Read The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban by Sarah Chayes Online


As a former star reporter for NPR, Sarah Chayes developed a devoted listenership for her on-site reports on conflicts around the world. In The Punishment of Virtue, she reveals the misguided U.S. policy in Afghanistan in the wake of the defeat of the Taliban, which has severely undermined the effort to build democracy and allowed corrupt tribal warlords back into positionsAs a former star reporter for NPR, Sarah Chayes developed a devoted listenership for her on-site reports on conflicts around the world. In The Punishment of Virtue, she reveals the misguided U.S. policy in Afghanistan in the wake of the defeat of the Taliban, which has severely undermined the effort to build democracy and allowed corrupt tribal warlords back into positions of power and the Taliban to re-infiltrate the country. This is an eyeopening chronicle that highlights the often infuriating realities of a vital front in the war on terror, exposing deeper, fundamental problems with current U.S. strategy....

Title : The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban
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ISBN : 9781594200960
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 386 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban Reviews

  • Will Byrnes
    2019-05-06 02:18

    Sarah Chayes offers an incisive, on-the-ground look at the reality of the conflict in Afghanistan. She informs her observations with historical research, ongoing contact with many significant political players in the country and the experience of living in the country for many years, and comes up with a better understanding of the forces at play than I have seen anywhere else. Her story begins while she is working as a foreign correspondent for NPR, and living with an Afghani family in Kandahar. Most telling, perhaps, is her recollection of the reaction to her stories by NPR management. It comes as no surprise to those of us who have mourned the right-wing tilt of much of NPR since the Republicans took control of Washington in 2000. (See for daily updates) So many mornings in my home have been interrupted by screams of outrage. I cannot imagine how unspeakable it must have been for a reporter of Chayes’ depth to have to confront such daily ignorance back home. Sorry, we don’t want to confuse the American public with nuance or any story that does not toe the extant political line. Thankfully, Chayes was offered an opportunity, outside of NPR, to do some good in a country she had come to love. Taking a position as a representative for a non-governmental-organization, or NGO, Chayes sought to make a difference in this broken country. Chayes offers us further insight in to the workings of non-profits in Afghanistan, but most of all tells us about how the Afghans relate to each other and to the USA and where those relationships fall in a historical perspective. You will learn a lot and find answers to questions you never thought to pose. Structurally, Chayes offers contrasting pictures of two main characters. Muhammad Akrem Khakrezwal was a police chief and ultimately a friend to Chayes, a bright, basically good guy who tried to do the right thing in the wrong place. Chayes attends his funeral in the opening chapter and pledges to find out who killed him. She offers us a history of his career, pointing out the influences that impacted his ability to function in this or that place and job. Gul Agha Shirzai is his shadow image, a warlord with considerable political savvy and very little by way of scruples. Following the trail of these two individuals offers considerable opportunity for explaining how things work in Afghanistan.It is a grim portrait Chayes paints. There was a time when Americans were indeed welcomed, and the Taliban reviled. But now, having seen how the USA drove out one band of psychopaths only to install another, patience with America has run out. Chayes goes into serious detail about how this works in the real world, why it is that the US selects this group or person to support while that or another group or person is ignored. One of the wonderful things about Chayes' book is that she offers several chapters on the history of Afghanistan. These help explain why some ethnic groups view each other with such suspicion and hostility, tradition.It was interesting to learn that the word “chain” refers not only to a set of overlapping metallic links, but also to having to pay off a chain of brigands in order to travel on major roads in the country. It was this chain