Deciphering the History of Modern Afghanistan
Deciphering the History of Modern Afghanistan
- Shah Mahmoud HanifiShah Mahmoud HanifiJames Madison University, Department of History
The historiography of modern Afghanistan is undergoing a transformation that involves tension between varieties of data, on one hand, and interpretative frameworks for that information, on the other hand. Textual sources in multiple languages are increasingly in dialogue, as are local and global voices addressing the history of Afghanistan. Growing awareness of inter-regional and international forces impacting the geographical space of Afghanistan has generated conversations among scholars working within and across historical eras and geographic frames of reference. Transnational and trans-temporal orientations have contributed to an interdisciplinary historical discourse where textual information shares analytical space with cultural, material, and visual data from modern Afghanistan.
Greater volumes and more types of textual data have led to a historiographical shift away from isolationist views of the country to analyses that treat the territory and people of Afghanistan in relation to a wide assortment of external contexts, actors, and resources. For example, the increasing use of Persian, Turkish, Urdu, and colonial sources is revealing an ever-widening and highly influential range of relationships between Afghans and non-Afghans inside and outside the territory of Afghanistan that are being examined through prisms such as technology transfer and intellectual exchange, architectural and infrastructure development, literary and sartorial practices, and patterns of social and spatial mobility.
These and other exciting historiographical developments are impeded from realizing their full potential by enduring explanatory recourse to undertheorized, decontextualized invocations of ethnicity; a perpetual emphasis on warfare; and an exclusionary analytical focus on Kabul as a metaphor for the country as a whole that combine to convolute understandings of global forces and their impact on state–society relations in Afghanistan. Together, these issues point toward a conspicuous gap in the historiography of Afghanistan, namely, a fundamental absence of attention to how power works there.
Questions about power are political, and ironically, while the historiography of Afghanistan revolves around state politics, however limited to a handful of pinnacle elites, there is little political critique at work in this discourse as a whole. Whether based proportionally more on coercion or consensus, power involves classification and representation, and in the historiography of Afghanistan, there are few questions asked about the categories of analysis, that is, when they arose, how they congeal, what purpose they serve, for whom, and why. Power has a spatiality to it, and it is rare to find a sustained discussion of how power operates differently across distinct geographies in Afghanistan, or in short, how power in Kabul looks elsewhere. Power also involves culture, in particular the manipulation of language, and here again despite constant invocations of Pashtun-ness, there is a scarcity of attention to how Pashto the language and the culture it carries are situated in the state structure and historiography of Afghanistan, that is, the relationship between Pashto and the national elites in Kabul. Power also has a history of its own, often expressed in episodes of extreme violence in service of empire, and once more, the historiography of Afghanistan tends to elide the enduring impacts of imperialism, let alone offer paths of resistance to it as an aspirationally unrestrained coercive agency in principle. The people of Afghanistan have suffered grievously and inhumanely from national and international forms of power wielded against them, and the vast majority of Afghan people have been written out of the history of Afghanistan through uncritically reductive culture-based misrepresentations of state leaders in Kabul. Intellectual pathways are needed for building an awareness of and remediation of the serial imperial epistemological and physical-material violations perpetrated on ordinary Afghan people and reproduced in the historiography of this hyper-conditional national space.
- Citizenship and National Identity/Nationalism
- Historiography/Historical Theory and Method
- South Asia
Concepts, Problems, and Theory in History
If ciphers are codes, then deciphering is codebreaking. It follows that to decipher anything presupposes the possibility of full or somehow sufficiently complete knowledge of that thing. However, no single piece of writing on Afghanistan can achieve total closure or offer a complete understanding of the country. The history of Afghanistan is not one book of information that can somehow be opened or closed by a single voice claiming authority, too often a non-academic authority, to do so. History is inherently open-ended in that way, with new information and perspectives giving rise to new interpretations. As an ongoing dialogue between the past and the present, the history of Afghanistan will never be deciphered to the full uniform satisfaction of all parties concerned with that history. The early 21st century has produced a significant conjuncture when long-held views on the history of Afghanistan are being intellectually destabilized by new historical perspectives while the country itself appears increasingly politically unstable. This important moment for the history and the historiography of Afghanistan calls for critical reflection on the past and the present.
