Afghanistan, “the Graveyard of Empires?”

New year, new job, new students… While it’s always a challenge to teach Afghan politics, I have to say I am pretty excited at the prospect of teaching a new course on “War and State-Building in Afghanistan.” For my first class at Radboud University, I was happy to see about 50 undergraduate students show up to talk and learn about this fascinating country. So much for giving up on Afghanistan! US forces might withdraw in 2014, but it looks like the new generation still cares about what’s going on over there. It might not solve anything but that’s definitely good news!  

We’re on for eight weeks of discussing state formation, violence, and foreign intervention in Afghanistan. Yesterday, we briefly touched upon the idea that Afghanistan might not be the “graveyard of empires” everyone wants it to be. Of course, one might argue that the Brits, the Soviets, and the Americans all failed in their state-building attempts. Sure, but that doesn’t mean that previous empires did not conquer or rule Afghanistan in one way or another. They just didn’t try to change Afghan society the way these three countries (empires?) did. It’s all a question of power and legitimacy; two things that should be on our minds in the weeks to come. Hopefully the readers of this blog will find value in discussing and debating their ideas with a whole bunch of students who are eager to know more about Afghanistan and its people.

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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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3 Responses to Afghanistan, “the Graveyard of Empires?”

  1. Laura says:

    Thank you already for the inspiring lectures. During the first class I realized that people talk a lot about the subject of Afghanistan, but they know very little about it. I think the topics we’re going to discuss are crucial to understand at least something about the Afghan situation nowadays, especially for a student in Political Science with a fascination for Conflict Studies, like me. Because I did some courses about Comparative Politics, I already heard of the theories we talked about so far. However, my study tends to focus on the western world, so I found it very interesting to apply those theories to the case of Afghanistan. It made me aware of the fact that the modern state model isn’t as self-evident as we presume. I think this is one of the reasons why our generation still cares about the situation in Afghanistan. We grow up in a political time where the world is beginning to realize that our own political system cannot just be implemented in other parts of the world. We have to deal with local circumstances – for instance tribal influences or the conditions of traditional states, which are highly segmental and class-divided according to Giddes – to make a safe and stable environment possible. Also, the interests and international relations that play a role in the context of Afghanistan are not restricted to this case, but can tell us a lot about other conflicts, like the Arab Spring.

  2. Ann says:

    First of all, thank you for finally introducing a more actual topic to a course!
    I think most of our generation (at least, those who make the effort to flick through a newspaper every once in a while) cares about Afghanistan. For us, young 20-somethings, it’s something we’ve grown up with, even though we might not have fully understood it until now. In so many ways, the beginning of this century should have been a milestone: all those ambitious goals that we, as an international community have set, should have been celebrated. Yet still we manage to mess up every once in a while. Very consciously I speak of ‘we’ and not ‘them’; we can’t avert our eyes and pretend that there is nothing going on, especially after we’ve screwed up so bad on so many occasions across the world.
    During the lecture on state-building I couldn’t help but think, who are we to think that we know so much better? Who are we to impose our Western values without any consideration onto another country time after time? Who has given us the right to bulldozer into a country, just to leave years later, without making the huge improvement we wanted to. Shame on us! I certainly believe that the pretentious, all-knowing Western world should take a step back and reconsider their actions. John Kerry said the following in his speech (I believe it was 30/08) on possible intervention in Syria and even though it’s not Afghanistan, it pretty much illustrates the root cause of the problem: “President Obama will ensure that the United States of America makes our own decisions, on our own timelines, based on our values, and our interests. ” This attitude is exactly part of why these attempts do not work.

    • TheEqualist says:

      What ANN say is very true. The course is very interesting because it’s about an actual topic. I come from a small island in the carribean whithout any civil war or conflicts of this magnitude. Most of the people are christians and so we never have to deal with religious radicalists.
      At one side i feel for the Western ideologies. When studies have proven that democratic states are the ones that are not so violence. They want to try to promote democracy in other parts of the world. And when states serve as a threat, as of 9/11 they need to intervene in these terrorist safehaven. And other countries must think how they would feel if there was a 9/11 attack in their country. They would also be pissed on the Talibans and wanted revenge. But what they really want is that the taliban to be killed and that the troops to come back home. The ability to set up a state in such a big country that has always been corrupt and never with a legitimate enough government it would be a very hard task.
      In that sense i feel for the Afghan people. My country is also a colony and whenever the colonists want to do something, we dont always feel good. We feel supressed and that they want to be the boss over us. So the western must let the people there solve their own statehood problems, the same as we did it with all civil and world war in the west.
      And think an other way of counterattack the terrorist because it is not efficient. !0 years of fighting, but i think if Al-Qaeda wanted to do a terorist attack right now, they would be able to do so. So the American operation and statebuilding method doesn’t work.

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