There are two ways to talk about Afghanistan. The first, and by far the more familiar, is to make absurdly simplistic statements, along the lines of, “It’s hopeless, let’s get out” or “It’s the frontline of the war on terror, we must stay.” The second, and far harder to find, is the sort of closely reasoned, labouriously reported analysis offered by the indispensable Ahmed Rashid in this New York Review of Books essay. Where most are confused, Rashid is cogent. He explains how President Hamid Karzai is trapped by Afghanistan’s contested fall parliamentary elections. And reveals how tensions between his Pastuns and Afghanistan’s minorities—Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara, and Turcomen—are dangerously worsening. But Rashid also offers a precise 10-point plan to make eventual peace with the Taliban insurgents at least look feasible. This is essential reading for anyone serious about keeping up with the bewildering, frustrating situation in Afghanistan.