The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Kim Barker

The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan
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The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Kim Barker

Kim Barker is not your typical, impassive foreign correspondent - she is candid, self-deprecating, laugh-out-loud funny. At first an awkward newbie in Afghanistan, she grows into a wisecracking, seasoned reporter with grave concerns about the US forces' ability to win hearts and minds in the region. In The Taliban Shuffle, Barker offers an insider’s account of the ‘forgotten war’ in Afghanistan and Pakistan, chronicling the years after America’s initial routing of the Taliban. When Barker arrives in Kabul, foreign aid is at a record low, electricity is a pipe dream, and of the few remaining foreign troops, some aren’t allowed out after dark. Meanwhile, in the vacuum left by the US and NATO, the Taliban is regrouping. Swift, funny, and wholly original, The Taliban Shuffle unforgettably captures the absurdities and tragedies of life in a war zone.

Review

Describing Kabul as ‘Kabul High, a way to get your war on, an adrenaline rush, a résumé line, a money factory’, this vibrant, dusty city becomes the constant in Kim Barker’s memoir The Taliban Shuffle.

At 30 years of age, Barker was an American investigative journalist with limited experience of travelling and working overseas. Then, in 2002, one of her first international assignments was to go to Afghanistan and report for the Chicago Tribune. By 2004 she had become that newspaper’s South Asia Bureau Chief and, while based in New Delhi, lived her life between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The book is full of real-life absurdity and a self-deprecating honesty that reveals as much about the foreigners based in Kabul as it does about the Afghan and Pakistani political swings and roundabouts, and the misjudgements and mis-timings of the US and NATO forces.

Barker draws the picture of the bubble that Kabul became and tells the political, social and personal stories that led her to becoming an adrenalin junkie. Barker’s addiction came from the immediacy of danger, from the notion that she was important, that she had to see events firsthand, and is, ultimately, a side-effect of her job as a foreign correspondent.

‘To the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan, who are still waiting for the punch line’ reads the book’s dedication, and in many ways the reader is also left without a punch line. The Afghan conflict continues, as does Barker’s life, but in her escape to New York City in 2009, she, as most foreigners do, leaves Afghanistan to the Afghans. Barker’s story, though, paints the world of foreign correspondents from the inside, with insight and hindsight, and is both appalling and brave and recommended.

Pip Newling is a freelance writer and staff member at Readings Hawthorn

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