Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef’s autobiography, My Life with the Taliban , was published in 2010 by Hurst. You can order a print copy or get the Kindle version on Amazon.
While Alex Strick and I were still doing our first project, AfghanWire, which has long since gone dormant and has recently been taken offline due to an attack on the server it is hosted on, we came across an article in an Afghan newspaper reviewing a small book Mullah Zaeef had published in Pashto about his time in Guantanamo. A founding member of the Taliban, Mullah Zaeef had held several positions in the movement and later in the Emirate. Most notably, he had been the ambassador to Pakistan, one of three countries that recognized the Emirate when al-Qaeda conducted the “planes operation” that would come to be known as the September 11 attacks.
We were introduced to Zaeef through a mutual friend from Kandahar, and thus began a lengthy journey. What had started as an effort to translate Zaeef’s short book about his time in Guantanamo grew into a new book about his life story, from his early childhood in southern Afghanistan to his time as a mujahed fighting against the Soviet forces to his time with the Taliban and his imprisonment.
When we first approached publishers, there was little interest—to be more accurate, we got turned down. An editorial board compared publishing Zaeef’s autobiography to publishing those of senior members of the Nazi party. The book eventually found a home with Hurst thanks to Michael Dwyer, who has since become a close friend and supporter. It took hours of interviews with Mullah Zaeef and many others in and around Kandahar for the book to be finished.
Based on publishers’ initial reactions, I thought at the time that the book would spark a huge controversy and that we would face angry audiences around the world. However, the tide had changed by the time the book hit the shelves, and during the dozens of presentations Alex and I gave in America and the UK, we rarely came across any outrage.
It was a lucky coincidence that when the book came out there was a general desire in most governments of the West to understand the Taliban, to understand who they are and what they want. One would think that by 2014 we would have a good understanding of the Taliban and their history, but that is still not the case. We have a better understanding, perhaps, but one that has to a large extent not managed to penetrate public opinion.
Working with Mullah Zaeef was an interesting project, and I learned a great deal from it. After all, here was a man who had spent most of his life in conflict and had been imprisoned in a foreign country by a foreign government, and yet he was able to work together with two young (at the time) foreigners to write down his story.