Afghanistan traces the historic struggles and the changing nature of political authority in this volatile region of the world, from the Mughal Empire in the sixteenth century to the Taliban resurgence today. Thomas Barfield introduces readers to the bewildering diversity of tribal and ethnic groups in Afghanistan, explaining what unites them as Afghans despite the regional, cultural, and political differences that divide them. He shows how governing these peoples was relatively easy when power was concentrated in a small dynastic elite, but how this delicate political order broke down in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries when Afghanistan's rulers mobilized rural militias to expel first the British and later the Soviets. Armed insurgency proved remarkably successful against the foreign occupiers, but it also undermined the Afghan government's authority and rendered the country ever more difficult to govern as time passed. Barfield vividly describes how Afghanistan's armed factions plunged the country into a civil war, giving rise to clerical rule by the Taliban and Afghanistan's isolation from the world. He examines why the American invasion in the wake of September 11 toppled the Taliban so quickly, and how this easy victory lulled the United States into falsely believing that a viable state could be built just as easily.
Afghanistan is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand how a land conquered and ruled by foreign dynasties for more than a thousand years became the "graveyard of empires" for the British and Soviets, and what the United States must do to avoid a similar fate.
Thomas Barfield is professor of anthropology at Boston University. His books include The Perilous Frontier: Nomadic Empires and China, 221 BC to AD 1757; The Central Asian Arabs of Afghanistan; and Afghanistan: An Atlas of Indigenous Domestic Architecture.
"[I]mpressive."--Christopher de Bellaigue, New York Review of Books
"This book is an authoritative and well-written summary of what we might call the majority view. There is a streak in this book, however, of more radical thinking. . . . It leads him near the end of the book to some startling predictions for Afghanistan's possible futures."--Gerard Russell, Foreign Policy
"Thomas Barfield's new book offers a remedy for Americans' pervasive ignorance of Afghanistan. . . . Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History is an invaluable book. Mr. Barfield does not give the United States a way out of Afghanistan, but he does provide the context necessary for good policymaking."--Doug Bandow, Washington Times
"A brilliant book to educate all of us about a country we should know and appreciate. . . . Thomas Barfield's book on Afghanistan is likely to become the first source that serious students turn to as a guide to this complicated country. His comprehensive portrait of Afghanistan is a stunning achievement."--Joseph Richard Preville, Saudi Gazette
"Barfield, an anthropologist and old Afghanistan hand, has written a history of Afghanistan that weaves in geography, economics, and culture (think tribes, rural-urban dichotomies, value systems) while maintaining a focus throughout on Afghan rulers' relations with their own people and the outside world. [The book] is lightened by many breaks in the narrative to address broad themes or make intriguing comparisons, such as likening patrimonial Afghanistan to medieval Europe."--Foreign Affairs
"In this riveting study, Barfield does a splendid job of informing us why Afghanistan is the way it has always been."--Daily Star
"Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History by Thomas Barfield is a primer for anyone seeking to understand the region, its cultural and political underpinnings."--Raghu Mohan, BusinessWorld
Table of Contents:
List of Illustrations vii
Chapter One: People and Places 17
Chapter Two: Conquering and Ruling Premodern Afghanistan 66
Chapter Three: Anglo-Afghan Wars and State Building in Afghanistan 110
Chapter Four: Afghanistan in the Twentieth Century: State and Society in Conflict 164
Chapter Five: Afghanistan Enters the Twenty- first Century 272
Chapter Six: Some Conclusions 337
Another Princeton book authored or coauthored by Thomas Barfield: