I have finished the 46th book of the challenge, The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Kim Barker. Barker was a foreign journalist for the Chicago Tribune in South Asia based primarily in Afghanistan and Pakistan from 2004 to 2009. In this memoir, she chronicles her life as bureau chief in the region as she runs herself ragged trying to keep up with the latest developments in Afghanistan and then, when the action shifts, in Pakistan. Life starts out difficult for journalist and the US military in the early years as Afghanistan is considered to be the “little war” while Iraq is the big war, and it is difficult to get information from U.S. sources, let alone Afghan sources. Barker writes about the comradarie amongst the Western journalists and their “fixtures” and drivers as they struggle for stories in Afghanistan.
Then the action moves to Pakistan as hostilities break out between the military regime and the civilian judges and prime minister. Violence increases and so does danger for journalists and the candidates during elections. Benazir Bhutto is assassinated and things go from bad to worse. Barker experiences sexual harassment in Pakistan nearly everywhere she goes by Pakistani men and she does not suffer it bravely. She hits back. Literally. But she misses Afghanistan and eventually returns there. But things are deteriorating. A colleague is kidnapped; Karzai’s latest election was corrupted and the Taliban reasserted itself everywhere. The U.S. finally starts to pay attention to Afghanistan but is it too little too late?
In the meantime, the Chicago Tribune is thrown into bankruptcy and lays off most of its foreign journalists. Barker becomes a victim but decides to stay in Afghanistan for awhile, but eventually leaves for the States to study at an independent foreign think tank and now works for an independent press. Forty-six down, 54 to go.