PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 March, 2011, 12:00am

by James Fergusson
Bantam Press HK$221

Taliban, according to the author, is the plural of talib, which translates as 'one who seeks knowledge'. Which seems rather ironic given that the fighters have been known to burn books, among other more menacing and unspeakable, acts. In this riveting account, James Fergusson takes a step back to try to portray the Taliban in a more objective light. Led by an illiterate village mullah with one eye, the original Taliban, we learn, was a group of students who sought to bring order to the vacuum left by the sudden departure of the Russian occupiers of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Their mission statement evolved into the disarmament of the population and the establishment of a theocracy based on sharia law. This is an insightful account of the troubles of a far-away land that have become a source of major global conflict. Moreover, there seems to be no end in sight to the polarisation that it has led to. The point that Fergusson succinctly makes is that 'no counter insurgency in history has concluded without dialogue with the enemy'. He argues that the Taliban's original purpose was 'not evil, but noble' and their revolution became misguided.