that the Taliban was able to remove, but that the USA has inadvertently restored. She shows how the Taliban is pretty much a creation of Pakistan, designed to keep Afghanistan from becoming a functional nation. There is much reportage on specifics supporting the fact that without Pakistani support, the Taliban would never have become a major power in Afghanistan, and would not, now be resurgent there. Most alarming was the disappointment she felt with Karzai, the prime minister who seemed to have the charisma, intelligence and courage to lead the nation in a new direction. As it happens, not so much. And so, our hopes for the nation’s future are not reinforced. We get to see that there are many good people in Afghanistan. But the odds are against them.Chayes' story is one told from the living rooms of the powerful (she worked for one of Karzai’s relatives and had met with most of the important people in the nation) to the neighborhoods in which she lives, among the locals. Hers is a hands-on view, visceral, grounded, incisive, informative and compelling. The Punishment of Virtue is a clear must-read for anyone with an interest in goings on in that part of the world.P 74 [following the ouster of the Taliban from Kandahar in 2001:] it is no wonder many Kandaharis viewed the coming change with trepidation.“Now will be the era of robbers,” a young auto mechanic told me in late November 2001, after tribesmen had looted a warehouse for refugees just inside Afghanistan, in the last days of the U.S. bombing. I asked if he didn’t trust the tribal elders to maintain order after the Taliban departed.“No, I don’t.” He was emphatic. “They held power before, and they plundered the people and did bad things to them.” Other shopkeepers and small businessmen told of reverting to the defensive measures they had learned during the mujahideen nights: sleeping in different places each night, bringing all their wares home at the end of the day, and shuttering their empty stalls. P 101As Michael Barry analyzes it, leadership among Pashtuns is acquired by a pretender’s ability to extract wealth from a lowland power in one of those three familiar forms—plunder or tribute or subsidy—and distribute it among his men. Ahmed Shah’ ability in this regard was undeniable. P 101[Afghanistan:] is a state founded not on a set of thoughts held in common and articulated through texts and institutions, but rather a state founded on the strategic nature of its territory—the crux between empires. It is a state founded on a fluid and tenuous interaction between collective structures, structures of nation, of tribe, of family, and a highly developed sense of freedom, a violent aversion to submission.P 107[In Kandahar:] there was no hostility to the American presence. On the contrary, Kandaharis were looking to the Americans for help. They expected the Americans to help them gain their country back, help them rein in their own leaders’ well-remembered corruption, help them come up with a new version of qanum, of law and order, which would be a little less repressive than the Taliban’s rendition. Help them start making something of themselves. I told this to the young marine. I told him U.S. soldiers were in zero danger. They were seen as Kandahar’s ticket out of backwardness.“That’s really interesting,” the marine replied. “I had a feeling that’s how things were. See, they keep giving us these briefings about the situation here, and I’ve been wondering if they’re bullshitting us. They keep saying this is a combat mission. ‘Combat?’ I’m saying. ‘What combat?’ There’s nothing happening out here. I’m feeling pretty dumb in this hole in the ground. And I’m getting a little ticked off too. I think they’re taking advantage of us. I feel like we’re just a symbol—like a great big American flag stuck in the dirt out here. What’s the use of that? I’d like to do something real. I’d like to get out there and start building that road.I wanted to throw my arms around the kid. “And you know what?” I said. “If you built the road, it would do more for your security than another thousand guys out here in foxholes. The Afghans would protect you. If they saw you helping them, they would take care of you. I had this entire conversation down on tape. It was going in my story. Because, like the tale young Fayda had told me on the way to Kandahar a couple of weeks before, it seemed to hold the crux of what was already going wrong.But my editor nixed it. She said there was nothing new or interesting in this conversation. Soldiers are always disgruntled. This marine was just the same as every other grunt.

