Posted by: Christian | March 28, 2008

Koran, Kalashnikov and Laptop: A Book Review

For my first book review I present Koran, Kalashnikov and Laptop: The Neo-Taliban Insurgency in Afghanistan by Antonio Giustozzi (published in the US by Cornell University Press). The book covers events from the fall of the Taliban to their resurgence up until early summer 2007.

Released last November, the book is priced quite reasonably at about $16 for the hardcover version on Amazon and is a quick read at 239 pages. The author, Antonio Giustozzi, previously published War, Politics and Society in Afghanistan, 1978-1992(2000). Dr. Giustozzi is a research fellow at The London School of Economics’ Crisis States Research Centre, where he has been publishing frequently from.

A reviewer on the back cover calls the book “…balanced, objective, and unsensationalized…” I generally agree with this assessment and could find no unspoken agenda on the part of Giustozzi. That does not mean I agreed with every single point Giustozzi makes in the book. But with that being said, Giustozzi usually lays out both sides of the argument on most issues/controversies he raises, before siding (sometimes cautiously) with one account. He often play the devil’s advocate when offering up alternative hypotheses, a role that may annoy some but which is a requirement of sound analysis.

Giustozzi sets out to answer these questions: How did the “Taliban” manage a significant recovery? And what factors allowed this to happen? In seeking to answer these questions Giustozzi is honest and acknowledges the time constraints involved. He stresses the urgency of publishing this book immediately as opposed to waiting for a few years and then offering up a more comprehensive analysis that benefits from hindsight. I find the book a timely and valuable addition and I glad he chose to publish it now.

How is the book structured? Here is a look at the chapters:

  • 1. Sources of the insurgency
  • 2. How and why the Taliban recruited
  • 3. Organisation of the Taliban
  • 4. The Taliban’s strategy
  • 5. Military tactics of the insurgency
  • 6. The counter-insurgency effort


Giustozzi’s main thesis is that “…despite the role of foreign sponsors, the insurgency would not have succeeded in becoming anything more than a mere annoyance if it had not been able to exploit the intrinsic weaknesses of the Afghan state, both as originally conceived and as it was ‘rebuilt’ from 2001.” This does not mean that Giustozzi rests all the blame here. A significant amount of criticism is levelled at foreign military levels and tactics, the pathetic reconstruction effort, the sanctuary of Pakistan, etc…

One weakness, if one had to be mentioned, is the breadth of the analysis. It could be said that covering a 6 year period of the Taliban’s resurgence is narrowly focused, but from my perspective, which is much more localized, this seems very broad, perhaps too broad. A study of this type will never satisfy those who want a community-level anthropological analysis. So some issues are left as conjecture, or educated guessing if you will. Of course, I’m probably dreaming if I think I will ever be handed a study this broad that goes that deep into society.

To summarize, I was quite pleased with this book and I consider it a valuable addition to the literature. My rating? I give the book 8 AK47s out of a possible 10.

AK 47AK 47AK 47AK 47AK 47AK 47AK 47AK 47blankblankblankblank


  1. I need your advice: do you know any book on COIN in Afghanistan?
    Stéphane TAILLAT

  2. […] 2001 to Whenever’, which is pretty self-explanatory, and the most recent post is a decent review of Antonio Giustozzi’s Koran, Kalashnikov and Laptop: The Neo-Taliban Insurgency in […]

  3. […] understanding of, the issues that still need to be addressed. I would suggest for further reading Giustozzi’s book which I reviewed […]

  4. […] infiltration corridor that crosses the Pakistani border. Via page 65 Antonio Giustozzi’s book Koran, Kalashnikov and Laptop: Nuristan […]

  5. I’m a little lost where the laptop comes into it? Is it that the book was writen on one??


%d bloggers like this: