Patrimonialism, Warlordism, and Corruption

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.

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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45 Responses to Patrimonialism, Warlordism, and Corruption

  1. IvN says:

    Warlordism is seen a impediment for the modernization of Afghanistan. But at the same time it is adduced as part of the new state. Bringing the warlords in the state structure can be a way of creating a stable Afghanistan. They have power and legitimacy. To take them in the state system is a way to handle with all those warlords. The negative side of warlords must then be transformed to a beneficial part of the new state. That seems like a hard task. For involving them into the state you have to be sure that these warlords are the good ones and willing to work for Afghanistan. Only then the state building can lead to a stable situation.
    But it is probably the best way of rebuilding Afghanistan. The country is too fragmented. The international community did not succeed in creating an Afghanistan that is united and stable. Leaving the country will be a risk. Getting the warlords involved is a risk as well but I think worth to take.

    • Ferdinand says:

      It is at the base of building or rebuilding a country and a government that there is support from the people. By gaining the support from the warlords it is easier to sustain a stable government, because it is backed up with power. Although I believe giving those warlords a prominent role in this might be a bad idea. For western governments it difficult to make sure that the warlords won’t draw to much power to them wich would destabilize the government. In my oppinion it is a good idea that the warlords will support the government. If getting them involved is the right action i do not know.

  2. Bart says:

    The mix of formal and informal institutions Mukhopadhyay describes in her article is in my opinion the only achievable option for state building in the short run for Afghanistan. Patrimonialism, warlordism and drugs will probably still be a problem in this system but I think it will be for the worse if these formal and informal institutions won’t cooperate since then there won’t be any control whatsoever. If there is a mix of these institutions at least they can jointly exert power that they both can’t do on their own. If this cooperation doesn’t take place I think Afghanistan will only become more fragmented after 2014 and tribal conflicts will start popping up all over Afghanistan. It is better to deal with patrimonialism, warlordism and drugs than with anarchy and fragmented powers. So in the short run this mix will be the best of the worst but in the long run the government should try to gain more power and strengthen the formal institutions to rule the country and try to slowly reduce the problems of patrimonialism, warlordism and drugs.

  3. Nic.Cage says:

    I think the US needs to realize they can’t win both the war on drugs and the war on terror. As detrimental as the opium economy might be for Afghanistan, it seems to be unavoidable. The average subsistence farmer would much rather grow poppy than simply crops. The only incentive keeping them from growing it is the occasional penalization by the government. However, there are far too many farmers that grow poppy. The Afghan state has no way of controlling all these farmers, this would mean using resources Afghanistan simply can’t miss or simply doesn’t have.I felt during last weeks classes that not everyone seemed to quite understand what subsistence farming actually means. Subsistence farming is an extremely meagre way of living, a poverty trap (almost impossible to produce more than subsistence without western technology), with the occasional famine to top it off. Therefore, the incentive to grow poppy is high, almost anyone in the position of subsistence farming would much rather grow poppy if it meant more wealth to their family.
    There is absolutely no way of stopping the Afghan population from growing poppy if the incentives are too high and when the Afghan state simply does not have the resources. The transition from subsistence farming to a more westernized, large scale farming, wouldn’t work either. The local markets will get flooded with cheap products, leaving most subsistence farmers that are able to trade with trade goods which suddenly became worthless.
    The other method of tackeling the opium trade would be to go after the suppliers instead of the producers. This would prove challenging because the suppliers are often intertwined with government officials and other (informal) actors. Realistically speaking, this is not going to happen.
    I completely agree that it would be much better to focus on building the Afghan state and not waste any more resources on fighting the war on drugs in Afghanistan. It will be difficult for the US to accept the simple fact that the war on drugs has failed, both abroad as well as in their own country.

    • Roy says:

      I always notice the same thing when you hear the Afghan farmers say why they grow poppy. They have a lot of mouths to feed and growing poppy is the only thing they can do to provide enough. So it’s also in that way a cultural/social problem, when they would have just 3 mouths to feed, would that make a difference with the “12” mouths they have to feed now?
      Will they still have to grow poppy with one son or daughter, instead of 10? The more sons they have how better their pension is in the current situation . If/when Afghanistan evolves and get some kind of social security (pension), the amount of opium produced will decrease according to my “theory uhum”. A strong government with western values and no corrupcy could lead to being a step closer to win the war on drugs. Of course there are a lot of other factors, some more important than this but i just felt like adressing this.
      The best thing would of course be eleminating the demand, but that’s almost unthinkable and impossible. And destroying poppyfields has a reverse effect. Eliminating warlords might decrease the supply temporarely, but it isn’t a long term solution. Where you cut one head, two or more grow back.