  • Anand Gopal
    2019-04-29 00:55


  • 40brown
    2019-05-14 22:17

    I have (finally!) finished reading “The Punishment of Virtue; Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban,” by Sarah Chayes. It took as lot longer than I thought it would to finish it. I am both sorry and glad it is over.This is an intriguing and complex look at warlordism in Afghanistan. It is at times thrilling, a true page turner, made even more exciting by the fact that it is a true insider’s account of post 9-11 Afghanistan. Sarah Chayes certainly knows Afghanistan like no one else - she has lived and worked there, researched elusive primary sources and intimately mingled with leaders throughout the country. She does an amazing job of explaining warlordism, its roots and current implications, though sometimes the purely historical chapter can be a bit of a laborious read.That being said, I have a few complaints.Ms. Chayes’s background is in radio- it was as a reporter for NPR that she first went to Afghanistan. There are times in this book that it seems written for radio, rather than print. Not a lot, but enough to make you reread a sentence here and there to make sure you understand. There were many times, too, when the descriptions got overly multisyllabic - lots of million dollar words - enough to detract from the setting she was trying so hard to describe. Its been a long time since I needed a dictionary so often while reading a book in English. Her command of vocabulary is impressive- just sometimes a little disruptive.Beyond writing style, Ms. Chayes sets herself apart from other foreigners in country. She more than once looks down on aid workers, chastising them for their Thursday night parties and their lack of continuity (in this case not staying in country long enough). She also criticized aid organizations for “being played” by the Afghans, Pakistanis and Americans. That aid becomes political is to some degree inevitable in any country. She condemns them with an attitude of knowing better, when in fact in the end, she doesn’t.Its absolutely beguiling how she places herself right in the middle of reconstruction politics. She is certainly well connected, working personally with local governors, police chiefs, and the president’s brother. She also holds company with US ambassadorial and military higher ups, Afghan cabinet members and President Karzai himself. Its difficult to tell sometimes, however, whether she is a trusted consult or an opinionated pest. She certainly has strong and well founded opinions of what needed to happen, but it felt like she shared them in such patronizing ways. For example, a memo she drafted for President Karzai was entitled, “How to Fire a Warlord in 8 Easy Steps.” Having never met President Karzai, I guess I can’t judge, but it seems like offering him something akin to “Running Afghanistan for Dummies” is a bit pompous.All in all, it is a very good book. Ms. Chayes has left no stone unturned in this book. It makes me wish I had paid more attention to names and titles during the Afghan elections, and it certainly makes me more aware of the politics going on today. It is a must read for anyone interested in Afghan politics, development or history. You will learn a lot from this book. You will look at Afghanistan a little differently after reading it. It might take you a little longer than you might think (to get through the history chapters) but you’ll be glad you did.

  • Matthew Trevithick
    2019-05-01 19:57

    Great title, not a very informative book. Despite Sebastian Junger's line on the back ("Every American who wants to know why planes flew into buildings on Sept 11 must buy this book"), this book has nothing to do with that. Nor is Ahmed Rashid or Steve Coll right in their reviews. I work in Afghanistan (been here 7 months, will be here for 15+ more) and to be honest... by and large, the things she describes are just not all that significant. The murder of her friend (and subsequent investigation) were interesting, but the rest of it... not so much. She makes huge sweeping statements about minor things - she discusses how, when one foreigner working in Kandahar was killed, 'a line had been crossed.' Really? This country sees dozens of people die every week. The project she worked on (building a few houses) will not contribute substantially to the well-being of Afghanistan in the future. Her ideas ("How to fire a warlord in 8 easy steps" - really, she writes the full thing right in the book) are silly - she introduces this topic (how to fire warlords) with a bit of humor, but then later gets angry when her document isn't taken seriously by... anybody, be they US Ambassadors or Karzai. Her chapters go all over the place - during her personal narrative (the book reads more like one long diary entry than anything else) she bounces around to big topics like 'the coming of islam' and chronicles various past empires and their involvement here. Towards the end of the book, we're getting chapters summarizing one or two months - she clearly just flew back into town, checked up on things, and left. These chapters are also only a few pages long - literally, less than 5 in several cases. As for her conclusion, she writes the words 'this isn't much of a conclusion.' I totally agree - she wanted this book to be something taken seriously (clearly) but all in all, she didn't have a really unique experience that would let her do that. She knows a few people, but everyone (really) has met the people she writes about. She has a few ideas, but many people have better ideas. She has built a few houses - most people do far more than that while they're here. Many work on long-term, big-picture projects designed to give Afghanistan what it really needs (infrastructure and education) rather than cosmetic updates - a house painted here, a farm cooperative there. She had a few interesting lines on the impact of the Soviet invasion and what it did to Afghan 'courage'.Don't let this be the first book you read about Afghanistan.

