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A true-life Catch-22 set in the deeply dysfunctional countries of Afghanistan and Pakistan, by one of the region’s longest-serving correspondents.

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 our 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 we failed to finish the job.

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 U.S. and NATO, the Taliban is regrouping as the Afghan and Pakistani governments floun­der. Barker watches Afghan police recruits make a travesty of practice drills and observes the disorienting turnover of diplomatic staff. She is pursued romantically by the former prime minister of Pakistan and sees adrenaline-fueled col­leagues disappear into the clutches of the Taliban. And as her love for these hapless countries grows, her hopes for their stability and security fade.

Swift, funny, and wholly original, The Taliban Shuffle unforgettably captures the absurdities and tragedies of life in a war zone.


From the Hardcover edition.
Published: Doubleday an imprint of Random House Publishing Group on
ISBN: 9780385533324
List price: $11.99
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This is one person's chronicle of life as a newspaper reoprter in present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan. Evidently, even today, war has its humorous momentsThe author was a total newbie, when, in 2004, she became the South Asia Bureau Chief of the Chicago Tribune. She spent much of her time in Afghanistan, when the world's attention was focused on Iraq. Everyone knew that they were fighting the "other war," so they tended to relax. Everyone, that is, except the Taliban, who spent the time quietly regrouping. President Hamid Karzai has been called "The Mayor of Kabul," because his influence extends only that far. According to Barker, even that description might be too generous. Afghanistan is run by warlords, and is a place where your tribe or clan, and your language, is taken very seriously, especially if you find yourself in the "wrong" part of the country. Barker attends a training session of the Afghan National Police, the people who are supposed to take over after America leaves. Descriptions like "travesty" and "fiasco" come to mind. There is little, or no, coordination of aid, so the chances of aid getting to those who need it the most are tiny.In Pakistan, the city of Islamabad is not just a sleepy, quiet city; one person described it as "twice as dead as Arlington National Cemetery." Barker is romantically pursued by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who offers to play matchmaker, and wants to be her "friend" (which has a very different meaning in Asia). Vacations in Europe or America are few and far between, and are usually cut short by some major happening in South Asia. For Barker, in both countries, there are a couple of attempts at romance, which don't end well. She meets a constantly changing group of journalistic colleagues, aid workers, military people and various kinds of adrenaline junkies.After several years of American money, effort and lives, why are Afghanistan and Pakistan still so messed up (for lack of a better term)? This book does a fine job at giving the answer. This is not meant to be a sober political analysis of both countries, but one person's subjective chronicle. It is very much recommended.more
A quaint review of what happened in the AfPak region in recent years. This is not an scholar study on the subject, for example only analysis of the tribes of southern Afghanistan is contained in one or two pages. On the other hand, the fact that this book is a memoir is both what it makes it great and what it keeps it from perfection. The awkward situations emanating from the clash of cultures and the journalist dilemma of having to work is sources through something akin to friendship, but not quite so, are used regularly as punch lines to great effect. What the book could do without are the details about the romantic relationships of the author which generally fill out of place and a little bit too much.more
