State building is considered to be the solution to Afghanistan's ills. State-building efforts largely aim to mirror Afghanistan to a market democracy. However, a market democracy is the outcome of specific historical and geo-graphical circumstances, and cannot be replicated easily. This article explores four models of state formation: the Western, developmental, rentier and predatory state. Afghanistan can be characterized as a weak rentier state, subsisting on aid. Generally, the structural consequences of such aid rentierism are underestimated. ‘State building’ in this context cannot be successful. More aid ‘ownership’ and a strengthening of the Afghan bureaucracy will simply consolidate aid rentierism rather than reverse-engineer a market democracy. A greater focus on economic policy is required to direct Afghanistan's rulers towards a more viable path of state formation. In this regard, the ‘developmental state’ offers some insights.