Archive for October, 2009


Afghanistan: The Mirage of Peace: State

“The tribes consider the king rather differently to the Tajiks, the latter vesting the king with many powers, whereas for the tribes he has limited prerogatives; the tribes are largely selfgoverning.” (Elphinstone 1815)

State and nation

A nation is, wrote Benedict Anderson (1991), ‘an imagined political community’. Although the state exists as a political entity with recognized territory and institutions of governance, the nation exists in people’s heads and provides a sense of belonging. Nationalism, the sense of attachment to a nation, has often been a driving force for state formation; a force that in recent times has had so many negative associations that it is hard to remember it was once viewed positively.

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Afghanistan: The Mirage of Peace: One size fits all-Afghanistan in the new world order

Reasons for war

A pickup bearing formless, faceless women drives into the stadium. They get out and walk to their execution. The crowd looks on. Overlaying all is heavy music, heralding death.
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Afghanistan: The Mirage of Peace: Ideology and difference

“In Afghan history the communists had an ideology and the Taliban had an ideology, they were fighting for something they believed in. It is good to believe, to have an aim. You didn’t see that with the mujahideen, or even now. In the communist time the people in key positions had just a few possessions, they didn’t want to misuse government property, or to have bribes. It was the same at the beginning with the Taliban. Now, the government does not have a strategy, an ideology, a goal. This is a disaster. Where is the sense of value, the spirit of building a country, the honour?” (Exgovernment employee, now NGO worker, Kabul, 2003)

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Afghanistan: The Mirage of Peace: Foreword

Afghanistan is not a wellunderstood country. This is something of a paradox, for a great deal of impressive scholarly work has been devoted to the analysis of its politics, economy and society, and events such as the Soviet invasion of December 1979 and the US overthrow of the Taliban in October-November 2001 earned it a prominent place in the headlines. Yet, all too often, Afghanistan is popularly depicted in terms of crude stereotypes-hirsute warriors, wildeyed religious extremists, women consigned to the margins of social life. The complex realities of this exceptionally diverse territory have somehow not connected with its wider image. The course of events since September 11, 2001 has not greatly improved the situation. Now a different set of misleading images has been injected into the public realm, images which paint Afghanistan as an American success story, a threshold democracy, and a model of what the Bush administration’s approach to ‘nationbuilding’ can achieve. Ordinary people comparing these images have every reason to feel thoroughly confused.

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Afghanistan: The Mirage of Peace: Preface

The idea for this book first emerged in August 2001 when we realized that between us we had lived in Afghanistan and witnessed the history of international engagement here since 1989-an experience that seemed worth reflecting upon. Events since September 2001 have served to make the subject matter even more important, and of more global relevance.

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Afghanistan: The Mirage of Peace: Contents

Afghanistan: The Mirage of Peace




1. The mirage of peace
Illusions of peace
Raising the stakes
Bombing in a peace
Losing hearts and minds
New beginnings?
‘Failure is not an option’

2. Identity and society
New values and old
Rooted in Islam
Identity and others
Civil society?
Making decisions, being represented
War and social change
Closing ranks
Managing the world beyond
Dreaming a past

3. Ideology and difference
Confronting the Taliban
The UN and the Strategic Framework for Afghanistan
An alien way of looking at the world
Could it have been different?
The legacy of confrontation

4. One size fits all-Afghanistan in the new world order
Reasons for war
Early courtship
Changing attitudes
Isolating the Taliban
Aid, rights and the US project
Stitching up a country
Human rights
NGOs-wanting it both ways
Failing the Afghans

5. The makings of a narco state?
Seeding recovery
Or corrupting the state?
Transitional attitudes
Agency responses
Double standards-or caught in a bind?

6. State
State and nation
A short history
The Taliban state
Aid and the state
The UN and the failed state model
The legacy of centralization

7. Bonn and beyond, part I: the political transition
Inauspicious beginnings
Imagining a state
The political transition
Building state failure
Enduring security?

8. Bonn and beyond, part II: the governance transition
The state: who is in control?
International failure
Letting the Afghans down

9. Concluding thoughts
Who’s who
An Afghan chronology
Further reading


Afghanistan: The Mirage of Peace: Praise, Book and Authors

Advance praise for this book
Afghanistan: The Mirage of Peace
“A vivid, intelligent journey through post 9/11 Afghanistan and the wider region. Thoughtful, astute and deeply moving-this account of the postwar crisis in Afghanistan addresses all the major issues of our disturbed world today. The clarity and intellectual forthrightness of this book will help us to understand the violent and confused world we all live in now. This is a deeply sincere book in which the voices of ordinary Afghans describe their past and their future. The most powerful book on post 9/11 Afghanistan that you will be likely to read.” (Ahmed Rashid, author)
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