Critical history, broadly understood, is concerned with the categories used in historical analyses, that is, how those categories arose, functioned in the past, and continue to operate in the present. As such, it can contribute in productive ways to an improved understanding of how the various elements forming Afghanistan’s history came to be known on their own terms and then bundled into a long-standing dominant narrative involving Kabul, Pashtuns, and war. Critical history has a long intellectual lineage arising out of the utility and limits of Marxism for historical studies and running through cultural, literary, and psychological studies in addition to other fields and specialties. Among its notable advocates and practitioners today is Dr. Joan W. Scott.1 Dr. Scott’s pioneering work on the analytical category and actual experience of gender had an enduring impact on the discipline of History, a formative effect on variously named ethno-racial, world cultural, and regional (African, African American, Asian, Latino-Hispanic, Muslim, etc.) studies programs across the academy, and inspired transformative collaborations between academics and non-academics on issues and agendas related to identity politics and social justice.
Historiography is both an intellectual and a political exercise. Intellectually, critical history draws attention to knowledge production systems revolving around and circulating within Afghanistan. In more explicitly political terms, critical history helps us think through how power is articulated and represented within and across multiple locations and scales of analysis in Afghanistan. Critical history helps us identify problems with categories of analysis and articulate inequalities among those categories as they are experienced and narrated in Afghanistan and within larger systems of power acting thereon. It leads to questions about why Kabul, Pashtuns, and war arose and endured as discursive pillars of Afghanistan while pointing us toward ways of transcending the limits and fragility of that historical framework.
Basic timelines for modern Afghanistan typically follow military events and ordinarily include the following elements: Ahmad Shah Abdali unifying various tribes and ethnic groups to form a dynamic but short-lived Afghan empire of conquest (1747–1772), two failed colonial wars with British India (1839–1842 and 1878–1880), independence from British India following a Third Anglo-Afghan War in 1919, the Soviet Union’s invasion in 1979, and the US-led international occupation beginning in 2001. Narratives organized around war preponderate in the historiography of modern Afghanistan, but they can be misleading for at least two reasons. The first is the conspicuous blank spaces between wars that typically elude serious consideration, thus erasing Afghan peoples’ everyday lives in favor of attention to fleeting imperial impulses. Relatedly, the structural differences between each military episode are such that seeing them as a historical pattern misleadingly elides their distinctions. An acute example of this potentially deceptive reading of the past is the three Anglo-Afghan Wars, which are often lumped together and treated as one historical era.2 A critical look finds such considerable variance in origin, process, and result, with each war representing as much of a discontinuity as contributing to a unified period.
The First Anglo-Afghan War was fundamentally an occupation and failed retreat, not a sustained war for three years. The Second Anglo-Afghan War is predicated on an assassination, not two years of pitched battles. The Third Anglo-Afghan War associated with Afghanistan’s independence from British India involved a few border skirmishes and an aerial bombardment of Kabul; it was not a war in any conventional sense of the term. Nor did it end British imperial influence; rather, it repackaged and intensified that imperial relationship while ushering in more explicit dependencies on an assortment of international actors. The Cold War is often overlooked in war-driven narratives of Afghanistan, but in many ways, it had more impact than the kinetic wars before and after it. Not all conflicts in Afghanistan are wars, independence in Afghanistan has not been realized, and many other terms and categories invoked do not apply to Afghanistan unless so qualified as to be denuded of explanatory potency.
In addition to war and independence, tribalism, ethnicity, colonialism, nationalism, and modernity are all complex, contentious concepts that have been subjected to extensive historicization and theorization in contexts other than Afghanistan, where the terms are typically deployed without their comparative and theoretical infrastructure. The application of explanatory concepts isolated from their epistemological roots deprives the historiography of Afghanistan of its full authority and potential impact. To decipher the history of modern Afghanistan, we need to refine our existing conceptual toolkit and find new analytical instruments for the increasing amounts of data that are becoming available.
