Patrimonialism, warlordism, and corruption… These are what most Western observers believe to be some of the greatest impediments to the modernization of Afghanistan. Add opium to the list and you can start to grasp the difficulty and complexity of building a Weberian state in this so-called “narco-state.” The scourge of corruption is so pervasive that it has become a laughable matter. The Afghan version of The Office, Wazarat (it means ministry in Dari), is a caustic and hilarious depiction of everyday activities at the Afghan “ministry of garbage.” Afghans too can make fun of their crooked political elites and sometimes grotesque political system. Corruption is a serious problem that people suffer from on a daily basis though. It has grave consequences on human rights, governance, and the provision of goods and services. It also questions the sustainability of the Afghan state.
Yet, a growing academic literature on hybrid systems of governance in Africa and beyond (Meagher, Hagmann and Péclard, etc.) tends to show that building a Weberian state might not be the only viable option. It might not be viable in Afghanistan. Mukhopadhyay advocates for a mix of formal and informal forms of authority; Goodhand favors joint public/private extraction regimes. Bring the so-called “warlords” back in is seen by many as the only way to build some sort of state in Afghanistan.
While more works needs to be done on the sustainability and legitimacy of such hybrid arrangements, I find myself leaning towards this approach. Afghanistan and the international community face a proper dilemma as there are no good options when it comes to (re)building a weak state in a fragmented society. It’s a catch 22. Unfortunately no one really knows yet. One can only guess what’s going to happen after 2014.