      • Nic.Cage says:

        The amount of sons and daughters in an Afghan family does not improve the pension of the parents. Often, especially in countries with high birth-rates and poor agriculture, having more children can be detrimental to ones pension. The land that these farmers cultivate is scarce and often overutilized, the more children they have, the less crops they receive per head of the household. The exact same thing is happening in third world Africa.
        The reason that Afghan families have a lot of children per household is not because it means more pension for every child you have. Afghanistan has the highest infancy mortality rate in the world, and one of the lowest life expectancies in the world.
        Afghan families have a lot of children because the chance that one of them dies before their parent dies, is far too high. Imagine you only need 1 son in order to ensure your pension (daughters only cost money to Afghan families, parents have to pay their wedding. Only sons are considered profitable, horrible but true). The chance of having a son is 50%, so the average Afghan family has to have 2 children in order to have at least 1 son (in reality it might be their first child, or their third, but on average it is 2).The chances that this son will die prematurily are huge, 12% (CIA Factbook, see above) at childbirth, with a life expectancy of an Afghan male of 48 years.
        Let’s say, the chances of this child dying before his 18th birthday are 25% (conservative estimate), that would mean at least a 25% risk for his parents to lose their pension. Let’s say the parents will accept a 10% chance of losing their pension (again conservative estimate), in this scenario it would mean the parents would need to have 2 sons (0.25*0.25=0.00625), and on average 4 children. In reality it would probably be even higher, children that run away and join militias, or move to the city to get better paying jobs, not to mention, a 10% chance is a really high risk.
        The good news however, it is possible to change this situation. Organisations like the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation are making great progress in reversing the exponential growth rates in certain African nations. They do this by giving vaccines and teaching local communities about basic health care. The costs for doing this are relatively low (see Jeffrey Sachs’ his excellent book Common Wealth), and it can have great consequences for reducing the growth rate of a country. In the end, I believe this can be a lot more benificial to the Afghan economy than simply expanding the service industry, which would be way too pricey and also slightly unrealistic for a country like Afghanistan (no foreign investor will spend that much in a country that has heavy security issues). By reducing the infancy mortality rate and the premature mortality rate (less than 18) in Afghanistan, farmers will be able to sell more products on the local market, since their land would be more capable of producing for the market (no longer heavily overutilized).This could boost the Afghan economy, without flooding out local farmers like the point I made in my earlier post (see above).

    • jhuisman2013 says:

      I agree with you that stopping the Afghan agricultural community from growing poppy isn’t a wise option. The Afghan agricultural population would end up with even more poverty and possibly famine. I noticed people asking in class why the farmers didn’t start growing potatoes, this made me chuckle because it is almost impossible to grow potatoes in Afghan soil. And if producing ‘’regular’’ agricultural products would be profitable enough the Afghan farmers would probably prefer this because I think they are aware that growing poppy is controversial and probably puts them I greater risk than they would if they cultivated ‘’potatoes’’. You stated that ‘’there is absolutely no way’’ of stopping the poppy cultivation. What you seem to forget is that the Taliban did manage to almost completely abolish the poppy production in 2001, and I don’t think they had substantially more resources than the internationally supported Afghan government today.

    • jhuisman2013 says:

      I wanted to post this reaction here. I accidentally posted this reply under your second post.
      I agree with you that stopping the Afghan agricultural community from growing poppy isn’t a wise option. The Afghan agricultural population would end up with even more poverty and possibly famine. I noticed people asking in class why the farmers didn’t start growing potatoes, this made me chuckle because it is almost impossible to grow potatoes in Afghan soil. And if producing ‘’regular’’ agricultural products would be profitable enough the Afghan farmers would probably prefer this because I think they are aware that growing poppy is controversial and probably puts them I greater risk than they would if they cultivated ‘’potatoes’’. You stated that ‘’there is absolutely no way’’ of stopping the poppy cultivation. What you seem to forget is that the Taliban did manage to almost completely abolish the poppy production in 2001, and I don’t think they had substantially more resources than the internationally supported Afghan government today.

      • S.V. says:

        jhuisman2013, it’s interesting that you mention the successful crack down of the Taliban on the poppy production in 2001. I agree with your point regarding the limited resources they had at their disposal but I also think that the context in which the Taliban opium ban was enforced can’t really be compared with the current situation. The ban on poppy cultivation was enforced by terrorizing the Afghan poppy farmers via threats, forced eradication, and public punishment of transgressors and had a disastrous impact on the livelihoods of millions of Afghan farmers. The international security forces and the current Afghan government are not in a position to ignore human rights in their fight against the poppy cultivation which somewhat limits the options at their disposal.

