The Last Warlord
By: Brian Glyn Williams, PhD
Recently I have been studying the complex and rich history of the Middle East in hopes of gaining understanding of their modern situation, and our foreign relations with these peoples. The history of the country of Afghanistan in particular is as detailed and as colorful as the tapestries or carpets produced by its master artisans. Brian Glyn Williams, a studied historian with a focus on Islam and the Middle East as well as a PhD, traveled to this ancient land to understand its recent past and our involvement in their ability to pry themselves free of the vice-like grip of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. In his book, The Last Warlord he interviews and introduces us to the man who fought tirelessly for his people, so that they might be free from fear and violence. General Dostum (the nom de guerre of Abdul Rashid, and translates to ‘friend’) is an unlikely hero who found ways to make the best of the harsh situation and environment in which he was raised. He emerged the unintentional and charismatic warlord feared by the Taliban and loved by the Uzbeks, his people.
The brave and friendly General Dostum is centered, or the heart of this book, having had much of an impact in all of the major political and military events in the recent decades of Afghanistan’s past. From communism to utter subjugation and fear, to liberation with the help of America’s military might, the varied ethnic groups of Afghanistan have gone through so much more than many of us in the West have ever known. Reading this book I was amazed at the learning curve that existed. We claim to have opinions on their current situation and how to interact with them yet we know so little of their world and what they suffered. This book is extremely educational, well written, and fascinating. That Brian was granted an interview with the enigmatic Dostum is incredible, and even more incredible is the honesty and detailed history which Dostum gave to us through Brian.
There is so much to learn in The Last Warlord that if I were to describe it all, this would turn into a book itself. Know that there was instability, infighting, foreign powers vying for control and warlords vying for the protection and power of their various ethnic groups. Know that there was death, torture and heartbreak. Know that this book is worth reading. There is so much detail and pain that many of know nothing about. I was not a foreign policy or history student in school and my knowledge of the area was very cursory. After reading The Last Warlord though that has changed. If you want to understand the motivations, the actions and the frame through which Afghans view the world, you need to read this book.