In This Review

Afghanistan: The Soviet Invasion and the Afghan Response, 1979-1982
Afghanistan: The Soviet Invasion and the Afghan Response, 1979-1982
By M. Hassan Kakar
University Of California Press, 1995, 380 pp

Kakar explicates the other side of the war. He turns the victims of the Soviet invasion into something other than a ferocious but faceless opposition, and indeed all Afghan parties to the conflict emerge with meaningful biographies. Not only does he convey the differences among the factions and key groups that ruled under the protection of Soviet military might, but he explains them in terms of the country's complex social and ethnic composition. More important, he draws distinctions among the Islamists, summarizing their ideas and inspiring thinkers, tracing the conflicts between them and the traditional communal leaders whom they frequently attempted to replace, and sorting out their complex connections with Afghan organizations outside the country's borders. More than anything else, the book is an account of what happened in Afghanistan--in the cities, villages, schools, refugee camps, and prisons where the author spent five years.

Kakar's attempt to explain Soviet behavior before and during the war largely fails, in part because he is simply too distant from the subject and in part because his sources represent only a fraction of those now available. Much to the author's credit, however, and notwithstanding the limited period that he covers, his elaborate sifting of who was fighting whom and for what reasons sheds great light on the violence that has continued long after the last Soviet soldier left.