  • Ruth
    2019-05-01 20:17

    This was a very interesting read about what was happening in Afghanistan after September 11. Sarah Chayes was a reporter who spent some time in the country while the war was going on and after the war when the government was being established. She was close to some high officials in the Afghan government and met many more. Her story seemed slightly biased in that she was very loyal to a few people and portrayed them as nearly perfect in her book; in reality, they may not have been as angelic as she described them to be. But her experience was an eye-opening one and I'm very glad I read it.What saddens me about this book is that I walked away with a sense of hopelessness about Afghanistan's government. The Afghan culture is so diverse. There are so many different subcultures that have deep grudges against one another and are very loyal to their own friends, families, tribes; everyone is expected to pay favors to their own people and take what they can from the others. This tradition breeds much of the corruption in the country's government. Officials have such an incentive to do things that benefit their clan - it is what is expected of them - but much of the time to do this they must ignore the greater good of the country as a whole. Afghanistan's recent history just seems to be that of one corrupt official replacing another, and Sarah's book did not seem to offer any hope of an end to this. Many officials that did damage to the country were put into power by our own government, although I'm not sure what the alternative would have been, as Sarah makes it sound like there are very few Afghans who are interested in doing things diplomatically. This book doesn't give much in terms of a solution to the problems Afghanistan's government is facing, but it was interesting to read and I feel like I know a bit more about what was happening behind the scenes because I read it.

  • Gaijinmama
    2019-04-20 19:13

    This is a heart-wrenching first-person account of an NPR journalist who ends up quitting her job and basing herself inKandahar to run a nonprofit organization and try to do some real good for the people of Afghanistan.This is not an objective account. She makes it clear right from the start that she is VERY angry about the way things in Afghanistan have been handled on all sides. She has an agenda and is absolutely certain of the rightness of her cause and methods. Also, this cause is most definitely personal for Chayes. The book is dedicated to a good friend of hers who was assassinated by a suicide bomber, and it begins and ends with his funeral.If someone blew up my friend, I'd take it personally, too. Good on Chayes for actually doing something with her anger.Righteous anger, properly channeled, is an effective tool for change.I was particularly impressed that she took the time to go to the Kandahar public library for historical research(is that amazing or what? Kandahar still has a public library!) , and took this research seriously enoughto give the librarian her passport so she could take out some books!!

  • Joyce
    2019-05-03 00:58

    This is a weird little number. The author was a reporter for National Public Radio and went in with the U.S. invasion in 2001. She was charmed by both the people and the region she went to - Kandahar. So she left NPR, set up her own charity organization and settled in to do good. She is quickly disillusioned by the U.S. military and government's lack of understanding of the Afghan people and the continuing role Pakistan has been playing in keeping things stirred up. Also, she's a bit too self-important for my taste, but she did do some research on Afghanistan's history and that was interesting.

  • James Welch
    2019-05-17 21:56

    Drawing upon her firsthand experiences in the country, Ms Chayes gives a vivid account of life in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Her description of the initial invasion of Afghanistan by the US and its allies is wonderfully detailed. Additionally, her insight on major leaders and power players in Southern Afghanistan provides a better understanding of the political landscape.

  • Caitlin
    2019-05-14 22:52

    An amazing account of both the history of Afghanistan and its current problems, largely as a result of American mismanagement. Highly recommended to anyone who wants to understand the current conflict.

  • Jen
    2019-05-07 01:04

    A much more personal viewpoint on the days just after 9/11 than normal, very informative, but as always, remember to be healthy skeptical.