        The Taliban was also highly motivated to eradicate poppy cultivation because the UN offered them 250 million dollars for their commitment to an opium ban as well as raising the expectations of the Taliban regarding the international recognition they would receive for successfully enforcing it. In the end the UN didn’t hold up to their end of the bargain but these incentives will have played a role of importance in the Taliban’s decision to introduce the opium ban and in their determination enforcing it. ( Some also believe the ban was a clever form of market manipulation, driving up the prices of poppy after several years of record production that had resulted in large unsold stocks. Prices before the ban were $35-50 per kilo but rose to as high as $700 per kilo during the ban. (

  4. Laura says:

    I think the distinction that Bart made in the comment above between a short term and a long term perspective is interesting. The debate about the Weberian state model has become black and white: initially the dominant idea was that implementing the Weberian state model would be the solution for underdeveloped societies and instable political environments, nowadays we dismiss this idea by declaring it an impossibility and not fitting non-western states, it either works or it doesn’t. We can refine the discussion by stating that in the short run a hybrid state will be the best out of non-ideal possibilities, but in the end Weberian principles should remain the ideal. A liberal democracy isn’t something that can be achieved overnight. In the western world this has been a process of decades, which still is in development. In my opinion the key term in this respect is economic development. A hybrid state can bring the order and stability that is necessary to stimulate this. Once primary necessities of life are guaranteed, people can start worrying about issues like political legitimacy and make constructive efforts to reduce influences of patrimonialism, warlordism and corruption. In this way, the Weberian state (or a state form that is in line with this) comes from within society instead of implementing it from the top down. In addition, the main role for the international community should be a contribution to economic development rather than “teaching politics”.

    • Sophie says:

      I think you’re right in making economic development the key point. Some others have mentioned it as well and this only stresses its importance. In the process of nation-building abroad, we tend to let our ideological, normative ideas stand in the way of pragmatic solutions. Indeed, it sounds less attractive to just focus on the economy first and let the democracy linger on a bit, but this might be the only viable solution.
      Also, Afghan people will be more likely to attribute legitimacy to foreign forces, if they actually deliver- and delivering in everyone’s eyes except the Wests, does not mean bringing electoral democracy (or the likes of it), but means improving living conditions.

  5. Peteroski says:

    Maybe a Weberian state is possible for Afghanistan, in a couple of generations. And only after a long process of a hybrid government involving warlords where there is an incentive to slowly but surely reduce corruption and build institutions. I see a slow process over generations as the only way because the population needs to provide the legitimacy of the government. This is now only possible if warlords control the separate regions. However, somewhere in the future, when education and more welfare are more widespread because of the hybrid government, the country will be stable enough for a central government. Of course this is only speculation, but in my opinion this is the only way to build up the country.

    As for the drugsproblems I agree with Nic.Cage that the fight is impossible to win right now. Only by providing better options to the farmers are they going to switch to another kind of produce of job. This is only possible in a more welfaring country however, so this cannot happen in the foreseeable future.

    • Dnl says:

      For some reason I just cannot get over the fact that growing poppy is the only viable option for Afghan farmers… Ofcourse I understand that farmers grow poppy for there is hardly a government to stop them from farming it, also the amount of money they can make from it is more easily earned (8x i.c.t. growing wheat) than growing and farming something else.

      Would it not be better for the Western countries and the Afghan government to focus on the infrastructural problem? Would it not be better to improve irrigational infrastructure, so farmers have an option of growing something else than poppy? I understand this is very hard, for there are many different leaders in power, the country is heavily divided, the countries climate is terrible to grow something else and at the moment there is hardly any infrastructure in the main cities, so forming an infrastructure on the countryside simply seems a naive and mostly idealistic vision. It still is an option we should consider, for the Western countries and the Afghan government can help the Afghan people with it and improve their ways of living.

      Most farmers do not play any part in the process of turning poppy into heroine, but they do know what it can be turned into. This shows most farmers just want to make a living, for they have huge families to feed, and escape the subsistence farming as some one mentioned above. Most farmers wish they could grow something else, but this is just no option for them, because a famine would always look over their shoulders if they would grow something else.

      I may be a bit idealistic and naive, but I think the Afghan government and foreign investors (countries, companies) should and could invest more into the Afghan (irrigational) infrastructure, so farmers have a choice and are not (indirectly) forced to grow poppy.

      • S.V. says:

        Like many other commenters I also believe that stopping the Afghan agricultural community from growing poppy shouldn’t be the focus of the Afghan government. In fact it might be beneficial to the state-building process if the government legalizes the cultivation of poppy in Afghanistan. This way the government can profit from this huge part of the Afghan economy by taxing it instead of wasting millions of dollars trying to win the unwinnable war on drugs. By legalizing, monitoring and taxing the cultivation of poppy it will become less potent as a means to finance insurgents or extremists because farmers no longer have to rely solely on them for the distribution of their crop and it becomes much easier for the government to investigate cash flows regarding the opium trade. Instead this huge flow of money could be used to realize better infrastructure, a more reliable judiciary system and better living conditions for the Afghan people.

        It’s also a huge advantage in the struggle for the hearts and minds of the Afghan people since their livelihood will no longer be eradicated by the Afghan government as part of their counter narcotics policy but instead the government will try to help them to maximize profits. I realize that these ideas are controversial but building a state is an extremely messy process and we should be able to discuss suggestions like these without being overly sensitive. I also realize that the international community would condemn Afghanistan for legalizing the cultivation of poppy in order to legitimize their own domestic drug laws but there is a huge legal opiate market that’s expanding at an incredible rate and I simply can’t understand why Afghanistan can’t benefit from these developments.

