Nigel J.R. Allan, “Rethinking governance in Afghanistan. (The Future of Afghanistan)”.
Journal of International Affairs, Spring 2003 v56 i2 p193(10).
representation in a government based on population, and most importantly, on
territorial representation that will accommodate most major ethnic groups and
relatively speaking, a peaceful place. For a country in the throes of civil
wars since the early 1970s, there is a sense that placidity reigns. The
central government is weak, and frankly, this is welcome. For decades,
external donors promoted an ineffective Pashtun hegemony in Kabul while they
disregarded outlying areas. Yet the question remains: Can Afghanistan's
regional powers, now backed by individual or multilateral external
reconstruction agencies and security forces, sustain this relative peace?
literature on Afghanistan: the strong link between ethnicity and territory. An
investigation into the ethnic territorial situation in Afghanistan suggests a
potential path towards successful governance in the country
it, as others have claimed, the creation of a central government with a
standing army. The challenge is balancing regional powers--the new khans, or
warlords, as they are pejoratively described in the Western press--with their
assumed right to govern their supporters and territory in a manner that
minimizes human conflict. This article argues that this action can be
accomplished only by devolving centralized nation-state power out of Kabul,
the perennial seat of conflict.
after decades of conflict has pervaded the country. Peace, as such, does not
prevail so much as an autarchic equilibrium rules. For the first time since
the 19th century, no party is dominant, and the Pashtun hegemony has been
broken. The Kohestani General Fahim, from the Panjshir valley in the
Hindukush, has the envious task of maintaining control of Kabul while regional
khans consolidate power. In the run-up to the 2004 elections there will be a
jockeying for power that was not forecast in the 2001 Bonn Agreement, but that
is hardly a new phenomenon in Afghanistan.
Kabul goes into convulsions every 40 to 50 years. The most recent episode
began in 1973 when King Mohammad Zahir Shah, an ethnic Pashtun from the
Durrani confederation, was ousted by his cousin in a bloodless coup. Prior to
1973, a rebellion had broken out in 1929 after the British status of
protectorate lapsed and local insurgents from Kabul Kohestan exiled the
Pashtun king, Amunullah.
leadership successes and many catastrophes. Throughout these skirmishes,
battles and wars, one feature is clear: The Pashtun claims on an Afghan empire
were never realized.
but this article focuses on one: For an Afghan state to survive, it must both
include representatives of the different ethnic groups and simultaneously
account for the complexities of its geographic space and distinctive ties that
its residents have to it. (1) Simply put, space, or rather territory, must
have representation in any future solution to this perennial problem of
conflict. Up until this point, this has not been the case.
ETHNIC IDENTITY IN AFGHANISTAN
Fredrik Barth's book, Ethnic Groups and Boundaries: The Social Organization of
Culture Differences, made a substantial contribution to the anthropological
debate over ethnic identity when it was published three decades ago. Barth
suggested that ethnic identities are not determined by groups assigning them
to one another; people invent their own ethnic identities based on how they
perceive themselves in relation to other people. By introducing this idea, he
shifted the focus of defining ethnic identity from an objectivist
structuralist perspective to a subjectivist social interactionist perspective.
Ethnic boundary in the Barthian sense does not refer to physical boundaries,
but rather to social boundaries among groups. (2)
crucial aspect: ethnic groups often define themselves in relation to the land
from which they hail. Pashtuns, for example, and now the media, assign the
ethnonym Tajik to people who speak Dari, the local dialect of Persian. The
Tajiks themselves, however, never use that ethnonym, preferring to use the
name of the valleys they come from to identify themselves, such as Panjshiri,
Munjani and Andarabi. They identify with a place, not a tribe, nor its
mythical origins, like the Pashtuns do. By using the aspatial ethnonym
"Tajik," the Pashtuns are, in a sense, denying Tajiks a territorial basis in
Afghanistan and therefore are discrediting their right to spatial
representation in any government in Kabul. The Western perception of
Afghanistan's ethnic groups is also in line with the Barthian mode of
ethnicity. By viewing regional dominance and authority as a hindrance to a
uniform, aspatial multicultural government dominated from Kabul, they are
ignoring the essential link between ethnicity and territory in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan has 55 ethnic groups who speak 45 languages. (3) For millennia,
people have streamed southward out of Central Asia across the Hindukush passes
into Kabul Kohestan and down into the fertile Indo-Gangetic plains in the
Indian subcontinent. They have intermixed with local people, and many have
settled along the way. Over the last 500 years, in addition, members of the
Pashtun tribes--Durrani and Ghilzai--have migrated out of the Quetta-Kandahar
region and into the Kabul region.