Critical History: Surmounting Empire and Race-based Politics with Environmental Alliances
Dr. Scott focused on the difference between biological characteristics (sex) and culturally produced categories (gender) as she pioneered the practice of critical history as a pathway for understanding power and inequality in historical contexts and in lived experience. Critical history demonstrates the need and provides methodological options for interrogating categories used to explain the past and present. The most fundamental explanatory dialectic of modern Afghanistan requiring critical historical attention is that between the categories of Afghan and Pashtun that have been strategically conflated for political advantage. Each term has a distinct etymology and premodern genealogy that involves unequally shared historical geography and cultural space. Historiographically, the confusing result for the early modern era is a metonymic blur where the terms Afghan and Pashtun are tendentiously correlated, tactically interchanged, or strategically substituted as they are narratively blended with tribal designations (e.g., Rohillah), geographic referents (e.g., Khorasan), and North Indian dynasties (e.g., Khalji, Suri). This already ambiguous early modern textual situation was compounded during the colonial period as the term Pathan emerged as a third denominator for the same population or populations, and translations, printings, and republications of earlier material and fresh English-language writings on these subjects rapidly expanded.
In the modern era, as the conceptualization and application of national (territorial) and ethnic (cultural) identities were violently inscribed on the global political landscape through colonial and postcolonial processes, tension between Afghan and Pashtun as scholarly categories and self-referents increased to such an extent that volatility between the groupings now defines how political power works, how global war is locally practiced, and how and socioeconomic inequality is produced in Afghanistan. The problem here is not between the terms or categories per se but rather how they operate specifically through power relations in Kabul that became the exclusive theatre of national imaginings about the country as a whole through multiple colonial and postcolonial agencies that historically form a single opportunistic, fleeting and incalculably violent imperial enterprise. Modern imperial projects in Afghanistan proceed only through the collaboration of political elites in Kabul who define themselves through those external attachments that are now capable of remotely projecting instantaneous devastation from anywhere on earth, resulting in wanton violence and destruction in the short term and environmental unsustainability for the people of Afghanistan in the long run.
Kabul’s modern history is interrelated to the histories of many other cities and regions, large and small, near and far from the Hindu Kush valleys. Many different kinds of cultural communities have historically referred to Kabul as home. Various linguistic, tribal, and religious identities have been found in Kabul, and as in urban environments around the world, this city has been a location where identities have been lost, reshaped, and invented. In Kabul, the processes of suppressing and inventing cultural identities have occurred through the medium of the Persian language. Kabul has been referred to as a Pashtun city, a Persian city, a Persian-speaking city ruled by Pashtuns, and a city where Persianized Pashtuns rule. The first authoritative modern history of Kabul was published in 2008, and the impressive author who has a lifetime of knowledge and years of residence in the city, offers another more nuanced perspective in the context of Mohammad Nadir Shah’s 1929 ascension by referencing Kabul being “restored to a Pashtun family” after what appears as an ethnic interregnum of rule by the Tajik Habibullah Kalakani.3 Approximately a century earlier, two experienced and skilled observers described Kabul as being half-Shia and dominated by the walled and juridically autonomous Qizilbash district of Chendawol, the communicative nerve center of the city where the power of Persian literacy and writing among the Afshar, Jawansher, and Murad Khani ramified in all directions.4 Recognizing the extensive and firsthand experiential authority of both sources, how was Kabul transformed from a preponderantly Qizilbash Shia city to one where Sunni Pashtuns rule? To answer, we need to consider the place of Qizilbash and Pashtuns in the Afghan state’s Persianate history and structure.
The Persianate World Context of the Qizilbash and Afghan Polity
In Qandahar in 1747, Ahmad Shah instigated a successor Persianate polity to that of Nadir Shah Afshar via Sufi ritual mediation of an identity transformation for himself and his followers from Abdali to Durrani, about which much has been said and imag(in)ed.5 The historical context of this foundational identity transformation is twofold. First is the fluid Persianate cultural space where the Shia practice of taqiya or religious dissimulation was in the ascendance after the fall of the Safavid dynasty, perhaps most explicitly in Nadir Shah Afshar’s advocacy for the Jafari madhab.6 The second contextualizing element of Ahmad Shah’s coronation to highlight is the prominence of the Qizilbash, a Turkic confederation of tribes that were intimately involved in the Safavid dynasty as soldiers and administrators as it evolved from a Sufi order into a Shia polity.7 The following is a brief outline of the Persianate context and Qizilbash background to the establishment of the Afghan polity in 1747.