  6. Thurgeis says:

    It baffles me that a society like Afghanistan apparently has a hard time feeding all mouths and providing some sense of social security but is able to realize an infrastructure that enables them to grow and move around tons of poppy. For this to work like it does it is obvious that at least a couple of Warlords have close ties to the poppy production.
    While I agree that the hybrid system can provide with solutions to build a more stable state, it also empowers the warlords. If poppy remains lucrative business giving them more control, it might just have the effect of more poppy plantations and thus more drugs.
    Even though it appears to be the only solution I still feel it is rather risky to build an infrastructure and society based on welfare that comes from narcotics. It seems this can only lead to the creation of a society that will be a far cry from egalitarian and is, in my opinion, hard to reconcile with humanitarian&ethical beliefs we hold in the west.

    On the other hand creating the Weberian state through means of force seems impossible at this point in time. And maybe not feasible or preferable at all due to cultural differences.

    Yet there must be another way to help the Afghans rebuilt at least a low-tech and crucial sector like agriculture. I agree with Laura that the best way to create a steady state is through social and economical prosperity, something that in quite an underdeveloped country like Afghanistan can very well mean a decent agrarian sector.

    • sergiu says:

      I totaly agree with you about enforcing the agrarian economy in Afghanistan. Could be one of the main aim in developing a stable state. I’ve read some comments here about the subsistence agriculture and there seems to be some confusion :

      1.There is nothing bad with growing your own food and living with what you produce. People did that for millions of years. Tony Waters writes: “Subsistence peasants are people who grow what they eat, build their own houses, and live without regularly making purchases in the marketplace.”

      2. There is some market exchange between them. (products that grow in certain areas are sold in other places, animals, spices and etc.

      3. Of course, is not the key to a phenomenal growth of economy, but can switch perspective from growing poppy and start growing food (where possible).

      There is one way of stopping poppy plantation from outside Afghanistan. Is by reducing or controling the demand of it. The demand comes from outside.( Mostly from Western Countries and U.S.- “Afghanistan has been Europe’s main heroin supplier for more than 10 years” ). By fighting the demand from outside, the poppy farmers would switch their production when no more profitable. Of course, may be a difficult process, but in long term can switch perspectives. I don’t think opium is sold in countries with a low income or were people is poor.

      Both my answers are not easy to apply. Special agreements on prices can be made too.(for food products). The international community could try to increase the demand for food products or other main agricultural activities inside of Afghanistan. That could incourage to put down opium and try to cultivate something else. Because is more affordable. In the same time a market will be increased inside the country.
      It’s all about economics when building a state.

  7. TheEqualist says:

    I also tend to lean towards the approach of Mukhopadyah. They already tried to implemented a Weberian state for 12 years in Afghanistan and it hasn’t worked out. In the past more parties had tried to create a central government which hasn’t succeeded in a country that is so divided from ethnic to tribal divisions. And it’s not only in Afghanistan but also in lots of African countries where the government don’t have a grip in the whole country.

    The Corruption in the government makes it no easier. No good services and security will create an angry population. Then all these extremist movements will form. Some of these warlords take better care of the people in the regions than the corrupt government in the capital.

    So with such bad experiences with these governments the people are happy with these warlords and tend to support the warlords in place of the central government. So it makes it harder for a local government ti have infrastructural power in these areas. The only way to let country come to a unity is to work with all these leaders and make some agreements.

    Now u cannot think that these leaders will extract and send all taxes to the capital. But as of right now the security and stability of Afghanistan is much more important than the whole flow of money trough the Afghan economy.

  8. Afghanopoly says:

    For those interested in informal politics and corruption, US policy and the future of Afghanistan, today’s NY Times article on Karzai’s latest speech is well worth a read:

  9. TJ says:

    I have to agree with TheEqualist that right now the most important factor in Afghanistan is to provide, food security and stability. If we look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the first things people want are food, water, shelter and warmth. A lot of people in Afghanistan miss this, without a stable income or safe place to live. The next thing people want is safety and security and so on. Not many people in Afghanistan seem to have the luxury of engaging in politics or even worrying remotely about this. And a stable democracy needs the voice of the people, who right now do not have the time or even the possibilty to give. Another important question that I keep asking myself is: how do we inform people on voting and who to vote? So many people are illiterate and I doubt they watch much television or listen to the radio…? Democracy seems so far away if I think about that…

    As for corruption, this is something that I think was quite normal in feudal times with which I think we can compare a big part of Afghanistan. I’m not saying it’s good, just that right now it is really hard to tackle. If we look at Indonesia, one of the most corrupt countries in the world, they have become a democracy through their own efforts 16 years ago and even there corruption is still very much alive. It also proves that a corrupt country can function ‘properly’. So corruption is not on my first list of priorities concerning Afghanistan.