The word "Afghanistan" itself is a British construction, first used in the
Anglo-Persian Treaty of 1801. It includes more than those known colloquially
as Afghans, that is, Pashtuns. Each major region sharing a contiguous border
with Afghanistan has ethnic groups now residing in Afghanistan. Turkmen,
Uzbeks, Tajiks and smaller ethnic groups have cultural ties across the borders
of Afghanistan. Indeed, there are more Pashtuns in Pakistan than in
Afghanistan. Since 1880, when the British created the state of Afghanistan,
there have been massive internal population movements at the instigation of
the Pashtun royalty as part of their plan to Pashtunize the country Pashtuns
were moved from their stronghold in southern Afghanistan to land confiscated
from other ethnic groups. The Hazara in central Afghanistan had their pastures
given to Pashtun pastoralists by a royal edict. (4)
the country continued with the Taliban government, which seized power in 1996.
Taliban is a Pashto word with a Pashto suffix attached to the Arabic word
"talib." Contrary to popular belief, the Taliban was an ethnic movement, not a
religious group. Twenty-six out of twenty-seven members of the Taliban
government's leadership were Pashtuns; many of them were determined to bring
the various ethnic groups of Afghanistan under traditional Pashtun
conservative rural culture.
government, largely because they lived in remote regions of Afghanistan, far
from Kabul. This spatial inequality enabled the Pashtun monarchy, backed by
their kinfolk, to exert hegemonic control over the military, clergy,
judiciary, commercial and civil authorities in Kabul throughout the 20th
ETHNICITY AND TERRITORY
over the link between ethnicity and territory. Failing to grasp the depth of
the connection in Afghanistan, foreigners often denigrate the association. (5)
This article points to two crucial factors in this debate: the notion of
manteqa and the migration patterns of people in and out of Afghanistan.
Throughout much of the Muslim world, manteqa designates an idea of shared
space in which its inhabitants maintain a great degree of cultural uniformity.
The notion, however, is not unique to the Middle Eastern world. We find
similar South Asian terms of bahal in Nepal, mohalla in Pakistan, nukkad in
India, para in Bangladesh and syver-kade in Sri Lanka. The word manteqa
conjures up an image of neighborhood and landscape.
the importance of the term and its various interpretations in rural
Afghanistan. (6) They use manteqa as a spatial administrative planning unit
for the delivery of relief and reconstruction aid in Afghanistan through their
Paris-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) Agency for Technical
Cooperation and Development. As the people identify with this space, it is
easier to energize the local population into a cohesive body to collaborate in
reconstruction projects that have to manage disjointed segments of the local
No evidence of manteqa appears in Pashtun society. Knowing that foreigners are
familiar with the term, Pashtuns may use the word when conversing with
foreigners, but when questioned closely, they cannot identify their manteqa.
This is not surprising, as Pashtuns are an intrusive ethnic group in
Afghanistan. They conquered other ethnic groups, appropriating their land and
water. Their migration patterns over the past 500 years from the
Quetta-Kandahar region to Ghazni, Kabul and Peshawar, when they either
displaced or integrated other groups in the process, are well known.
notion of a home place, but it can even mean all of Afghanistan. Watan
operates at a much larger scale than manteqa, which is bounded space. Although
the boundaries are invisible, they are well known. A journey by motor vehicle
in the non-Pashtun rural areas, for example, is now punctuated by frequent
halts where drivers exchange pleasantries with roadside sentries. Reports from
expatriates traveling in rural Afghanistan contain frequent complaints of
having to pay tolls at stoppages. They see these extractions as highway
robbery, though they are, of course, merely fees for right of passage from one
manteqa to another. Roussel has remarked that foreigners traveling on foot
during the jihad were often handed over from one guide or bodyguard to another
at remote locations in the countryside. This exchange did not occur in areas
occupied by Pashtuns.
