After the Taliban
KABUL IN WINTER
Life Without Peace in Afghanistan
By Ann Jones
Metropolitan. 321 pp. $24
THREE CUPS OF TEA
One Man's Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations . . . One School at a Time
By Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
Viking. 338 pp. $25.95
The harsh beauty of Afghanistan has always lured a certain hardy breed of Westerner, and the few who linger there inevitably become both addicted and disillusioned. Despite the overthrow of the repressive Taliban and the advent of democracy in 2001, the country continues to vex as much as it inspires -- and the continuing deep U.S. involvement in its rebirth compels us to examine why.
In her aptly titled Kabul in Winter , Ann Jones, a journalist and women's rights activist, presents an especially bleak portrait of post-Taliban Afghanistan, depicting a cruel and opportunistic place where foreign aid money vanishes into a thousand tunic pockets, where women are trapped in prisons of family and cultural tradition, and where concepts such as accountability and the rule of law are often viewed as naive, foreign abstractions.
Much of what Jones writes rings true, especially about the thick barriers that thwart her attempts to promote the legal rights of Afghan women. And some of her descriptions approach poetry: "Kabul in winter is the color of the dust . . . a fine particulate lifted by winds from old stone mountains and sifted over the city like flour . . . . Dust fills the lungs, tightens the chest, lies in the eyes like gravel, so that you look out on this obscure drab landscape always through something like tears." Unfortunately, Jones, who writes frequently on women and violence, tends to veer into sarcastic, semi-vulgar and unsubstantiated diatribes against the Bush administration and U.S. foreign policy, thus undermining the power of her argument. She repeatedly refers to the current president as "Bush the Lesser" and glibly tars all U.S. officials as people who "knew nothing about Afghanistan and cared less," except as a potential venue for an oil pipeline.