    • lc3102 says:

      Hey IvN,
      I like your overall pionts and comment and have not much more to add, just a small academic side note: from the point of social science, there is hardly any empirical evidence for the Maslow pyramid. It might be a nice way to construct a (/the?) story of human development and the hierarchy of needs, but social psychologists have illustrated through various instances of research that there is no firm support for this theory. In fact, it was dropped from discussion during our social psychology classes last year.
      I didn’t know if you – or others reading this – knew this, but thought it would be good information for future reference.

    • MerelR says:

      I do not totally agree with you both that providing food, security and stability is the most important thing for Afghanistan now. Foreign powers have invaded Afghanistan over the last decades, trying to get more influence in this region. The British, the Soviets and now the Americans have al brought huge amounts of money in “suitcases” to support the power holders on their side. But the ordinary Afghans have never profited from the interference of the great powers. The dependence on foreign funds has made a small number of Afghans rich and kept most Afghans poor. Only three countries in the World have a lower rank on the UN Development Index, life expectancy is now just 43 years. 6,6 million Afghans, more than a quarter of the population, do not meet their minimum daily needed food requirements and 69% of the population has no access to clean water. Of course the UN needs to try to provide food, security and stability in the country. But in my opinion it is more important to make the Afghan people self-sufficient. So just handing out food and sending more weapons, and soldiers will not help the Afghan people. Their situation has not become better after years and years of food supply by foreign powers. We need to empower them to be able to provide for themselves, so they can be independent from foreign aid. Afghan people do not want foreign meddling, we need to give them the means to ensure their own future. In my opinion all the aid we provide must create a base for future development. The process must be truly Afghan owned. We should not make the old mistake of only further empowering the people that are already in power, we should empower the Afghan citizens so they can build their country from the bottom up.

  10. Nigina says:

    I think that rebuilding Afghanistan is more important than the war on drugs. Once the country has become more stable, it is easier to solve the problems related to drugs, therefore rebuilding Afghanistan takes priority. It is almost impossible to solve the drugs problem completely, mostly because of powerful people who participate in dealing drugs and are difficult to stop. So I agree with TheEquilist and TJ that the most important factor in Afghanistan is to provide food, security and stability. One way to achieve this is to provide employment. They can build factories for example or improve the infrastructure. This has many advantages: when people have a job, they can take care of their family so don’t need to grow poppy anymore for a living. This way, we can reduce drug problems and also prevent criminal behavior. In addition, giving people a job can help the economy, which is better for Afghanistan. So it can help to rebuild Afghanistan.

    I agree with Bart that it could be effective on the short term to have a mix of formal and informal institutions, since it can help to rebuild Afghanistan. Warlords for instance hold a lot of power and are therefore able to rebuild the areas that they control. The government itself isn’t able to do this, because of the fragmentation in the country. This wouldn’t work on the long term though. Working with warlords is very risky. They are not reliable and act out of self-interest. This means, there is a possibility that they will turn against the government if it is beneficial for them. To prevent this, it is important to have a strong government that can deal with the problems on the long term.

    Lastly I think that it’s not very smart to build a Weberian state in Afghanistan and therefore should not take priority. What matters mostly is that there is peace in Afghanistan. Besides, building a Weberian state could possibly even worsen the conditions in Afghanistan. This is partially due to the fact that a large part of the population see the Weberian state as ‘westernization’ and therefore could turn against the government or even join up with the Taliban in order to stop this. So bringing this much change can make problems worse instead of better, because of the cultural differences.

  11. Laura says:

    I just heard on the Dutch news that some super modern swimming pool has been opened in Kabul, maybe there are economic alternatives to drugs anyway 😉

  12. martvrieze says:

    The most pressing matter in Afghanistan now is to provide a reliable basis for security. This also one of the harder (if not the hardest) goals to achieve. The reason why security should prevail above the other goals, is that security provides the basic need for economic growth. Without the security that one will not steal or burn your property, one will not invest in his business or farm. Like Laura and Nigina i agree that food takes the second place. Like Bertold Brecht said: “Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral”

    That is why we also need to let go of the Wilsonian notion that democracy will solve the world’s problems. Churchill said: “…It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”. Especially in states where a culture of patronage is deeply rooted, democracy will not be the answer to problems that arise. Different local leaders in afghanistan are so ingrained in soceity because they offer the population the security and basic needs that the central government should be providing but doesn’t.

    In fact, i personally think that a strong, centralised government is crucial in order to create the institutions needed for a weberian democracy. As long as these local leaders are more succesful in providing the basic needs for the population then the central government, they are quite righlty percieved as more legitimate. A lot of people above noted that the Weberian state cannot be imported and they are right. The conditions for succesfully establishing a weberian state have not been met in Afghanistan and I agree with Peteroski that it will take a couple of generations for the weberian state to emerge in Afghanistan.

