Order, Stability, and Change in Afghanistan: From Top-Down to Bottom-Up State-Making

Release date: 2013-11

This article presents findings from long-term empirical fieldwork and archival research into current and historical patterns of governance in north-eastern Afghanistan, conducted between 2006 and 2009. Despite the long civil war, striking continuities have been found in the make-up and functioning of the local social order. Patron–client relations, eldership, and related practices of mediation are crucial structuring principles of rural society. They have dominated Afghan politics over centuries and still do today. Viewed from a long-term perspective, this continuity, related patterns of representation, and the role of middlemen and brokers suggest a certain degree of stability, in contrast to the popular perception of instability and disorder in this country. Whilst in the past the expansion of the state relied on tacit agreement between government administrators and local elites, resulting in state-making from above, the war broadly changed actors, regimes, and coalitions, but not the underlying mechanisms of the social order. Hence, today, the failure of the current state-building project can be attributed to the fact that the effects of these mechanisms are insufficiently recognized and grasped by Western actors and state-builders. We argue that local Afghan actors have captured the intervention from below. Instead of state-building, we are dealing here with state-making dominated by patronage networks.

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