The Qizilbash epitomize the coherence, cosmopolitanism, and complexity of Persianate cultural processes occurring widely throughout Eurasia from roughly 1000 to 1800.8 In this context, the Persian language and Persian cultural forms, including architecture, literature, sciences, and varieties of (Sunni, Shia, and Sufi-centered) Islam, were voluntarily adopted and became a norm-generating integrative superstructure overlaid across disparate regions and territories. These localities retained and modified their vernacular languages and cultural traditions according to Persianate intellectual standards and aesthetic tastes, and their locally and regionally distinct elements involving, for example, food, clothing, or folklore, could now circulate trans-locally and gain wider geographic traction through new regimes of mobility and acculturation that produced and continually redefined the contours of the Persianate world.
One of the primary and most vexing aspects of Persianate cultural processes involves how Turkic populations and languages were transformed and transported through this Persianate ecumene-like world system. The Qizilbash are philologically situated within the Oghuz branch of the Turkic language family, and they are historically associated with territories in Anatolia, northern Syria, Azerbaijan, and Iran, as well localities throughout Central Asia and South Asia, including the geographic space of modern Afghanistan. They are identified in both harmonious and antagonistic historical relations to a wide variety of ethnic groups, including Tajiks, Kurds, Afghans, and other Turkic populations, including Uzbeks in geographic Afghanistan. Across time and space in the Persianate world cultural context, the Qizilbash are associated with a variety of occupational niches, including as imperial cavalry and foot soldiers, or “men of the sword” (ahl al-sayf), and as bureaucrats, secretaries, and administrators, or “men of the pen” (ahl al-qalam). Genealogically, the Qizilbash are distinguished by tribal confederations known varyingly as Il, Ulus, and Aymak/Oymak that are affiliated with or incorporated within a number of Islamic dynasties, including the Khawarazmians, Seljuks, Aq Qoyunlu, Qara Qoyunlu, Ottomans, and, most importantly, the Safavids (c. 1501–1722). Some of these Qizilbash tribal confederations, such as the Ustajlus, Shamlus, and Rumlus, historically alternated between serving as imperial foundations or imperial foils, while others gave rise to Persian/ate imperial dynasties in their own right, including the Afshars (1736–1796; discussed later) and the Qajars (1789–1925). The religious components of Qizilbash identity are historiographically anchored in the Safavid empire and revolve primarily around Shia sectarianism, or ghulat, as well as tassawuf, or Sufism, particularly the pir–murid or saint–disciple relationship principles that animate this popular persuasion within the ideological spectrum of Islam. The Qizilbash have been associated with a variety of rituals, including cannibalism, and sartorial practices, particularly distinctive red headgear with twelve cones symbolizing the twelve Shia imams that is most commonly referenced. Sufi spiritual lineages and brotherhoods are also organized around distinguishing rituals, such as mediative circumambulations and the wearing of wool robes or khirqas. In sum, the Qizilbash represent the cultural, geographic, and historical intersectionality between Shiism and Sufism in the Persianate world generally and in proto-Afghanistan especially.
As noted earlier, the Afshar were a Turkic Qizilbash tribe, and Nadir Shah Afshar heavily relied on his kinship ties as well as other Qizilbash and Afghan tribal segments, including some Abdalis under Ahmad Shah’s leadership during his short, expansive, and somewhat experimental reign from 1736 to 1747. The Qizilbash presence in Qandahar increased during the Safavid era and continued to grow with Nadir Shah’s construction of a new city center self-named Nadirabad there.9 More consequential was Nadir Shah’s installation of Qizilbash communities in the Chendawol and Murad Khani guzars, or alleyways/local districts, of Kabul city; villages in the city’s western suburban regions, such as Afshar in Chardeh/Chardi; villages to the south, including, most prominently, Khoshai; settlements, such as Wazirabad on Kabul’s northern fringes just beyond Sherpur; qalas, or fort compounds, in the northern regions of Kabul valley, Ghorband perhaps most notably; and Jalalabad and Peshawar cities and their surroundings in the east.10 Qizilbash contingents were attached to Ahmad Shah’s forces as ghulams, or slaves of the king, during his invasions of Hindustan during which time Qizilbash communities augmented existing settlements from Nadir’s invasion, or perhaps earlier, in addition to forming new communities in Peshawar city and valley, the Punjab, and Kashmir, at least.
