Seminar No. 10: Afghanistan: nation, state, war

On March 31, the Discussion Club of “Caravan of Knowledge” hosted a seminar on the subject of “Afghanistan: nation, state, war”. Independent analyst Rustam Makhmudov presented his views on the matter based on an analysis of the “nation” term evolution and a comparison of the modern and postmodern approaches to the nation phenomenon. The analyst gave an interesting historical overview of the development of the modernization processes and traditionalism of Afghanistan.

He traced the transformation of the idea about what nation is: from a community/land-belonging sense to a nation with own constitution, to an imaginative construct and further to a transnational identity. Here are some interesting thoughts that were expressed during discussion:

– Afghanistan experienced a few attempts to modernize itself in the 20th century, each of which ended in a rollback due to the traditionalist reaction. In the result, each time Afghanistan found itself in a worse situation than before modernization attempt;

– Young Afghans played an important role in modernizing Afghanistan;

– while the initial modernization in the country took place with a preservation of the emir’s status and his unity with the clergy, further modernization led to  a secularization of the state, which challenged the clergy and traditionalists;

– gradually Afghanistan witnessed an increasing split between the modernists and traditionalists;

– Zakir Shah’s reforms were the most successful, during his reign such innovations as banning members of the royal family from holding posts; free education; Constitution; creation of political parties and freedom of the press were achieved;

– further, the split continued along the lines of the monarchy- liberal bourgeoisie-religious circles versus the heads of tribes-left parties;

– after the coup d’etat of Daud, Afghanistan had been experiencing the so-called “curse of power”, where no high authority is stable and is challenged by a an irreconcilable opposition. In the result,  new coups and civil wars take place;

– the seizure of power by Taliban in 1996 brought the “national and state construction” process to its logical end – loss of independence and the strengthening of new geopolitical games around Afghanistan;

– the country’s economy is 70% dependent on foreign aid and 30% on drug trafficking

The discussion participants pondered the same issue raised by the Kazakhstani scientist Sultan Akimbekov in his book “The History of Afghanistan”: “What did the Afghans do wrong, what went wrong for them to come to such a dramatic outcome as the loss of their state?”

“If Afghanistan had either a strong vertical of power, as it used to be during the times of the monarchy, or a relatively consolidated society with common values, it could try to play an independent role. However, the absence of these conditions, means its statehood depends critically on the relations between foreign states that have their own interests in within Afghanistan. Therefore, for the future of Afghanistan, it is not only the absence of confrontation which is crucial, but also the presence of a strong external player able to influence the situation and bear responsibility.”