and Zaeef, disgusted by the ensuing lawlessness, joined with other former mujahidin to form the Taliban, which assumed power in 1994.
Zaeef recounts his time with the organization, first as a civil servant and then as a minister who negotiated with foreign oil companies and Ahmed Shah Massoud, the leader of the Afghani resistance. Zaeef served as ambassador to Pakistan at the time of 9/11, and his testimony sheds light on the "phoney war" that preceeded the U.S.-led intervention. In 2002, Zaeef was delivered to the American forces operating in Pakistan and spent four and a half years in prison, including several years in Guantanamo, before being released without trial or charge. His reflections offer a privileged look at the communities that form the bedrock of the Taliban and the forces that motivate men like Zaeef to fight. They also provide an illuminatingperspective on life in Guantanamo.
The recent history of Afghanistan is the focus of this harrowing autobiography by Taliban member Zaeef. The book begins with the author’s early childhood before turning to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and Zaeef’s decision to join the mujahideen resistance. Countering conventional accounts that the Taliban emerged in the 1990s, Zaeef maintains that the movement existed as early as the 1970s. The author traces his rise in the Taliban to his appointment as ambassador to Pakistan in 2000, and his subsequent arrest and imprisonment in Guantánamo Bay after September 11 and the fall of the Taliban regime. He describes the psychological and physical torture he and his fellow prisoners suffered at the hands of American soldiers and concludes with a vehement denunciation of American policy in Afghanistan. Zaeef’s matter-of-fact prose can be difficult to take in the more violent segments, particularly those that deal with the Soviet invasion and Guantánamo Bay, and some readers may be offended by his fiercely anti-American political stance. However partisan the book may be, it is a valuable addition to the literature on contemporary Afghan history. (Mar.)