  • Joel Justiss
    2019-05-11 21:05

    Chayes gives a first-hand look at the politics and society of southern Afghanistan from 2001 to 2005, with some chapters on the history of the area since the ninth century. She tells a tragic story of a country steeped in tribalism, a government saddled with a tradition of corruption, and damaging U.S. policies based on misunderstandings of the Afghan social power structure.11 I don’t believe in the clash of civilizations. I believe that most human beings share basic aspirations and values.It seemed urgent to me to counteract the tendency to caricature. My background and abilities equipped me. I could talk to people on both sides of the alleged divide. I could help them hear each other.57 My editor wins, so I never get to tell the story I think is key to what kind of Afghanistan will emerge from U.S. intervention. I’m doing that now.68 A tribe’s feeling for its ancestral territory ran deeper than its loyalties to the institutions of national government. So when that empire or national government came under attack, Afghans were quick to dissolve it, and run like water between the fingers of their would-be conquerors.123 Afghanistan defeated the British in the 1878 second Anglo-Afghan war, as it would the Soviets a hundred years later, by dissolving.129 Fighting a war at a distance is an invitation to disaster. [Heterogeneous groups that join forces to fight their biggest common enemy are generally more successful than those who fight each other first.:]169 Westerners, to a degree unique in history, invest their loyalty in institutions, regardless of the individuals who happen to be staffing them at a particular time.But Afghanistan is not there yet. In Afghanistan, loyalties and allegiances are to individuals.181 – 185 Governor Shirzai exerted a high degree of control over U.S./Afghan interaction, selectively permitting and distorting communication to promote his own interests.193 By supporting warlords like Shirzai, American policy in Afghanistan was not encouraging democracy, it was institutionalizing violence.236 By refusing to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on climate change or the Land Mine Treaty, and by seeking to undermine the International Criminal Court, the United States seemed to be sticking out its tongue at the rest of the world, and the rest of the world had no leverage to respond.Afghanistan is a place where mutually assured destruction remains a viable doctrine. It is a culture retribution.237 The way to stay safe in Kandahar was to suggest the certainty of violent revenge should you be killed or dishonored, so as to deter attack be it is undertaken.237 – 238 The humanitarian community expects its neutrality to assure its safe conduct of its mission, but aid workers are now in the crosshairs themselves. Their services tend to reduce polarization and extremism, which is detrimental to the goals of militants. Humanitarian workers are the principal foes of extremists.241 – 242 Pakistan supports religious extremists as a way to maintain an upper hand in the regional balance of power, especially vis-à-vis India.243 Pakistan welcomed Usama bin Laden’s aid to the Taliban, but his agenda was global, not local. He wanted to provoke world war. After 9/11, Pakistan stopped protecting Al-Qaeda operatives, but detained dozens of them and turned them over one a time in exchange for U.S. indulgence.244 Pakistan continues to support the Taliban.285 I would up briefing officers of the Twenty-fifth Light Infantry Division by way of a coincidence. No concerted effort was being made to educate the army about the radically new peacetime nation-building duties that had been thrust upon it.286 The U.S. Army, I discovered to my disbelief, had no institutional memory at all. How is it that an organization as rich in capabilities and resources as the U.S. government can so neglect the fundamental task of learning?310 – 311 The September 11 terrorist attacks were designed to help bring about some version of the “clash of civilizations.” Those attacks were an effort to force people—Muslims as well as Westerners—to withdraw from contact and exchange with each other, and to acquiesce to oppressive policies at home and bloody ones abroad that they might not really approve of, because the situation seemed to warrant them, and because the other side no longer seemed to be composed of human beings.

  • Steve Van Slyke
    2019-05-04 19:56

    It's a sobering look at the realities of life in Afghanistan. One of the prime points that emerges is that there is not one, nor even three (as in the case of Iraq) entities to deal with to reach an agreement on how the country should be governed. There are instead a multitude of tribes. It would be as if the British, instead of coming to North America to colonize in the 1600s, had come instead come to help the native population establish a national government. How do you get tribes that have been attacking each other, as a way of making a living for 1000s of years, sit down and decide on a mutually agreeable form of government.According to the author, if you ask the average Afghan, they would love to have a national government that provided security, justice, education and a commercial infrastructure. The question is, how to get from "Warlordism" and tribilism to something that approaches that ideal. The irony is that it is the US and coalition forces that brought the warlords back into power after the Taliban were defeated. Now, the Afghan people see the US as making things worse rather than better.The author comes across as an incredibly brave and self-sacrificing person, giving up her job to start a civilian aid organization. Unlike other aid workers who live in secure compounds with other ex-pats, she chooses to live with the Afghans. And unlike many journalistic books about wars where the writer is strictly an observer, in this case Sarah Chayes is one of the prime players, dealing with President Karzai, his staff, the warlords and the military, trying to directly influence their tactics and policies. This is what makes the book beyond ordinary.In recent interviews (4/10) with the author it sounds as though not a lot has improved since her book was published. The new administration's strategy appears to deal almost exclusively with the military aspects with little or no planning or proportional effort on the civilian government aspects.Based on this book I would say the US needs to either figure out how to help delivier a responsive government, or get out of the way and let the Afghan people muddle through it themselves. All we seem to be doing is shedding blood and providing stacks of money to warlords who in turn pay it out in patronage, even to the insurgents that are attacking US forces.

