State building in Afghanistan has always proved difficult but has historically relied on a model that seeks to create a highly centralized government on the grounds that the country would otherwise collapse into anarchy. The post 2001 governments of Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani relied on international support to make this vision of a strong government a reality. Yet in spite massive international financial and military assistance, Afghanistan has not achieved stability and must deal with an ongoing Taliban insurgency. While issues such as corruption, poverty, and lack of infrastructure are often cited as reasons for this lack of success, a larger question is whether the government structure created by the 2004 Afghan constitution meets the country’s needs. Paradoxically, attempts to empower an overwhelming strong center to prevent anarchy have instead produced much of the very instability it was designed to avoid. It now appears that a governmental structure historically designed to magnify the power of Afghanistan’s kings and dictators is at odds with a population demanding more participation and a stronger role in their own governance.
THOMAS BARFIELD is an anthropologist who received his PhD from Harvard University. He is the author of The Central Asian Arabs of Afghanistan (1981), The Perilous Frontier: Nomadic Empires and China (1989) and co-author of Afghanistan: An Atlas of Indigenous Domestic Architecture (1991). His most recent book is Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History (Princeton, 2010). Barfield is Professor and Chair of Anthropology at Boston University and the current President of the American Institute for Afghanistan Studies (AIAS). He recently returned from a trip to Kabul where he concluded a cooperation agreement between AIAS and the American University of Afghanistan.