Synopses & Reviews
A National Public Radio reporter covering the last stand of the Taliban in their home base of Kandahar in Afghanistan's southern borderland, Sarah Chayes became deeply immersed in the unfolding drama of the attempt to rebuild a broken nation at the crossroads of the world's destiny. Her NPR tour up in early 2002, she left reporting to help turn the country's fortunes, accepting a job running a nonprofit founded by President Hamid Karzai's brother. With remarkable access to leading players in the postwar government, Chayes witnessed a tragic story unfold-the perverse turn of events whereby the U.S. government and armed forces allowed and abetted the return to power of corrupt militia commanders to the country, as well as the reinfiltration of bands of Taliban forces supported by U.S. ally Pakistan. In this gripping and dramatic account of her four years on the ground, working with Afghanis in the battle to restore their country to order and establish democracy, Chayes opens Americans' eyes to the sobering realities of this vital front in the war on terror.
She forged unparalleled relationships with the Karzai family, tribal leaders, U.S. military and diplomatic brass, and such leading figures in the Kandahar government as the imposing and highly effective chief of police-an incorruptible supporter of the Karzai regime whose brutal assassination in June 2005 serves as the opening of the book. Chayes lived in an Afghan home, gaining rich insights into the country's culture and politics and researching the history of Afghanistan's legendary resistance to foreign interference. She takes us into meetings with Hamid Karzai and the corrupt Kandahar governor, Gul Agha Shirzai, into the homes of tribal elders and onto the U.S. military base. Unveiling the complexities and traumas of Afghanistan's postwar struggles, she reveals how the tribal strongmen who have regained power-after years of being displaced by the Taliban-have visited a renewed plague of corruption and violence on the Afghan people, under the complicit eyes of U.S. forces and officials.
The story Chayes tells is a powerful, disturbing revelation of misguided U.S. policy and of the deeply entrenched traditions of tribal warlordism that have ruled Afghanistan through the centuries.
"Afghanistan only uncovers itself with intimacy, and intimacy takes time,' writes Chayes, a skilled but increasingly frustrated journalist, whose determination 'to grasp the underlying pattern' during and after the toppling of the Taliban in late 2001 chafes against her editors' post-9/11 comfort zone. With keen sympathy for Afghanistan's indomitable people, Chayes eventually swaps NPR and its four-and-a-half-minute slots for an NGO, becoming 'field director' of Afghans for Civil Society, spearheaded by Qayum Karzai, the president's brother. ACS's humanitarian work, which includes rebuilding a bombed-out village, brings Chayes into direct conflict with the warlords with whom U.S. policy remains disastrously entangled. This is the point of her engrossing narrative, which begins in Pakistan, inside the U.S.-backed Afghan resistance pushing northward to Kandahar, and is framed by the 2005 murder of police chief Zabit Akrem, a key ally in the fight against Kandahar's corrupt warlord-governor. Throughout, Chayes relies on exceptional access and a felicitous prose style, though she sacrifices some momentum to cover several centuries of Afghanistan's turbulent past in an account that adds little to those by Ahmed Rashid and others. However, her hands-on experience as a deeply immersed reporter and activist gives her lucid analysis and prescriptions a practical scope and persuasive authority." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Engrossing . . . In elegant prose, [Chayes] brings to life the regionand#198;s rich history, complex politics and proud ethnic Pashtun tribesmen. (The New York Times Book Review
From a beloved former NPR "crisis jumper" reporter comes a news-breaking eyewitness account of how the U.S. government and armed forces allowed, and even abetted, the tragic return to violent warlordism in Afghanistan following the defeat of the Taliban.
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 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.
About the Author
From 1997 to 2002, Sarah Chayes served as an overseas correspondent for NPR, reporting from Paris and the Balkans, as well as covering conflicts in Algeria. When war broke out in Afghanistan in 2001, NPR sent her to report from Quetta, Pakistan, and then from inside Afghanistan, based in the southern city of Kandahar, as the Taliban fell. In 2002, she left NPR to take a position running a nongovernmental aid organization, Afghans for Civil Society, founded by Qayum Karzai. Now she has launched her own artisanal agribusiness, called Arghand. Her work as a correspondent for NPR during the Kosovo crisis earned her, together with other members of the NPR team, the 1999 Foreign Press Club and Sigma Delta Chi awards.