From Real Estate to Nation-State: Who Will Lead Afghanistan?

From Real Estate to Nation-State: Who Will Lead Afghanistan?

Khans, kings, and conquerors—these are the leaders Afghans have mostly known. The legacies of Alexander the Macedonian, Genghis Khan, the Soviet Army, the Mujahadin, and finally the Taliban and Osama bin Laden share one feature: leadership based on power and divorced from authority—or with only the Qur’an as the authorizing symbol of governance. Invariably, the outcomes have been cumulative human rights abuses and what I call disvelopment, that is, the unraveling of the little development that existed. A common denominator in the repetitive failures of governance, human rights, and economic development in Afghanistan has been bad leadership.

As a journalist in Peshawar, Pakistan, on the rim of the Afghan war of the 1980s, I was fortunate to spend time with the late anthropologist Louis Dupree, whose book Afghanistan had become required cold war reading. “This place has always been more real estate than nation-state,” he said. “They are wonderful people, with a rich history and culture, and often below the surface, some fine leaders—the glue that holds the thing together.” The fine leaders could not operate above the surface because this land was on everyone’s way to someplace else; it was a pawn in the games of external powers that imposed leaders. Afghan leaders were nurtured and empowered by a Kalashnikov culture.

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Duggan | University of California Press Gardels