    Security > Food > Democracy

  13. Thurgeis says:

    To some extent I feel most of us agree on the fact that the Weberian state model can’t one-on-one be applied from our models to Afghanistan. Also many people stress that Security is paramount in order to get the country going and eventually institutions working. To all this agree, however I feel we are more or less caught in thinking from a rather military and theoretical sort of thinking. It’s all about ‘state models’ and a balance of power in society. This is all Top-down thinking, what if we would approach the question the other way around?

    Inspired by Rawls’ “Theory of Justice” and the new Icelandic constitutional reforms (after the ICE-save debacle). Since we have already spend a lot of time and effort on the country, it would be a shame to leave a job unfinished and watch the structures built unravel as we leave. What if we would use a bottom-up approach and try to sample about 200-300 people from the country in a random, yet proportional manner so it truly reflects the population and give them a whole year. Spend the first month on teaching them (roughly) how centralized states work, not only the Western type, and put them in different “workgroups”, again randomized, that rotate in composition and subjects they discuss (as to prevent “Groupthink”). Every week every individual will be in a new group with a new topic (multiple groups should discuss the same topics however). Not only getting to think about the country, but also learning to understand the interests and ways of life the other people in the country have. A mutual understanding might grow, a new and cooperative “elite” might evolve and, paramount, their ideas should provide us with a whole lot of new insights on both what the people want and how the country really works. The people should receive a fair wage (attractive enough to leave their region/city/village) for a year, which will probably still be cheaper than having to go back in Afghanistan in a couple of years. And of course they should be protected from outside influences. A real “Veil of Ignorance” as Rawls proposed is impossible, and maybe not too practical since we want to obtain a Afghanistan-specific state model rather than a general state model.

    I think it is impossible for us, with our western perspective, to ever really understand what is going on in another country and how stuff actually works.Not without receiving proper feedback from the community itself.
    Also building the country on a completely unequal and unstable base, as I regard wealth accumulation based on drugs-traffic to be, is a right recipe for disaster. If we keep trying to build this state through sheer force and with the cooperation of Warlord(/semi-mafioso), we will never realize a stable community and a state for and by the people.

    • Sophie says:

      Dear Thurgeis, what a nice and refreshing point of view you introduce. I’m sure you are aware of the practical difficulties, but I do fear your idea might be too optimistic on one aspect specifically. Even we, Western believers in democracy, wouldn’t readily accept a randomly assigned, potentially non-capable group of individuals as our new elite. And this, once again, will have to do with legitimacy.
      In a country like Afghanistan especially, (traditional) legitimacy is a necessary element of successful rule- be it centralized or decentralized. This is the reason why the options for governing might be limited to the actors mentioned already on this blog (so-called warlords, religious leaders etc…). So maybe your sympathetic plan should remain a thought experiment.

      I do fully agree, though, with the underlying point you make, that a bottom-up approach is needed, since intervening Westerners will never really understand how a country works. Feedback from the community is desperately needed.

      This does not mean that outside powers have no business in Afghanistan. It was outsiders that did a great deal of the damage, by using Afghanistan as a means to their own ends. British and Soviet invasions damaged the country, and foreign support during the Great Game and the Cold War might have prevented state-building to take place. We might say that the US, this time, also went in for its own purposes, but I cannot help thinking the international community does have some more noble goals in Afghanistan (again, think of human rights, for example).
      And since outsiders did the damage, it might take outsiders to fix it. This does not necessarily mean military intervention (as lc3102 said, it might also be something like education). But the way this aid should take shape should indeed by influenced by the input of local communities.

  14. TJ says:

    If I have given the impression that I think we should force our own idea of statehood etc. on Afghanistan and the Afghan people than I would like to correct that. Being an Anthropologist I completely agree that we should work with and for the people Afghanistan on their own terms. But, having said that, I do believe in basic human rights and I also think that help should be offered where needed. Afghanistan is in a state of crisis, partly because we helped them into it. It would a horrible thing to leave things be now and leave people to it. But there is no standard formula that we can apply through which we will achieve what, I suspect, everyone wants; a peaceful, stable and secure Afghanistan. And I think it is much more constructive to do what we can instead of talking about what we can’t do. So, yes Thurgeis, I agree that we should work more with the people.

    As for the question of whether we have to provide food first or security, I do not agree with MartVrieze. Though security technically brings economic growth, our physiological needs such as food are needed to be able to provide security for ourselves, people give physiological needs their first priority. After this we tend to provide security for ourselves by organizing ourselves in groups. I agree that it sounds more logical that security is a first priority because food might follow, this is however not how the human psyche works…

    Nigina, I think your point about the cultural antipathy against a Weberian state is really interesting. As you said, it is a Western product that could cause cultural struggles. Does anyone else feel more and more hopeless about the state of Afghanistan by reading this blog??…

    • lc3102 says:

      Dear TJ,
      to answer your last question: yes, I personally also do feel somewhat more and more hopeless after reading this blog at times. That is also because of the fact that we are, obviously, only talking, reading and writing about it. We are not actually doing anything to influence or improve the situation (although perhaps, by posting in this blog, the wider world will take notice,or actors more directly involved will be faced with new ideas), but simply analysing the processes involved.

