A long introduction sets out the historical context, and an equally long epilogue offers a severe appraisal of the U.S. and Western roles in Afghanistan since the defeat of the Taliban in 2001. Sandwiched in between are eight chapters offering different interpretations of the Taliban and "neo-Taliban" eras, the neologism "neo-Taliban" capturing well the revival of the Taliban's presence in much of Afghanistan since 2001. Some chapters emphasize the Pashtuns, the largest and historically dominant ethnic group in Afghanistan. Others stress the rural-urban split. Still others give greater importance to outsiders. One chapter treats the plight of women under Taliban rule and includes a coda noting that the liberation has not been all that complete. Another discusses the would-be moderate Taliban spokesmen and their interactions with outsiders during the period of Taliban rule (1996-2001). Yet another tentatively advances the thesis that the Taliban are one more example of a hinterland religio-political movement striking against the urban center, a category presented centuries ago by the Arab historian Ibn Khaldun. These diverse interpretations offer not a single overarching answer but a basis for weighing pre- and post-Taliban developments in Afghanistan.
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