  • Ron
    2019-04-29 23:01

    This highly readable book is part memoir and part political analysis. The author, a former overseas NPR correspondent, describes her sojourn over the years 2001-2005 in Kandahar, the ancient capital of Afghanistan, where she worked for an Afghan-based NGO and, as an instinctive investigative reporter, formed her own assessment of the political forces at work in that post-Taliban city.Her conclusions are both alarming and disheartening. She comes to believe that Pakistan is the root cause of political instability in Afghanistan and that through its support of warlords it uses resurgent Taliban forces to manipulate and regain control of large parts of the country. More discouraging is the author's portrayal of President Hamid Karzai as an intelligent, gifted, and cultured man who is often ineffectual as a leader.The book is framed by the account of an assassination of the Kabul chief of police, a man of unusual integritiy and ability (hence the book's title) and its subsequent coverup as a suicide bombing. Set against him is the power-hungry and corrupt governor of Kandahar, who has won the confidence of the Americans while secretly amassing a fortune that he uses to fund a private army, meanwhile working deals with Pakistan to keep alive the threat of Taliban terrorism that makes the Americans even more dependent on him.There are large swathes of Afghan and Persian history woven into this modern-day accounting, which reveal patterns of political and cultural forces at play that go back to Alexander the Great. Vividly written, the book provides a disturbing portrayal of failed leadership on the part of both the U.S. and the current government in Kabul. Read it and weep.

  • Aisling
    2019-05-08 19:08

    An amazing account of Afghanistan post Taliban by former NPR reporter Sarah Chayes. A fascinating insider account of the opposing forces, duplicity, backsliding, lies and downright stupidity that has plagued that country.What an extraordinary brave woman Ms Chayes is and she clearly loves Afghanistan and it's people and has gained a superb understanding of the culture and character of the Afgha people but she does not allow that love to blind her to the negatives. Amazing that a woman journalist should be able to gain the trust and regard of powerful men in this staunchly conservative country.I found her blunt views on NGO's and humanitarian agencies enlightening and long overdue ... "humanitarian agencies devise projects within driving distance of their spacious headquarters, and new restaurants open to cater to the foreign crowds". Further in the book she asks "what civilian NGO has post-operation assessment built into its mode of functioning?" Extraordinary given the vast budgets they are given control over. She is equally scathing of US policy (or lack thereof) and the interm Afgan government but it is Pakistan that really gets the brunt of her displeasure.This is a brilliant book for anyone interested in looking beyond bare news headlines and really getting to know the history of conflict and IMO is required reading if we care at all about what our world. It should also be required reading for anyone interest in being a journalist or reporter.

  • Giuliana
    2019-04-26 20:49

    Sarah Chayes was an NPR reporter until she was sent to Kandahar. She decided then to quit her reporting job, learn Pashto, and help the Afghan people rebuild their homes and start cooperatives. More than that, her judgment and willingness to adopt the Afghan way of life allowed her to work as intermediary between the Afghani people and the U.S. military. This wonderful, passionate, and engaging book retells Chayes' first years in Afghanistan and presents a moving portrait of the Afghan people. It also chronicles how the U.S. government wasted every single opportunity to help the Afghan people rebuild their cities and their lives. Afghanistan is a country mired into collective post-traumatic stress. Its increasingly disconnected cities are ravaged daily by warlords, and the Afghan people are coping with the fact that the U.S. intervention in their country was only a pit-stop in the race towards the war in Iraq.In the middle of all this, Sarah Chayes maintains a combative spirit and, most importantly, a lucid mind. Her analysis of the Afghan situation and the story of her involvement in the local politics and economics will open your eyes on one of the big tragedies of our time. Please read this book!!!

  • Diane
    2019-04-22 17:56

    The author tells the story of her entering Afghanistan as an NPR reporter when the war first began after 911. She then became an NGO employee, and finally, a business woman making soap and moisturing products from the resources around Kandahar. Since Kandahar was the home of the Taliban who were just ousted before she arrived as a reporter, the city was still dangerous. However she insisted on staying with the people in Kandahar rather than with her fellow reporters or NGO workers. Through her many friendships and contacts, her reporter instincts, and sense of fairness, she begins to realize the treachery of the warlords, the Taliban, and the Pakastan government, and even tries desparetly to help, especially the Kandahar chief of policy who becomes a close friend. The book definitely will add to your knowledge of the history, culture, and U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. Terrific book!