      Having said that and noting that discussing is what is expected of us: I don’t think anyone would see it as viable to introduce a Weberian statelike model in Afghanistan, or anywhere else for that matter. I think we would be well to remember that in Weber’s time it was a positive statement to call something bureaucratic. Nowadays, at least in the Netherlands, it has a mostly pejorative meaning. However, if some superfast and efficient foreigners (be they from the ‘west’ or from the ‘east’, ‘south’ or I don’t know where) would come in with guns blazing and the like, and say they would help us into the 21st century, I don’t think we would welcome them with open arms.

      The analogy might be an extreme case and there are obvious points, as you note for instance concerning human rights, that should be addressed. The question however remains in how far ‘we’ have now really succeeded in furthering the positive development of human rights, and how much we have done harm to it.

      If we really want to help and support our goals for human rights and democratic ideals, perhaps the best way would be to simply support education (as Malala advocates), something that can be done through books, the internet, teachers, etc and which does not necessarily require a (heavy) military presence. In that sense I’d like to close off with a message of optimism: certain westerners, such as one of our guest speakers for Actuele Vraagstukken, have been committed before the interventions started and will most likely stay committed thereafter. Furthermore, there is nobody, in any case not those that have taken this class, that can claim they did not know of Afghanistan and I personally believe that this fact, in and of itself, can make a difference.

    • martvrieze says:

      The reason I put security as the first piority, is precisely for psychological reasons. Think of it this way, what do you find more troubeling: The risk of getting shot or the risk of not having anything to eat? I do however stress that food (and water) should be the immedeate second priority.

  15. Volkan says:

    I also think that a Weberian state will not be viable in the case of Afghanistan. I share the view of Nigina on the point that the population of Afghanistan will see the Weberian state as a ‘westernization’ of the country. I think that Afghan people are not that much interested in a western influenced country.

    The main and first goal must not be a war against drugs and corruption. Trough a hybrid strategy like Mukhopadhyay a mix of formal and informal forms of authority and Goodhands joint public/private extraction regimes. Bringing the warlords back in is like many also my opinion the only way to build some sort of state in Afghanistan. After establishing a sustainable state in Afghanistan, the war on drugs and corruption will have more chance to succeed.

    • TheEqualist says:

      I agree with you Volkan, the main priority is to bring stability to Afghanistan.
      The only way this is posible in this Afghan society is to put up a mix of informal and formal institutions. So for now this is the solution.

      But in the long term the west really wants these societies in the east to just develop. Many violations of Human rights happens in these regions. So i guess a democratic western system #weberian, would be the ultimate long term solution.

      • Volkan says:

        We agree on the short term goals to reach a result. But in the long term, I don’t expect a development in Afghanistan like the west(US) want to see. A Weberian state is a long term solution, but i don’t think Afghanistan will ever be a weberian state. However, the west(US) must at least try to fight for human rights in Afghanistan, which I think has a chance to succeed.

      • TheEqualist says:

        The Teamwork that US have had in Afghanistan has not been very good. So if i were them i won’t keep bothering for defendin human rights in Afghanistan. ‘

        They have had many billions to build something and that has been ineffective. So they don’t deserve it. #The people on top aren’t so good to workt whit, and you need them to do some human rights missions in peace in Afghanistan. #volkan

    • lc3102 says:

      Dear Volkan,
      I’m not sure if you consider the US a sustainable state, but if you do, I was wondering how you evaluate their success(es) regarding the war on drugs and corruption?
      In my opinion, the war on drugs, as the war on corruption and the same with the war on terrorism, are useless sorts of ‘wars’ as they can never be conclusively ‘won’, do not have a clear and easy target/set of culprits and still manage to create fear and support among national populations necessary for the expenditure. And so, the US continues to wage these ‘wars’ without really questioning/clarifying the aims, objectives, strategies and what can be defined as a success before advising other countries join in on the activities.
      Do you really think that a sustainable state can ever ‘succeed’ in the war on drugs and corruption? And if so, what does success mean exactly?

      • Volkan says:

        I agree that the war on drugs and corruption are not efficient, but it is extreme to call it useless. Yes, these sorts of wars can never be won, but you can fight against to, at least, reduce the negative effects of drugs. Concluding: a sustainable state can’t ‘succeed’ in the war on drugs and corruption. They only can reduce it by fight against drugs and corruption.

      • lc3102 says:

        Volkan, I agree with you that it may be an overreaction to call the wars useless. However, I think that a critical assessment of the amount of money spent and the results should persuade us to look at alternatives. As is also the case with corruption, there is a very hypocritical western tendency to tell other (aspiring/developmental) nation states how to govern, put in place a market economy, and fight drugs, corruption and terrorism, etc. Yet, in our own societies, we are not able to fight all these things. Much like the poppy in Afghanistan, the Latin/Southern American nations may have the coca-leaves, but who is actually consuming all these drugs? And then also, what does it matter? Why is alcohol, which is medically speaking also a hard drug, legal, while morphine is only administered under prescription? And what about the paradoxical stance on soft drugs? Again, I refer to my original question: what exactly are we fighting? And how do we measure success? Especially with so many western societies in an economic need for sound investments it would be wise to answer these questions. So far, I have not been able to come up with an answer myself but I keep on thinking….

