IRRC No. 880

State-building in Afghanistan: a case showing the limits?

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Since the 1990s, the concept of 'state-building' has become the means by which intervenors have attempted to tackle 'state failure/fragility'. The 'ideal' referred to when attempting to do this – both theoretically and in practice – has been that of the classic 'nation-state' as developed by Max Weber. To answer the question posed by the title above, the article first looks generally at the evolution of the current state-building paradigm and global governance discourse. Second, a background of historical attempts at state-building in Afghanistan is given. Third, an assessment is made of the international community's approach to Afghanistan since 2001. Finally, the appropriateness of replicating a Weberian state-building model onto more traditional societies such as Afghanistan – where modes of governance and authority are often informal, complex, and characterized by historical and charismatic sources of legitimacy – is addressed. Until now, such contexts have barely been acknowledged, still less understood, by intervenors. Today, however, some academics are beginning to outline an alternative response to state fragility, recognizing more traditional sources of legitimacy and a hybridity of political order.

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