  • Tanya
    2019-05-05 19:56

    Wow, I feel like I've just taken a course on the history, government, and political situation in Afghanistan. The complexity of it all baffles me! I hear again and again how we lack a strong intelligence network, and then I read this account by Sarah Chayes and see how her deep knowledge was ignored again and again... I see how U.S. foreign policy is often determined by troops on the ground with little understanding of background or longterm implications of their actions... And I now understand that the warlord mentality of those in power or desiring to hold power in Arghanistan preempts any movement toward democracy. What a mess! This book imparted a lot of wisdom, but ultimately little hope. Chayes fought for 4 years to influence policy in Afghanistan, utilizing contacts on every side, and at last decided things had only gotten worse. It's hard to believe the situation can ever be resolved in this turbulent region.

  • Dennis Fischman
    2019-04-26 18:18

    This book is a very mixed bag. The historical chapters make me want to go and read the Shahnameh and to find some good sources on the Mughal empire. The contemporary chapters are exciting and informative. I have to admire Sarah Chayes' honesty: when she realizes she's made a mistake or she has been too naive or trusting, she lets you see exactly how. Yet somehow, she still seems confident in her own judgment. I can forgive that: I used to say, "I'd rather be self-righteous than not be righteous at all." But as Anand says, the facts as she lays them out should dispel the notion that the U.S. can ever play a constructive role as long as it occupies Afghanistan, and should cast doubt that the U.S. even knows what a constructive role might be. Somehow, she never reaches waht seems to be the obvious conclusion.

  • Colleen Clark
    2019-05-17 20:09

    I read this a couple of years ago. Like many people I was fascinated by her account of living in Afghanistan after 9/11. Just this month (july 2010) I gave this book as a house present to a family full of people interested in the world. Although it was published several years ago I think it's completely relevant to our current involvement in Afghanistan. I heard Chayes say in a TV interview last year that she was working now with the US military. I wonder if she has revised her opinion. What I take from her description of what happened in Kandahar in 2002 is that our (US) position in Afghanistan is pretty hopeless. Now we have a hug military presence in Kandahar, but I'm not sure we have any better idea what we're doing than we did in 2002.So her book is completely relevant. Read it and draw your own conclusions.

  • Crysta
    2019-05-05 19:13

    Chayes is certainly a radio-trained storyteller, and some parts of this memoir/history/argument are enthralling. She lived in Afghanistan (Kandahar) from late 2001 on, so she had a front-row seat for the arrival of US troops and the delicate balancing of relationships among the Taliban, the numerous tribes that comprise modern Afghanistan, warlords, and Pakistan. I was particularly intrigued (and frustrated) by the disjointed effort between the US diplomatic and military efforts. Some sections dragged, namely the chapters that went deep into Afghan, Persian, and Mongol history. And Chayes has a strong (yet understandable) bias. But "Punishment" introduced me to a region, history, and conflict I knew little about. I'm no expert, but at least now I have a bit more context for what I hear on the news.

  • Tim
    2019-05-02 22:00

    An excellent example of a former journalist becoming an NGO within Afghanistan before the US and the coalition of the willing invasion and during the first few months of that invasion. We look into the nightmarish life within the warzone with the perpetual improvised explosive ordinances claiming the lives of people known to Sarah Chayes in this tell all version of her experiences in Afghanistan. A candid look at the war against Terrorism from the village level and the daily routines of Sarah Chayes' host family. She reveals some of her unbiased political views which are highly subjective of course but very important as pre-deployment text to read for many US military and coalition of the willing to read and to mentally digest before deployment.

  • Erick
    2019-04-21 20:04

    It's a truly painful book in that, it brings to light the horrid nature of man and how little the truth and justice are fought for. It's far too easy to get sucked into your TV, film, or entertainment form of choice and tune out from the reality of our world. Sarah Chayes brings a truly unique insight as there are few Americans who have lived the Afghani experience and understand what is really happening over there. Chayes writes with passion and great detail about her years in Afghanistan from 2001-2005, primarily. The roughest part of the book is when she diverges into the historical import and background of Khandahar. Other than that, she writes an engrossing account from a very personal and knowledgable standpoint.

