Is ‘liberal peace’ the panacea for Afghanistan?

Monday was our last session here in Evanston. Needless to say, I had a great time and really hope I will get the opportunity to teach that class again. It was a lot of work of course, but definitely worth it!

For once, our discussion was entirely devoted to the civilian component of the intervention. Although the students had been asked to read background material on the international community’s plan for “building success” (namely, The Afghanistan Compact), we did not spend time talking about unrealistic benchmarks and objectives. Instead we discussed the values behind the Western intervention. We looked at a couple of articles, but there is one we spend more time on: “Conflicted Outcomes and Values: (Neo) Liberal Peace in Central Asia and Afghanistan” by Shahrbanou Tadjbakhsh (for full reference, please look at the class’ syllabus). We focused on this article for two reasons. First, it is the article the students found most interesting. Second, research for this article was supported by a project I was involved in.

The Sciences Po/University of Kabul study was only one component of a wider research project undertaken by the Science Po Center for Peace and Human Security (CPHS), aimed at questioning the assumptions and values beyond the western model of peacebuilding. A group of Sciences Po researchers led by the CPHS director (Shahrbanou Tadjbakhsh) took several trips to Kabul to conduct the part on Afghanistan. There, we recruited, trained and worked with Afghan students, who interviewed Afghan groups and individuals both in Kabul and in selected provinces. In parallel, the “French” team met with interviews with members of the so-called international community (NGO workers, UN personnel, soldiers and generals, diplomats, etc.) to question them about their agendas and objectives.

Now that I briefly presented the project, let’s go back to Shahrbanou Tadjbakhsh’s article. In “Conflicted Outcomes,” she discusses the relevance of the ‘liberal peace’ model that has been implemented in Afghanistan. She defines ‘liberal peace’ as follows:

[D]emocracy-building through the institution of presidential elections, a parliament, freedoms for the media and civil society, and installing the supremacy of the market economy through private-sector-led development.

In other words, ‘liberal peace’ rests on both a liberal economy and a liberal political system. In the Afghan case, the already overly-ambitious project is further complicated by the will to ‘stabilize’ the country. ‘Liberal peace’ therefore ends up being a ‘post-conflict’ project in a war situation. Go wonder…

In short, not only does ‘liberal peace’ go against Islamic and traditional values that people actually believe in, but it is also fundamentally destabilizing for societies (both economically and politically). It is neither efficient nor legitimate.

To end today’s post on a positive note I would like to thank my students again for a wonderful seminar, and all the bloggers who contributed to making this Afghanopoly a success and a wonderful teaching tool. The quarter is now over, but I decided to keep the blog alive. I promise I will try to post as often as possible and to enhance fruitful debates about the future of this amazing country. Anything from thoughts and articles to my Afghan adventures and pictures will be posted! Thank you all again, and long live Afghanopoly!



About Afghanopoly

I am an Assistant Professor of peace and conflict studies at Radboud University's Centre for International Conflict Analysis and Management (CICAM). I completed my PhD in Political Science at Northwestern University and Sciences Po under the supervision of Will Reno and Bertrand Badie. Among other things, I teach students about the politics of international intervention in Afghanistan and elsewhere. My research focuses on the political strategies that Afghan strongmen use to consolidate and legitimize their authority. I am particularly interested in how these actors manage to conduct their own forms of international relations. My field research brings me in contact with Afghan community leaders, politicians, diplomats and foreign military officers.
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8 Responses to Is ‘liberal peace’ the panacea for Afghanistan?

  1. CPT Caveman says:

    Ive very much enjoyed the blog and glad to see you are keeping it going. Events have been overshadowed by Wiki and the economy, but as our “liberal intervention” is likely to last decades more this is a timeless topic. I will hopefully be in Afghanistan in 2012, after spending 3 months in Sri Lanka of that year. I look forward to finally using my Dari!


  2. Afghanopoly says:

    Thanks for your support CPT Caveman! I really appreciate it! It’s nice of you to share your knowledge and military experience with us. I’m sure the students also enjoy it!

  3. Durkheim says:

    Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan – Richard Holbrooke – dead at 69.

  4. Valkyrie says:

    I know it’s not popular to be supportive of the diversion into Iraq, because it was so problematic that Afghanistan was left unstable as troops turned to regime change elsewhere, but I just wanted to say that since ordered to go there, they did a wonderful job of pulling Hussein out of that spider hole.

    I mean, if you’re given orders to go in there, you do it, and I will always remember the initial success when they went in.

    If you’re going to have to go in, you do your job, and I have to say that they did well, no matter how unpopular that war was.

    I think a lot of people support the troops, even if they’re conflicted over the actual legitimacy of the war, and I think the same could be said of Iraq.

    Thumbs up to the troops. Big time.

  5. Kredox says:

    During the class I had a strong opinion that out troops should stay in Afghanistan for as long as it takes to rebuild that country. I based my opinion on purely rational thinking without human emotions involved. Last week I went on vacation and was stuck at the airport in Atlanta for two days. I saw American soldiers coming back from Afghanistan. I saw the intensity of emotions on how they were met by their family and friends. I saw mother holding a poster of her dead son who should have come back. Seeing this gave me another perspective on the war in Afghanistan. Why should we stay there and risk American people’s lives? Is it actually worth it? Will we just spend more money and human resources for nothing?

    • Valkyrie says:

      “Why should we stay there and risk American people’s lives? Is it actually worth it? Will we just spend more money and human resources for nothing?”

      I forgot what you’re majoring in, Kredox, but if you want to learn more (I know I do), they’re offering International Relations in the Spring. Poli-sci majors probably need the class as a requirement, but even if just plain interested, it sounds like a good class.

      Side note: I have no idea how people handle loved ones being in war zones. I’d probably be on tranquilizers if I were close to someone who opted to join the military, or something. How those people handle it is just amazing, but yes, it makes you wonder if it is worth it, indeed.

      On a brighter note, Vice-President Biden apparently made a statement that troops would be out of Afghanistan by 2014. As in for sure.

      Hope so, but we shall see…

    • Durkheim says:

      We can’t just limit the casualties to American’s.

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