Ahmad Shah died in 1772 and was buried in Qandahar from where he launched the Durrani political experiment. Timur succeeded his father and ruled as Shah until 1793. During Timur Shah’s reign, the Durrani royal capital was transferred from Qandahar to Kabul. This significant development needs more research, but it can be inferred that one reason for this risky move revolved around adversarial tensions with his brother Solaiman, who held the local political upper hand through his governorship of the Qandahar province. The explicitly stated reason for the royal migration was to connect the Durrani court with the large concentration of Qizilbash in Kabul, and it is clear Timur became intimately and increasingly connected to the Qizilbash and Chendawol. Timur Shah’s chief wife was the daughter of Sharbat Ali Chendawoli, and she oversaw a harem of 300 women with oversight agency in Timur’s extensive nightly provisioning of multiple companions. In strategic harmony with the gendered politics of marriage and concubinage, Qizilbash men replaced Durranis as Timur’s trusted ghulam royal slave corps.11
This significant geographic and social transformation of Durrani politics associated with Timur Shah in the late 18th century explains the political prominence of the Qizilbash in the royal court in Kabul noted by British colonial observers from the 1810s to the 1830s.12 The British relied on the Qizilbash during the first occupation of Kabul in many ways including provision of troops to take custody of the hostage survivors of the obliterated Army of the Indus, and many Qizilbash migrated to British India after the war.13 A relocating royal court eager to establish local roots may account for the Amir Dost Mohammad’s (r. 1826–1839 and 1843–1863) mother being a Qizilbash, and his son and successor’s name, Sher Ali (r. 1863–1866 and 1868–1879), that organically resonates with Shiism.
Abd al-Rahman’s 1880–1901 reign involved indiscriminate state economic aggression and physical violence directed against Sunni Pashtuns, non-Sunni Muslims, and non-Muslims, including eastern Ghilzai tribes, Shia Hazara, and Kafir populations, respectively. However coercive and exclusionary his rule was, Abd al-Rahman did not remove Qizilbash from locations of power; quite to the contrary, their state literary services and concurrent practice of taqiya appear to have increased as Abd al-Rahman expanded and reorganized the government bureaucracy.14 The Qizilbash continued their prominent literary and political service during the reigns of Habibullah (r. 1901–1919) and then increasingly so under Amanullah (r. 1919−1929). Under Mohammad Nadir Shah (r. 1929−1933) and Mohammad Zahir Shah (r. 1933−1973), the Qizilbash continued to thrive as influential teachers, writers, and high-ranking state officials as personified by the highly visible and influential careers of Ahmad Ali Kohzad, Sayyid Qasem Reshtya, and Mir Mohammad Siddiq Farhang.
Just as the scholar–diplomat–secret agent Alexander Burnes “discovered” leading up to the first colonial war, the similarly politically oriented American Cold Warrior and scholar of Afghanistan Louis Dupree confirmed the power of the Qizilbash to be far more consequential than sheer numbers would indicate. Indeed, Dupree significantly advanced imperial knowledge of local cultural realities by noting that Kabuli Qizilbash made extensive and routine use of taqiya. The Qizilbash in Afghanistan form an ideologically diverse community, and the 1978–2001 period involved both Islamist and progressive secular political actors among them. After 2001, the US-client Kabul regime under both Hamid Karzi and Ashraf Ghani included a substantial number of high-profile Qizilbash allies and subordinates, beginning with the Bonn Conference sponsored by Eshaq Shahryar and Mohammad Ishaq Nadiri serving as a senior economic advisor to Karzai through to today with high-ranking officials in and out of the country who are Qizilbash.15
In Afghanistan, the Qizilbash have at once retained their identity, through the use of taqiya to some degree it appears, while also clearly acculturating, for example, through adoption of local languages, including fluent Pashto in Qandahar and Jalalabad, at least. The Qizilbash occupy prestigious and influential political, military, economic, and social spaces throughout the Afghan state structure and have done so consistently during the polity’s history. Their literacy rate in comparison to other communities in Kabul and throughout the country as a whole has resulted in a high profile and great influence for Qizilbash in domestic politics that is arguably amplified when viewed by and acted on by imperial and postcolonial powers. It is exponentially easier to identify Turkic Qizilbash actors in historical locations of power in the Afghan state structure than it is to locate tribal Pashtuns. The colonially construed Pashtun domination theory of Afghanistan is an epistemological violation with enduring egregious consequences for the people subjected to such categorical misrepresentation.16