I was completely captivated by this memoir of Kim Barker's time covering the South Asia region as a correspondant for the Chicago Tribune. It is snarky, it is funny, it is sad and infuriating and it is eyeopening. I read books that have made be want to laugh and books that have made me want to cry but rarely have I come across a book that has made me want to do both at the same time!First of all a quick summary: Kim Barker gets the assignment to cover South Asia after 9/11 not because she is well qualified (she has hardly ever travelled outside the U.S. before) but because she is single and doesn't have children - in other words expendable. She travels to Afghanistan knowing next to nothing about the place and the people and is quickly overwhelmed by her task. The only thing that helps her make sense of everything is her Afghan fixer Farooq, a medical student whose ambitions to become a doctor are becoming ever more distant and who puts his energy, language skills and good sense to use in 'fixing' appointments, interviews and logistics for western journalists in an attempt to support his extended family. Barker's naivety and gaucheness start giving way to an adrenaline-addiction common to many of the westerners in Kabul at the time, as well as a growing bond with the place itself (at one point she wonders if the reason she feels so at home in Afghanistan is because she grew up in rural Montanna, which also has an abundance of armed bearded men driving around in pick-ups who hate their government!) Over the course of the next few years she will have increasingly surreal experiences and a chance to observe politicians, warlords, soldiers, contractors, aid workers, journalists, prostitutes, generals, lawyers, boyfriends and most keenly of all, herself, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as she does the 'Taliban shuffle' shuttling between the two countries.At this point its worth noting what this book is not. It is not a detailed account of the American war in Afghanistan/Pakistan. It is not an in-depth view of the developments of the last 10 years in the region (though it does have some pithy insights to offer along the way), it is not an analysis of American policy in the War on Terror, or military strategy, or an attempt to dissect the social and historical forces at play in the region. There is a whole crop of books that have come out over the last year or so that have attempted to do these things and readers looking for the above would be well advised to refer to them (examples include Ahmed Rashid's [Descent Into Chaos], Sebastien Junger's [WAR], Peter Bergen's [The Longest War], Seth Jones' [In the Graveyard of Empires] or Gretchen Peters' [Seeds of Terror] or Bird and Marshall's upcoming 'Afghanistan - How the West Lost Its Way').While Barker does a good job of describing what is happening around her this is primarily a story about her journey as a person and as a reporter. As someone who reads very extensively on the topic of the war in Afghanistan, and who considers himself very well informed on the subject, what I found most useful about the book was its insight into the world of journalists, aid workers and contractors and the walled-off culture of excess they create for themselves while working in war zones. Its also a good insight into how the world of reporting works (after the Iraq invasion, Afghanistan is essentially ignored as being 'old news' for years, until in 2006 a resurgent Taliban are beginning to cause serious trouble again). Barker's reporting is also effected by the declining readership of newspapers and downsizing of reporters in the U.S. - adding an extra element of stress and tension to her life. Finally its also an interesting look at several prominent personalities in the region (several of whom seem to take a shine to Barker, not least of whom is Nawaz Sharif, former PM and leader of the Pakistan Muslim League party). Many of these episodes seem utterly extraordinary and the only thing that keeps me from being certain that she is embellishing her accounts is the knowledge that all sorts of crazy and bizarre things can and do happen every day in this country!But putting aside the question of what we learn, or find useful, about this volume, the best reason to read it is that it is so much fun to read. At first I thought I would be irritated by Barker's accounts of her lifestyle, her loves (and break-ups) or the challenges of finding a place to drink and dance with a date in Afghanistan, but when it comes down to it, the author's personal journey is also an engaging one.more
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Reviews