Non-Pashtuns will defend their manteqa with force; as a rule, Pashtuns are
oblivious to this. The Kuh Daman valley, which contained the orchards and
breadbasket that sustained the Kabul area for millennia, was pulverized by the
PashtunTaliban in 1999. The Taliban used a scorched-earth policy to destroy
the Kohestani ("Tajik") manteqas, for they knew each manteqa had a commander
who could marshal support from his collateral neighbors to oppose them.
shifting allegiances to the land, often the result of forcible removals of
non-Pashtuns by Pashtuns, that have marked the area for centuries. Under royal
and military authority, the Pashtuns expropriated cultivatable land, pastures
and water rights from other ethnic groups. In early 2003, Human Rights Watch
and Amnesty International both reported instances of a substantial forced
exodus of Pashtun refugees out of the northern areas where their ancestors
were settled a century before by the Pashtun king. (7) By spending their
winters in present-day Pakistan on the plains and tributaries of the Indus
River and their summers on the newly conquered pastures in Afghanistan, these
Pashtun nomads instituted debt-credit relationships with the Hazara. This
resulted in penury and the forfeiture of their land. (8) Now that this area of
northern Afghanistan is under control of a local indigenous ethnic commander,
local residents are expelling the Pashtuns who took their land and water a
century ago under royalist decrees.
A large population of seasonal migrants also affects the territorial makeup of
the land. The problem with a highly mobile population of seasonal migrants and
long-term permanent migration is not well understood. For millennia residents
have streamed out of the Hindukush-Himalaya down to the Indo-Gangetic plains,
part of a long, historic process in which Afghans (rohilla, hill
people)--predominantly Pakhtun/Pashtun--migrate down the Gangetic valley,
depositing and creating their culture and landscapes of Rohilkhand and Oudh in
northern India, altering the ethnic makeup of the land. (9)
government in Kabul. In 2002 The United Nations High Commission for Refugees
(UNHCR) and NGOs enticed two million emigres, exiles and refugees back to
Afghanistan with inducements of food and domestic supplies. (10) Only a
fraction of these people can reclaim their former livelihoods. After being
laid waste for decades, the land is ruined, and its ancient and modern
irrigation systems have been destroyed. During the civil wars over the last 30
years, new claimants supplanted former absentee landowners, and clashes with
returnees have been all too common. The refugees, who have lived in refugee
camps for two decades, do not have the skills or fitness to rehabilitate their
former homeland. For most refugees, return simply means trading one refugee
camp for another. The World Food Program (WFP) and other relief agencies keep
them functioning in an elementary way by providing a modicum of food, and if
they are lucky, some shelter. Meanwhile, more than one million Afghan refugees
have resettled all over Pakistan. Many live profitable lives engaged in
pursuits that contribute to their own welfare and that of their adopted
country. Pashtun refugees tend to remain in Pakistan where many Pashtuns
reside, while members of other ethnic groups journey to Kabul to live in camps
and occasionally go back to their home areas.
The repatriation of millions of former Afghan residents back to Afghanistan is
a risky, never mind foolish, enterprise on the part of Westerners. The reason
is obvious: throngs of people living in reduced living space, with limited
resources, is a recipe for disaster. Urban turmoil appears a likely
consequence of this international policy.
FUTURE GOVERNANCE: A COIMPERIUM REGIME AND REGIONAL SUBSIDIARITY?
Foremost among plans to redress spatial inequality among ethnic groups in
Afghanistan must be the desire to create regional parity among major ethnic
groups. Regionally diverse groups must be given a representative voice, even
if they vary substantially from a majority group like the Pashtuns. The genius
of the U.S. system of government is that the Senate represents the territorial
states in an equal manner. Small populations have their voices heard and their
needs met, thereby creating cohesion for the nation-state. Afghanistan lacks
this spatial cohesion.
charge of what has become a feeding frenzy, as international ambulance chasers
and carpetbaggers seek to devour the substantial funding for relief and
reconstruction. The alienation of the Afghan population in this scramble for
funds is worrisome. The lack of coordination in aid activities in Kabul
currently poses a major threat to the stability and security of the country.
