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Informal Order and the State in Afghanistan
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Book description

Despite vast efforts to build the state, profound political order in rural Afghanistan is maintained by self-governing, customary organizations. Informal Order and the State in Afghanistan explores the rules governing these organizations to explain why they can provide public goods. Instead of withering during decades of conflict, customary authority adapted to become more responsive and deliberative. Drawing on hundreds of interviews and observations from dozens of villages across Afghanistan, and statistical analysis of nationally representative surveys, Jennifer Brick Murtazashvili demonstrates that such authority enhances citizen support for democracy, enabling the rule of law by providing citizens with a bulwark of defence against predatory state officials. Contrary to conventional wisdom, it shows that 'traditional' order does not impede the development of the state because even the most independent-minded communities see a need for a central government - but question its effectiveness when it attempts to rule them directly and without substantive consultation.

Reviews

'We often assume that customary order and the modern state are fundamentally at odds. Rolling up her sleeves to conduct in-depth fieldwork in rural Afghanistan, Jennifer Brick Murtazashvili questions this assumption by examining how the state and governance are in fact experienced at the local level. The result is a triumph of well-grounded empirical work, theoretical insight, and clear argumentation. Our understanding of how public goods are provided in weak-state contexts will never be the same.'

Edward Schatz - University of Toronto

'Jennifer Brick Murtazashvili’s extensive field research conducted in over thirty villages in ethnically diverse Afghan provinces lends great authority to her narrative on Afghanistan’s decentralized governance. Indeed, Informal Order and the State in Afghanistan, is the only book in print that explains how (her apt term) ‘informal federalism’ operates at the local level. It offers a rare, fresh, and accurate perspective for any way ahead in Afghanistan today. It should be essential reading for all those inside and outside of government interested in Afghan affairs.'

Peter Tomsen - Former US Special Envoy to Afghanistan

'This excellent book questions the conventional wisdom that informal village governance is at odds with effective public goods provision. The author’s impressive study of Afghanistan, using hundreds of interviews and national surveys show that customary organizations not only fulfill many state functions but they also increase support for the state and democracy. In skillfully combining general theory and contextual depth, Murtazashvili advances our understanding of informal governance, decentralization, and the missed opportunities for state-building in post-Taliban Afghanistan.'

Scott Radnitz - University of Washington

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