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Warlords, Strongman Governors, and the State in Afghanistan

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  • Date Published: February 2014
  • availability: Available
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9781107023925

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  • Warlords have come to represent enemies of peace, security, and “good governance” in the collective intellectual imagination. In this book Dipali Mukhopadhyay asserts that, in fact, not all warlords are created equal. Under certain conditions, some of these much-maligned actors are both able and willing to become effective governors on behalf of the state. This provocative argument is based on extensive fieldwork in Afghanistan, where Mukhopadhyay examined warlord-governors who have served as valuable exponents of the Karzai regime in its struggle to assert control over key segments of the countryside. She explores the complex ecosystems that came to constitute provincial political life after 2001 and goes on to expose the rise of “strongman” governance in two important Afghan provinces. While this brand of governance falls far short of international expectations, its emergence reflects the reassertion of the Afghan state in material and symbolic terms that deserve our attention. This book pushes past canonical views of warlordism and state building to consider the logic of the weak state as it has arisen in challenging, conflict-ridden societies like Afghanistan.

    • Based on qualitative field work in Afghanistan
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    Reviews & endorsements

    "Mukhopadhyay brings the much abused category of "warlord" to life in this innovative and path breaking study of regional politics in Afghanistan. It provides the previously missing analytic rigor in a comparative study of the fraught relationship of a weak state center and its unruly peripheries."
    Thomas Barfield, Professor of Anthropology, Boston University

    "This is an outstanding volume not only for the courageous fieldwork on which it is based and its subsequent empirical insights, but because it provides a needed alternative to outdated notions of state building. It challenges the too often accepted idea that power equals centralization. It also takes our focus away from normative, and nominal structures to the real informal processes behind any kind of authority. Third, it once again shows that the search for political perfection may be the worst enemy of basic governance. Should be read by anyone interested in 21st century politics."
    Miguel Angel Centeno, Musgrave Professor of Sociology, Princeton University

    "Warlords, Strongman Governors, and the State in Afghanistan could not be timelier. This book is among the few that take seriously the dynamic processes of state-building in Afghanistan and the resilience of its current and surprisingly resilient phase. Mukhopadhyay provides a keen analysis of how and under what conditions state authority benefits from local warlord strengths in terms of personal reputation, charisma and skill as a patron. Through extensive field research in Afghanistan, Mukhopadhyay shows how politics in Afghanistan really works, and reveals concrete and specific information on how the convergence of politics at the center and in the provinces makes the Afghan state stronger in significant ways. This book is essential reading for anyone interested in contemporary strategies of state-building generally and in this important process in this critical region."
    William Reno, Professor of Political Science, University of Wisconsin

    "Few terms are as pejorative in common usage as "warlord", and warlordism has been a source of great suffering in many settings. In Warlords, Strongman Governors, and the State in Afghanistan, however, Dipali Mukhopadhyay argues that Afghan warlordism has had highly variable dynamics and consequences: while some strongmen have brought suffering and instability, others have actually advanced the cause of political order in a weak state, with systematic variations in local conditions accounting for the difference. She builds her case on a foundation of richly detailed field research, with results that pose important implications for counterinsurgency, governance reform, and theories of political development. Her provocative analysis will cause both scholars and policy makers to re-examine their views on this critical topic."
    Stephen Biddle, Professor of Political Science and International Affairs, The George Washington University

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    Product details

    • Date Published: February 2014
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9781107023925
    • length: 388 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 22 mm
    • weight: 0.69kg
    • contains: 6 b/w illus.
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Introduction
    2. Atta Mohammad Noor, the Son of Balkh
    3. Gul Agha Sherzai, the neo-Khan of Nangarhar
    4. Ismail Khan, the Emir of Herat and Juma Khan Hamdard, the Wandering Wali
    5. Conclusion.

  • Author

    Dipali Mukhopadhyay, Columbia University, New York
    Dipali Mukhopadhyay is an Assistant Professor in the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University and a member of the Arnold A. Saltzman Institute on War and Peace Studies. She has been conducting research in Afghanistan since 2007 and made her first trip to the country in 2004.

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