One year after the cessation of Operation Enduring Freedom, major temporary
road and bridge repair has yet to begin. Despite massive infusions of
international aid, the principal north-south road from the Shomali plains to
Kabul, as of November 2002, still has its two major bridges lying in the
riverbeds with no temporary bridges functioning. To the east of Kabul on the
road to Jalalabad, a road journey that once took two hours now takes eight. No
temporary measures to alleviate these conditions have been made.
The building of an Afghan nation with strong central control, put forth in
2001 in Bonn and the 2002 follow-up meeting, is a fantasy of social democratic
European governments. (11) The solution for Afghanistan may instead lie in
considering and implementing the features of a coimperium form of governance.
According to Alain Coret's definition, "a coimperium is a regime in which a
partial international community exercises certain competencies over a portion
of the territory of a third state." (12) The frequently cited example is that
of Sudan, established by Egypt and Britain as a condominium in 1899. Both
countries later assumed coimperium supervision after 1922. (13) Third-party
jurisdiction of a condominium-coimperium nature also prevailed over physical
features, such as rivers in the case of Luxembourg under the Treaty of
Aix-la-Chapelle in 1816, gulfs and bays in the cases of El Salvador and
Nicaragua in 1914 and islands in the case of the Caribbean in 1917.
Under a coimperium regime, the state still holds sovereign rights over the
territory but competencies by the coimperium community can be exercised. At
the same time, any government in Kabul must be grounded in the history and
tradition of the people currently living in what we call Afghanistan. All
regions of the country must be able to participate in decisions that affect
them. This involves maintaining indigenous suzerainty by creating regions
dominated by particular ethnic groups that have a powerful presence both at
the local and national levels. These features of a coimperium are already
taking place in Afghanistan.
THE REGIONALIZATION OF FOREIGN AID
Following the model of a coimperium, a pattern of regionalizing donor aid is
already becoming apparent. America is now letting the United States Agency for
International Development (USAID) contract for reconstruction in the Kandahar
region, which has been the principal beneficiary of American largesse since
the 1950s. (14) Germany, the biggest donor so far, is sending field personnel
to the Paktia-Paktika region, which has long been a focus of German interest.
Since 1973, France has kept its links open through refugee and reconstruction
projects to Kohestanis (Tajiks) in Kabul Kohestan, the central Hindukush and
the Badakshanis in the northeast. Both Daud in Kunduz/Khanabad and Dostum in
the Mazar area received support from the Soviet Union and now from Russia.
Ismail khan in the Herat region receives subsidies from Iran. The Pashtuns,
Gui Agha in Kandahar and Bacha Khan Zadran in Khost are powerful forces in the
south and east. Italy is allotted quasi-jurisdiction over the Jalalabad region
in the east. Undoubtedly another neighbor, Pakistan, will reestablish its
presence with former Pashtun clients in the east. Afghanistan is thus
receiving financial subsidies from foreign donors as it has done in the past.
(15) The crucial distinction is that not all the money is staying in Kabul, as
it did during the Muhammadzai royalist period. Rather, it is the profligate UN
agencies in Kabul that are earning the ire of the general population as they
squander substantial resources on the presumption of creating a strong central
government served by legions of expatriates.
Under the leadership of the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief
(ACBAR), NGOs are now upset by the American military decision to send
Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), composed of members of the U.S.
National Guard and reservists, out to different regions of the country. The
NGOs regard these forces, dressed in civilian clothes but bearing arms, as an
infringement on territory they successfully occupied with refugees in Pakistan
for over two decades. (16) They feel having these Americans in close proximity
will taint them, even though PRTs bring skills that many NGOs lack in rural
reconstruction, such as medical and health care, communications, engineering
and mechanical skills for repairing machinery in local use and construction
skills in rebuilding roads and buildings. Few NGOs have personnel with this
vital expertise. As the PRTs span out over the country, they too settle in
regions. By linking the regionalization of the foreign donors with the PRTs, a
stronger externally driven regionalization of Afghanistan is developing.
