Rasanayagam, Angelo

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ADDRESSES: Home—Geneva, Switzerland. Agent— c/o Author Mail, Palgrave Macmillan, 175 5th Ave., New York, NY 10010.

CAREER: Writer. Works for U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).


Afghanistan: A Modern History, I. B. Tauris (New York, NY), 2003.

SIDELIGHTS: An expert on Afghanistan, Angelo Rasanayagam offers a detailed twentieth-century history of the country in Afghanistan: A Modern History. Beginning with the accession of Abdul Rahman Khan, known as the "Iron Amir," in 1899, Rasanayagam traces more than 100 years of Afghanistan's development and history, up to the destruction of the Taliban in 2001 and the region's political uncertainty in early 2002. Rasanayagam situates Afghanistan into its key position between the empires of Russia, China, India, and Persia, with the rugged and dangerous country serving as a crucial link in the U.S.-led "War on Terror," and as a conduit to the rich petroleum resources of Central Asia.

For Rasanayagam, understanding the concept of qawm is the "key to understanding the history of Afghanistan," commented M. E. Yapp in the Times Literary Supplement. The term "qawm" has been used to refer to Afghanistan as a whole, but can also mean any kind of local, tribal, economic, religious, ethnic, or regional group or population within the country. "States and invaders may come and go, but the qawm goes on, and forms the community in which each individual Afghan lives and has lived in the past and which renders him or her comparatively indifferent to the fortunes of those spectacular political comets or those distant military earthquakes which delight most readers of history," Yapp observed. No matter what happens to the state, Afghans retain their role and their place in their individual qawms. As the state became less viable from the middle of the 1980s on, Afghanistan has seen "the reversion of power to localities and local communities," Yapp noted. Rasanayagam also offers discussion and analysis of the Soviet intervention in the country and the role U.S. policy has played in Afghanistan over the years.

A reviewer in History Today called Rasanayagam's book "a magisterial study" of a historically troubled and violent nation. "Of vital importance for understanding the country's current crisis," Afghanistan: A Modern History "will be essential reading for historians, policy makers, journalists, students," and those interested in world events, commented Fred Rhodes in Middle East.



History Today, May, 2003, review of Afghanistan: AModern History, p. 86.

Middle East, May, 2003, Fred Rhodes, review of Afghanistan: A Modern History, p. 64.

Times Literary Supplement, April 16, 2004, M. E. Yapp, "Utopia Revisited," review of Afghanistan: A Modern History.*