AFGHANISTAN Afghanistan: Political Frailty and Foreign Interference, by Nabi Misdaq. London, UK and New York: Routledge, 2006. xvii + 351 pages. $125.
Reviewed by Stephen Frederic Dale
Dr. Nabi Misdaq's new book on Afghanistan is welcome for two reasons. First, it is written by a knowledgeable Afghan who long worked for the BBC Pashtun service and who frequently visited his home country. second, the author is also a well-trained anthropologist. Readers familiar with the torrent of books published on Afghanistan since 9/11 will know all too well how few of these publications have been written by individuals who speak both Pashtu and Dari and who are personally and academically familiar with Afghan society. Nabi is thus able to speak from inside the Afghan tradition and also examine his country's history and society with the informed eye of a cultural anthropologist. Readers should understand, however, that Dr. Nabi is a fierce believer in the historic and contemporary mission of the Pashtuns as the founders and rulers of the Afghan state, and his narrative and analysis always reflects his Pashtun identity and commitment.
Nabi's book is divided into three parts. An historical-anthropological study of Afghan society and history from 1747-1973 forms Part one of the book. Part two is an analysis of Daoud's government and the events leading to the Soviet invasion in 1979. Part three examines the Afghan resistance, the rise of the Taliban, and "postcommunist ethnicity." In the introduction, the author explores the meaning and social significance of the term, "Pashtunwali," asking, inter alia, why non-Pashtun who historically ran the Afghan bureaucracy, should "have built such an aversion to anything Pashtun" (p. 5). This question highlights one of the author's main concerns - what he considers non-Pashtun Afghan and foreign hostility to Pashtuns. This concern becomes the explicit subject of chapters seven and eight. Having made his own bias clear Dr. Nabi then provides an extremely useful survey of the types of anthropological, literary, and historical literature that are extant for the study of Afghan history and society, highlighting the important works of Fredrik Barth, Richard Tapper, Aidan Southall, Ernest Gellner, and others who have provided important concepts for studying Afghan society and the Afghan state.
He then summarizes Afghan history from the formation of the Afghan state in 1747 to 1973, but his survey is unusual in that it is informed by knowledge of Persian sources and social science literature on state formation. Unlike most recent works on Afghanistan, which usually just summarize the political and military events of Afghan history, he offers a structural analysis of the Afghan state, arguing that it began to evolve from a "segmentary" to a unitary state under Abdur Rahman (r. 1880-1901) (p. 55). Then he concludes with a summary of the problems of the Afghan state, which is not significantly different from the major sources he cites for the late 19th and early 20th century, following particularly closely Vartan Gregorian's classic 1969 study, The Emergence of Modern Afghanistan.
Dr. Nabi then turns to his principal concern, Afghan history and society since 1973, which occupies the remaining 200 pages of the book. …