  16. Sarah93 says:

    Implementing a successful Weberian state in Afghanistan currently is simply not a realistic option. The country remains heavily divided and de-centralised and attempting to centralise and formalise power will most likely lead to further fragmentation with provinces and their informal actors moving further towards the periphery of the weak Afghan state. Involving informal forms of authority in the state-building process may not be the ideal as Mukhopadhyay discusses with corruption and human rights abuses being more common among these actors however, it may be a necessary step to a future Weberian state in Afghanistan, it may be a transitionary measure. States don’t transform from a failed/collapsed or weak state to a fully functioning democratic state in a few weeks or months in most cases it is a long and costly process taking years even decades to achieve. Imposing Western institutions and forms of state-building on Afghanistan and expecting it to work is un-realistic, if a successful Weberian state is to be built in Afghanistan it must be a successful Afghan state, involving Afghan actors of both a formal and informal nature.

  17. Alucard says:

    I agree with the majority that state-building (in one form or another) takes precedence over the war on drugs. Many here have already suggested that some type of collaboration with the local strongmen could be fruitful in bringing peace, stability, and growth at the local level, whilst letting farmers continue to grow poppy.
    A potential backlash of this though could be the ever growing power/influence of these regional strongmen, who might not appropriate said power for purposes deemed rightful by the international community. It seems that some, not most, actively promote and profit from the production of poppy. Were these strongmen given total free reign over their territories what’s to say they won’t all expand their military capacities and fight one another for control over ever greater masses of land once the international forces leave, bringing forth the next civil and plunging Afghanistan back into the position it was during the Mujahideen Civil war.

  18. NRG says:

    Statebuilding in Afghanistan and the war on drugs are two things that can’t be separated as mentioned before. What I also conclude from numerous posts is that we can’t leave the warlords out of this process because they enjoy too much support amongst the population which makes them very powerful when it comes to aspects statebuilding. I therefore also agree with the fact that some sort of mix between formal and informal authorities is the key solution to get somewhat of a stable situation in Afghanistan from which the process of statebuilding can continue. If the ISAF and US retreat and do nothing the warlords or the Taliban will consolidate their power even further to the point at which the US/UN can’t do anything about it expect resort once again to military action. Therefore i think it’s is best that the US/UN have a hand in this process. The growing support for either the warlords on the one hand or the Taliban on the other is inevitable and we cannot stop it. The US/UN can only try to control this power struggle and steer it the right way that might lead to the ‘stable’ situation I mentioned before. I think the key in this process is to make both sides aware of the fact that they need each other to form a state that is not purely a western copy nor a state that is ruled by warlords where human rights and such are violated daily. I think this cooperation is the first step towards a weberian state which I think is possible to exist in every country on this planet, with the right incentives and patience.

  19. Thurgeis says:

    After seeing some footage and reading some newspapers on the topic I’m becoming increasingly aware of the fact that it might be due to the fact that it is us westerners helping, which might be one of the biggest problems. It appears the Turkish are, especially in the northern part of Afghanistan where Turkmen etc. live, very successful in establishing a more constructive approach. Not so much to state building as of yet, but at least supplying people with food and the necessary tools to grow it (and not so much poppy, so they say anyway). Maybe with a different setup and division of labor among a brand new set of coalition partners improvements can be realized. If Turks, maybe Chinese/Mongols, Uzbeks get more involved with our financial aid a grassroots level (re)construction of a more sustainable society can in time be realized. They have a clear lingual and cultural advantage over us when it comes to making an assessment of what might be feasible to achieve.

    • 0range says:

      True the Turks might be more successful than the western coalition in their attempt to make changes. But do you really think they are in it for state making? Could be, but I wonder if their interest is not just to spread their influence. That’s not to say that some enlightened self interest on their part won’t accomplish allot of good for the Afghans, but I wonder if they will take it all the way to state building levels. As for the Chinese none of the other big groups have a similar cultural/linguistically background as the Chinese therefore they might hit the same wall the western coalition did, however they may be different in one important respect. The fact that they have not played a big role in the war and are not directly associated with the west might give them an advantage, at least at the beginning.

      • Lotte says:

        China would never do anything that isn’t in their own interests . For instance the development aid that China is giving, they only build roads in Africa so they can easier transport the raw materials they need themselves. When China has an own interest in the region (maybe more stability in the region creates a larger market for China) I believe that’s the only trigger for China to help. And maybe selfish statebuilding isn’t that bad? Then I join Orange by saying that China could have an advantage because they are not associated with the West and they did not fulfilled a (major) role in the war.

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