regional alignments. (17) At present, the Constitutional Drafting Commission,
created by the 2001 Bonn Agreement, is due to submit its final draft
constitution in October 2003. Difficulties in resolving contentious issues
will arise. The commission contains three members of the fascist Afghan Millat
party, which seeks total Pashtun autonomy over Afghanistan.
units as well as population is a necessity for the elimination of spatial
inequality among regions and ethnic groups. A return to the pre-1964
provincial boundaries where government was broken down into the large regions
of Kabul, Mushraqi, Kandahar, Herat, Turkestan, Kataghan and Hazarajat could
possibly take place again.
has developed since the 2001 Bonn Agreement, it is quite clear that the aims
of some of the arbiters and negotiators in Bonn have not been met. Despite
efforts to create a strong central government, Afghanistan has gone the other
direction by moving towards strong regional identities through the formation
of territories dominated by powerful leaders, though not all are based on
ethnic affiliation. International aid organizations and coalition partners
have had to deal with these regional powers, denigrated as "warlords" in the
Western media, while attempting to get aid out to the provinces. These khans,
or powerful leaders, are often closely tied to particular ethnic groups and
their territory and intimately know the inner workings of indigenous spatial
American saying. In the past, a central government elite in Kabul absorbed the
subsidies of the British, and then the subsidies from America and the Soviet
Union/Russia, while neglecting non-Kabul Afghanistan. Returning elites who
perceive themselves as modern, supported by UN personnel, seek to graft on to
Afghanistan an alien structure of government that has never worked. The
continual convulsions in Kabul every 40 to 50 years for at least two centuries
have underscored the foolishness of having one ethnic group, the Pashtuns,
backed by a royalist presence, ruling from Kabul.
Critics might see this pattern of regional subsidiarity as impossible to
maintain in the future because of the risk of local warfare. A coimperium,
with the strong regional presence of major donor nations, would provide a
balance throughout the regions of the country. The International Security
Assistance Force (ISAF), if extended throughout the country, could act as a
spatial security force much like the American military force did in the Sinai
Desert. Major nation-states, acting as a coimperium, could have their forces
and civilian personnel placed strategically around the country. Sovereignty
could still be centered in a greatly reduced government in Kabul. Early calls
for administering Afghanistan in a regional manner, however, have been
(1) Ethnic conflict is rampant elsewhere in South Asia. David Zurick et al.,
"Ethnic Fragmentation in South Asia," Arab World Geographer 5 (2002), 53-70.
Cultural Differences (Boston: Little Brown, 1969).
Geography and Economics 42, no. 8 (2002): 545-560.
Paper no. 4, New York Afghanistan Council, Asia Society, 1973.
appears neglected by writers on the Taliban period. See for example William
Maley, ed., Fundamentalism Reborn? Afghanistan and the Taliban. (London: Zed
Books, 2002); Ahmed Rashid, Taliban: Islam, Oil and the New Great Game in
Central Asia (London: I. B. Taurus, 2001).
(6) Frederic Roussel and Marie-Pierre Caley, "Les "Manteqas': Le Puzzle
Souterrain de l'Afghanistan," unpublished paper (Peshawar: Agency for
Technical Cooperation and Development, 1993).
(7) All Our Hopes Are Crushed, Human Rights Watch Reports 14, no. 7 (2002).
(8) Daniel Balland, "Nomadic Pastoralists and Sedentary Hosts in the Central
and Western Hindukush Mountains," in Human Impact on Mountains, eds. Nigel
J.R. Allan, Gregory W. Knapp, and Christoph Stadel (Lanham, MD: Rowman and
Littlefield, 1987), 265-276.
J. Brill, 1997); David E. Sopher, "Rohilkhand and Oudh: An Exploration of
Social Gradients Across a Political Frontier," in Richard G. Fox, Realm and
Region in Traditional India (Durham: Duke University Program in Comparative
Studies in Southern-Asia, 1977).
(10) A recent critique of the conduct of UNHCR is David Turton and Peter
Marsden, Taking Refugees for a Ride? The Politics of Refugee Return to
Afghanistan (Kabul: Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, 2002). The
inducements included wheat flour for a family for a three months, vegetable
oil, sugar, personal sanitary supplies, polyethylene sheeting and hand tools.
