Kristian Berg Harpviken
Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)
Abbas has produced the first book-length analysis of the Afghan Taliban after they returned to power in August 2021. The book is based on a range of interviews as well as written sources, and it is a very useful review of the current state of knowledge. The purpose, states the author in the book's introduction, is to 'tell the story of the Taliban's transition, from the old world of self-styled clerics to the new world of young, mobile-holding, tec-savvy morality police with the world as their oyster' (p. 15). The first of six chapters deals with the last days of the Afghan republic and the Taliban's take-over in 2021. A next chapter profiles the Taliban leadership, followed by chapter three, which examines the group's transition from two decades of resistance to governing a country. Chapter four examines the religious dimension and the way it informs the Taliban's state project. Next, Abbas turns to the Taliban's relationship to other militants in Afghanistan, both its violent rivalry with the Islamic State in Khorasan (ISKP) and its uneasy alliance with the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), before a last substantial chapter discussing the Taliban's troubled international relations. Abbas' concluding chapter sternly criticizes the international response to the Taliban and the consequences this has for common Afghans and sees it as most realistic that – for the foreseeable future – the Taliban will muddle along without moderation, but stay in power. The book falls short of providing us with an analytical apparatus to understand the Taliban and its transition, but it captures well the internal tensions and analytical uncertainties.