War, Factionalism, and the State in Afghanistan



Since September 11, 2001, the explanations offered to account for the rise of a foreign-led terrorist network on Afghan soil have variously focused on the political vacuum opened up by the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in February 1989, interference by foreign powers in Afghanistan's internal affairs, the failure of Afghanistan to produce a "strong state" because of ethnic factionalism, and an internal moral incoherence inherent to Afghan culture. I argue that none of these explanations is entirely satisfactory in itself. To understand the situation in Afghanistan, we must recognize that its political and military chaos is not an isolated or unique phenomenon, and at the same time acknowledge the particular social and political dynamics of Afghanistan's history that have set the parameters for current events. I show that communal conflicts in Afghanistan are part of a much wider affliction common to many postcolonial states and multinational societies, and that Afghanistan's current situation can only be understood by focusing on its failed attempts at nation-state building within the broader geopolitical circumstance of foreign manipulation and proxy wars that have given rise to particular forms of ethnic division. [Keywords: Afghanistan, nation-building, ethnic factionalism, warfare, the State]