This is one person's chronicle of life as a newspaper reoprter in present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan. Evidently, even today, war has its humorous momentsThe author was a total newbie, when, in 2004, she became the South Asia Bureau Chief of the Chicago Tribune. She spent much of her time in Afghanistan, when the world's attention was focused on Iraq. Everyone knew that they were fighting the "other war," so they tended to relax. Everyone, that is, except the Taliban, who spent the time quietly regrouping. President Hamid Karzai has been called "The Mayor of Kabul," because his influence extends only that far. According to Barker, even that description might be too generous. Afghanistan is run by warlords, and is a place where your tribe or clan, and your language, is taken very seriously, especially if you find yourself in the "wrong" part of the country. Barker attends a training session of the Afghan National Police, the people who are supposed to take over after America leaves. Descriptions like "travesty" and "fiasco" come to mind. There is little, or no, coordination of aid, so the chances of aid getting to those who need it the most are tiny.In Pakistan, the city of Islamabad is not just a sleepy, quiet city; one person described it as "twice as dead as Arlington National Cemetery." Barker is romantically pursued by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who offers to play matchmaker, and wants to be her "friend" (which has a very different meaning in Asia). Vacations in Europe or America are few and far between, and are usually cut short by some major happening in South Asia. For Barker, in both countries, there are a couple of attempts at romance, which don't end well. She meets a constantly changing group of journalistic colleagues, aid workers, military people and various kinds of adrenaline junkies.After several years of American money, effort and lives, why are Afghanistan and Pakistan still so messed up (for lack of a better term)? This book does a fine job at giving the answer. This is not meant to be a sober political analysis of both countries, but one person's subjective chronicle. It is very much recommended.more
A quaint review of what happened in the AfPak region in recent years. This is not an scholar study on the subject, for example only analysis of the tribes of southern Afghanistan is contained in one or two pages. On the other hand, the fact that this book is a memoir is both what it makes it great and what it keeps it from perfection. The awkward situations emanating from the clash of cultures and the journalist dilemma of having to work is sources through something akin to friendship, but not quite so, are used regularly as punch lines to great effect. What the book could do without are the details about the romantic relationships of the author which generally fill out of place and a little bit too much.more
I was completely captivated by this memoir of Kim Barker's time covering the South Asia region as a correspondant for the Chicago Tribune. It is snarky, it is funny, it is sad and infuriating and it is eyeopening. I read books that have made be want to laugh and books that have made me want to cry but rarely have I come across a book that has made me want to do both at the same time!First of all a quick summary: Kim Barker gets the assignment to cover South Asia after 9/11 not because she is well qualified (she has hardly ever travelled outside the U.S. before) but because she is single and doesn't have children - in other words expendable. She travels to Afghanistan knowing next to nothing about the place and the people and is quickly overwhelmed by her task. The only thing that helps her make sense of everything is her Afghan fixer Farooq, a medical student whose ambitions to become a doctor are becoming ever more distant and who puts his energy, language skills and good sense to use in 'fixing' appointments, interviews and logistics for western journalists in an attempt to support his extended family. Barker's naivety and gaucheness start giving way to an adrenaline-addiction common to many of the westerners in Kabul at the time, as well as a growing bond with the place itself (at one point she wonders if the reason she feels so at home in Afghanistan is because she grew up in rural Montanna, which also has an abundance of armed bearded men driving around in pick-ups who hate their government!) Over the course of the next few years she will have increasingly surreal experiences and a chance to observe politicians, warlords, soldiers, contractors, aid workers, journalists, prostitutes, generals, lawyers, boyfriends and most keenly of all, herself, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as she does the 'Taliban shuffle' shuttling between the two countries.At this point its worth noting what this book is not. It is not a detailed account of the American war in Afghanistan/Pakistan. It is not an in-depth view of the developments of the last 10 years in the region (though it does have some pithy insights to offer along the way), it is not an analysis of American policy in the War on Terror, or military strategy, or an attempt to dissect the social and historical forces at play in the region. There is a whole crop of books that have come out over the last year or so that have attempted to do these things and readers looking for the above would be well advised to refer to them (examples include Ahmed Rashid's [Descent Into Chaos], Sebastien Junger's [WAR], Peter Bergen's [The Longest War], Seth Jones' [In the Graveyard of Empires] or Gretchen Peters' [Seeds of Terror] or Bird and Marshall's upcoming 'Afghanistan - How the West Lost Its Way').While Barker does a good job of describing what is happening around her this is primarily a story about her journey as a person and as a reporter. As someone who reads very extensively on the topic of the war in Afghanistan, and who considers himself very well informed on the subject, what I found most useful about the book was its insight into the world of journalists, aid workers and contractors and the walled-off culture of excess they create for themselves while working in war zones. Its also a good insight into how the world of reporting works (after the Iraq invasion, Afghanistan is essentially ignored as being 'old news' for years, until in 2006 a resurgent Taliban are beginning to cause serious trouble again). Barker's reporting is also effected by the declining readership of newspapers and downsizing of reporters in the U.S. - adding an extra element of stress and tension to her life. Finally its also an interesting look at several prominent personalities in the region (several of whom seem to take a shine to Barker, not least of whom is Nawaz Sharif, former PM and leader of the Pakistan Muslim League party). Many of these episodes seem utterly extraordinary and the only thing that keeps me from being certain that she is embellishing her accounts is the knowledge that all sorts of crazy and bizarre things can and do happen every day in this country!But putting aside the question of what we learn, or find useful, about this volume, the best reason to read it is that it is so much fun to read. At first I thought I would be irritated by Barker's accounts of her lifestyle, her loves (and break-ups) or the challenges of finding a place to drink and dance with a date in Afghanistan, but when it comes down to it, the author's personal journey is also an engaging one.more
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