Persianate rulers rarely wrote in their own hand; rather, they typically relied on scribes, secretaries, and a class of writers known as munshis for textual production in their name, such as seen with the Qizilbash. Ahmad Shah’s official history and his letter to the Ottoman court, the only extant texts from his rule, are both written in Persian but not Ahmad Shah’s hand.17 Ahmad Shah’s diwan compendium of Pashto poetry, housed at the British Library, has notations and provenance information that raise critical questions about what the text is so aggressively claimed to be, namely, proof of his Pashtunness.18 Ahmad Shah is said to have commissioned a Pashto language manual for his son and chosen successor Solaiman, who served as governor of Qandahar and is authoritatively referred to as a Shia.19 There is no evidence of Ahmad Shah speaking Pashto, and his tendentious textual relationship to Pashto was not maintained by his successors. The next state ruler to leave a record of his engagement with Pashto more than a century later was Abd al-Rahman, who patronized a Pashto translation of the minutes of his meeting with the British colonial official Lord Dufferin in 1885.20 In the early 20th century, the Afghan state produced an elementary Pashto language guide in three consecutive decades of the 1910s, 1920s, and 1930s.21
In an attempt to harness ancient traditions to modern nationalist projects during the first decades of the 20th century, it was primarily Pashtuns from Qandahar city who carried Pashto exceedingly sparingly (i.e., a few isolated phrases and sentences, or “needle in a haystack”) into official and semi-official Persian-language Afghan state publications (newspapers such as Seraj al-Akbar and magazines such as Tulu-e Afghan) and literary societies (e.g., Pashto Maraka).22 From the mid-1930s to the early 1950s this imagined, colonially inspired, nationalist historio-cultural affiliative effort took sociological form through mandatory weekly Pashto lessons for government bureaucrats, including schoolteachers, held after ordinary work hours that became on an object of universal derision for the civil servants involuntarily compelled to Pashtunize in this way.
There were two substantive transformations regarding the place of Pashtuns and Pashto in the Afghan state structure during the ensuing decades from the 1940s through the 1960s. The first was the social origin of state’s few Pashto spokesmen, who now included individuals from rural areas in the east, particularly the Jalalabad region, and thus connected through literary circulations to the robust and active marketplace for Pashto literary production in Peshawar, primarily, in British India. The second was actually a series of shifts that took Pashto beyond the confines of appearing as accoutrements in newspapers and magazines structured along modern European and, increasingly, American models wherein Persian preponderated. The shift in this regard was toward increasing production and circulation of Pashto biographical directories or tazkeras,23 often of Pashto poets whose work was also celebrated at oral mushaeras, or public displays and competitions. The subject matter and content of this material could and did include critiques of state policies. The printing of this material highlights the separately evolving politics of Pashto-language production in Afghanistan and British India/Pakistan. Tazkeras functioned as fluid oral sources for rural social histories of Pashtuns that when printed were edited and recalibrated for state-based agendas.24
In the 1950s context of Pashtunistan propagandizing, the Kabuli state grafted Pashto language elements into its civil administration by renaming ranks and titles.25 The most prominent of these changes was the replacement (c. 1957) of the previous hierarchy of designations that were rooted in Arabic with the singular word shaghalai for worker, that although marketed by the state as a Pashto word, in fact, is rooted in the Persian word for worker, shoghol. An earlier highly visible official mistake with Pashto was with the Sun Medals of Honor that incorrectly incorporated the Pashto word for sun, lmar, with an instinctive Persian vowel to read almar, spelled with the letter alif (ا) instead of the letter lam (ل), thus generating a faulty initial on the medal and in print.26 Similarly, in the 1940s, citizenship identity documents, also referred to as tazkeras, were subjected to Pashto-ization, and in this case, the headings or criteria of data to be entered on printed forms appeared in Pashto, while the written entries or actual data on the form continued to be inscribed by bureaucrats in Persian. The adoption of the word for a Pashto literary genre to designate Afghan state identity documents is another clear attempt of this Persianate state’s efforts to appropriate local cultural elements in order to legitimize itself with local populations.