"Recyclers, that is, refugees entering Afghanistan only, for material benefits
and promises, often return to Pakistan, and occasionally Iran, only to
re-enter to obtain the benefits. According to Turton and Marsden, there, is
pressure put on Pashtun refugees to repatriate to Afghanistan to boost the
potential Pashtun voting bloc in the forthcoming voting on the constitution.
compatible with the contextual conditions existing there, see Nigel J. R.
Allan, "Cut Afghanistan in Two," Sacramento Bee, 14 October 2001, L4; Philip
Bowring, "Why Not Redraw Afghanistan's Borders-Or Even Break it Up?"
International Herald Tribune, 8 December 2001; Marina-Ottaway and Anatol
Lieven, "Rebuilding Afghanistan: Fantasy versus Reality," Carnegie Endowment
for International Peace Policy Brief, no. 12, (January 2002); S. Frederick
Starr, "A Federated Afghanistan?" Central Asia Caucasus Institute Biweekly
Briefing, 7 November 2001.
(12) Vincent P. Bantz, "The International Legal Status of Condominia," Florida
Journal of International Law 12 (1998): 102.
Journal of American History 89 (September 2002): 512-537.
South Asia mention that Afghanistan's neighbors are "interfering" with the
country. In fact, neighbors are merely representing their state's interests in
the future of Afghanistan, which has exhibited great instability since the
1973 coup d'etat took place. See, for example, Ahmed Rashid, "Afghanistan Torn
as its Neighbours Resume Their Battle for Influence," Daily Telegraph, 10
February 2003; Rashid, "New Battles for Afghanistan Begin," Daily Times
(Pakistan), 21 January 2003; "Jockeying for Influence, Neighbors Undermine
Afghan Pact," EurasiaNet Eurasia Insight, 17 January 2003, at
Synovitz "Analysts Saying Neighbors Interfering in Kabul's Internal Affairs,"
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 7 February 2003.
(16) Protecting their very existence in Afghanistan, the charities involved in
relief operations ordered a special critical inquiry into the status of the
PRTs (originally termed Joint Reconstruction Teams by U.S. Deputy Assistant
Secretary of Defense Joseph Collins). Barbara J. Stapleton, "A British
Agencies Afghanistan Group Briefing Paper on the Development of Joint Regional
Teams in Afghanistan," at
Constitutional Drafting Commission, Nematullah Shahrani, discussed a federal
system for Afghanistan. Shahrani, an Uzbek, wrote a 2003 article entitled "The
Future Political Order of Afghanistan" in the journal Omaid Weekly, no. 557. A
pro-Taliban paper from Pakistan's Dharb-I Mu'min published a highly critical
article of Shahrani's proposition that Afghanistan be federalized. According
to the publication, Afghanistan would be divided into seven regions containing
the following current provinces, Pashtunistan-Laghman, Konar, Paktia, Paktika,
Khost, Kandahar-Zabul, Kandahar, Urozgan, Helmand, Aryana-Nimroz, Farah,
Herat, Ghor, Badghis, Turkistan-Faryab, Saripul, Balkh, Samangan, Kunduz,
Khurasan-Badashshan, Takhar, Baghlan, Pamir-Kapisa, Kabul and Logar. Excluded
from this garbled list are current provinces like Nuristan, as well as a
mislocated region, Khorasan, known for centuries for containing the Herat
region in northwestern Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the scheme compares
favorably with the pre-1964 constitution provinces which were deliberately
destroyed by Kabul Pashtun hegemony in the new 1964 constitution, designed to
break up macro provincial autonomy. Perhaps reflecting the U.S. government s
position, one report notes that "under the current conditions, federalism is
tantamount to partition of Afghanistan." See Amin Tarzi, "Afghanistan's New
Constitution: Towards Consolidation or Fragmentation?". Radio Free
Europe/Radio Liberty Afghanistan Report 2, no. 3 (5 February 2003), at
Nigel J. R. Allan is a geographer at the University of California, Davis. He
specializes in society and habitat relations in the states and countries of
the Hindukush-Himalaya region. His most recent field research in Afghanistan
was in October and November 2002.