  • Yvonne
    2019-05-13 21:15

    Sarah Chayes, former NPR reporter and now purusing humanitarian initiatives in Afghanistan accounts her experiences in-country during the breakout of the war and the pursuing years of failures and limited sucesses. She gets into the heart of the local and regional politics and explains why the US State Department or the Military have been so challenged. Eye-opening indeed, yet not terribly surprising. Sarah spends a lot of time delving into the region's history, which can be rather dull reading at times. I read this at the same time I was reading A Thousand Splendid Suns. Quite a nice compliment.

  • Marik Casmon
    2019-05-15 17:55

    Although the author climbs no Everests and sails no seas, this is an adventure book and a pretty amazing one. The author lived mostly in Afghanistan during the early years of this century and witnessed the rise and fall of the Taliban. She documents clearly that the Taliban was a creation of Pakistani and American policy. Further, she demonstrates that Pakistan and the U.S. supported the return to warlordism that followed the fall of the Taliban. At the same time, she got around. American readers may be disheartened to learn of the general, but not total, incompetence that accompanied American efforts in Afghanistan. In general, the U.S. seems to be the puppet government in this situation.

  • Peggy Kelsey
    2019-05-09 18:12

    Chayes was a National Public Radio (NPR) reporter from 1997-2002. She quit her job reporting on Afghanistan to work for Afghans for a Civil Society and later founded an NGO, Arghand Cooperative. This book explores the current situation in terms of her experience living in Kandahar and is grounded in a history of the area. This is one of the most important books I've read yet on Afghanistan for its cultural as well as political understanding of the country and general US foreign policy. Written as an inquiry into the assassination of the Kabul Chief of Police, it's a fascinating read.

  • Martha
    2019-05-18 20:56

    I learned a lot about the current/recent security and political situation in Afghanistan. The author is pretty well-connected with local government officials in Kandahar and members of the Karzai family. Even if you don't take what she says at 100% face value (she comes across as both naive and biased), you get a close-up look at some of the players in Afghani politics it will help inform your reading of unfolding events there. It's definitely just one, very limited perspective, but you can read between the lines a bit and then go on to further reading.

  • David
    2019-04-22 22:06

    I've been doing quite a bit of research about Afghanistan and its history and this is the single, best-written, most comprehensive, and insightful book I've read on the subject. I can't think of a single negative to say about it. I'm going to put Sarah Chayes next to Robert Kaplan as one of the best, immersive, travelling, balanced-reporting journalists around. Sarah tells the fascinating story of her own involvement in the local politics in addition to the traditional objective reporting and summations of historical precedents presented. Simply remarkable.

  • Kevin
    2019-05-08 02:13

    A compelling and well-written read at least partially undone by the author's self-righteousness, narcissism and sanctimoniousness. By going native for a couple of years she apparently knows more what ails the country than the Afghanis themselves. Her observations and invectives on the unwinding of the country seem apt, but, given we never get much of any perspective other than her own, it's tough to know. As the "Three Cups of Tea" controversy makes clear, one should always be a little leary of geopolitical diagnoses when the main character is the author her/himself.

  • Scott Millsap
    2019-05-16 23:19

    While I think the writing of this book could have been better at times, the important points about the necessity of understanding local cultures and customs when conducting foriegn policy and the mis-steps that the USA made in Afghanistan are well made. One particularly astute point is regarding the US's decisions to have our military boots on the ground frequently be the face of our foriegn policy, yet providing little to no training on how to do so. We are great at training warriors, but what happens after the fighting is over requires a plan.

  • Suzanne
    2019-05-02 21:53

    I read this book after hearing an interview with the author on NPR. I found some parts of it confusing and hard to follow but I guess that is part of the point - the history and politics of Afghanistan is hard to follow. It gave me a better understanding of Afghanistan.She also has a very good vocabulary. I found myself noting some words that I needed to look up. It's nice to have a book that stretches your vocabulary every once and a while!