Afghanistan-State and Tribe in Nineteenth-Century Afghanistan: The Reign of Amir Dost Muhammad Khan (1826-1863)

By Adamec, Ludwig W. | The Middle East Journal, Autumn 1998 | Go to article overview

Afghanistan-State and Tribe in Nineteenth-Century Afghanistan: The Reign of Amir Dost Muhammad Khan (1826-1863)


Adamec, Ludwig W., The Middle East Journal


State and Tribe in Nineteenth-Century Afghanistan: The Reign of Amir Dost Muhammad Khan (1826-1863), by Christine Noelle. Surrey, England: Curzon Press, 1997. xxiv + 297 pages. Notes to p. 365. Gloss. to p. 373. Appends. to p. 404. Bibl. to p. 424. Index to p. 439. 40.

Reviewed by Ludwig W. Adamec

Although much has been written about the first Anglo-Afghan war (1839-42), it remained for this study to provide an authoritative examination of the interaction between the various social forces in Afghanistan. While most studies on the period were written from the viewpoint of the center, it is Christine Noelle's special contribution to connect also the description of the sociopolitical circumstances in the periphery with the details of the consolidation of power of the first Muhammadzai ruler-Amir Dost Muhammad Khan (r. 1826-63). Noelle's study endeavors to reconstruct the political setting in Afghanistan during the reign of Dost Muhammad. In so doing, it shifts the focus of the debate from political history to an emphasis on the sociological situation on the ground. It establishes a chronological framework for this period and explores the relationship between the amir and the forces he wished to control.

Noelle begins with an examination of the political situation at the time of Dost Muhammad's rise to power. She describes the transformation of the Sadozai empire, founded by Ahmad Shah Durrani in 1747, into a small regional state and the victory of the Muhammadzai clan under Dost Muhammad Khan after a prolonged civil war (1817-26). In the following chapter, Noelle examines Dost Muhammad Khan's policies in Afghan Turkistan. She shows how the Afghan ruler was able to capture an area characterized by "political segmentation" by taking advantage of the rivalries between petty Uzbek khanates in northern Afghanistan. It was the beginning of "Afghanization" of this multi-ethnic state, which was completed only later by Amir `Abd alRahman (r. 1880-1901). Next, Noelle analyzes the position of the Pashtun tribes in the Muhammadzai state. She explains the intricacies of Pashtun tribal structure and the political decentralization during the amir's reign in terms of theories of "segmentary lineage organization. …

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