Until 1978, the most consequential result to historically embrace is that, individually and collectively, Pashto-ization initiatives did not achieve their intended aim of expressing an organic Pashtun cultural basis for the Afghan state and its personnel. Rather, their patchy and haphazard nature had the opposite effect of alienating the vast majority of Pashtuns and highlighting their distance from the centers of state power in Afghanistan. At the same time, the institutionalization of these Pashto initiatives entailed linguistic clumsiness that absorbed bureaucratic time and effort and generated confusion and frustration among the demographic non-Pashtun Persian-speaking majority, thus simultaneously rebuffing them from the state’s Pashto projections.
This is not to say that before 1978 in the Afghan state context there were not Pashtuns recognized by other Pashtuns as such. Such mutual recognition would occur through linguistic and social conduct, kinship ties, and territorial attachments outside of Kabul, understood by Pashtuns as Pashto wayel, Pashto kawul, and Pashto laral, or speaking, doing, and having (patrilineally) Pashto, respectively. This package of cultural and biological traits distinguishes Pashtuns from other Persianate groups who also practice tenets (honor, hospitality, female seclusion, etc.) constituting Pashtunwali, which is itself a Persian construction similar to the Kabuliwala made famous through the Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s 1892 short story.27 The point is that in urban Persianate Kabul, there were no large historic constellations of practicing Pashtuns in mahallas or residential congregations or in the bureaucracy; rather, Pashtuns were logistically scattered and in that sense isolated from each other in the context of Kabul and the Afghan state structure.
At the state leadership level, the presence of Pashtuns who spoke and wrote in Pashto and maintained active kinship ties to (eastern) Pashtun tribal groups in Afghanistan arose for the first time between 1978 and 1992 under Nur Muhammad Taraki (April 1978–September 1979), Hafizullah Amin (September–December 1979), and Dr. Najibullah (1986–1992). The preponderantly Pashtun Taliban germinated amid US CIA and Pakistani ISI covert collusion in fostering the Afghan mujahidin during the 1980s, but they gestated primarily during the 1992–1996 civil war that decimated and depopulated not only Kabul especially but also other smaller settlements in eastern Afghanistan. The civil war period finally fractured already tenuous pre-1978 social solidarities that were substantially eroded by a half-generation of local warfare involving overt and covert regional and global forms of military and political patronage. The Taliban emerged as a national political force in the southern Pashtun tribal areas surrounding Qandahar in 1996, and as Afghan state leaders then as now they benefit from overt and covert Pakistani state support and trans-boundary social and economic ties with Pashtun communities in Pakistan. During the US occupation, Hamid Karzai (2001–14) and Ashraf Ghani (2014–21), the former affiliated with southern Pashtuns and the latter with eastern Pashtuns, were electorally installed as state leaders. Karzai and Ghani were domestically and internationally marketed by the United States and other global patrons as authentic and legitimate Pashtun rulers of Afghanistan, while the Taliban nemesis of those occupational regimes framed themselves and were portrayed by Pakistan, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and other state patrons in the same way, that is, as the legitimate Pashtun rulers of Afghanistan.
Afghanistan has been misleadingly trapped in a deadly circular ethnic conundrum in which Pashtuns are called on to make and break a Persianate, Kabul-ized Afghan state by imperial powers and their local clients as well as relatively politically autonomous constellations of Pashtun and non-Pashtun actors that leaves all communities in the country distrustful, if not hostile, to perceived ethnic “others.” This catastrophic situation is the result of highly racialized British imperial logics that took shape around the tenuous metrics of Pashtun tribalism and two military occupations of Kabul that was colonially rendered to be the epicenter of inherently fractious Afghan politics. The political fetishization of Kabul and race-based tribal cum ethnic reckonings of the national body politic were adopted by deceptively independent Afghan state leaders after 1919, amplified by Americans during their intense Cold War developmental engagement of Afghanistan, and then further locally ensconced through the globally militarized macro-destructive engagement of the country since 1979. The devastation wrought by the explosive ideological fuel of Pashtun ethnicity understood and enacted through a singular sensibility of Pashtun ethnic domination of the Afghan state is counterfactual and ahistorical in ways not dissimilar to how imperial agency laid the foundation for the national crafting of India as historically Hindu, Pakistan as inherently Sunni Muslim, Turkey as organically Turkish, Israel as promised to be Jewish, and so on. In a word, deciphering the history of modern Afghanistan means transcending the colonial politics and imperial mentalities predicated on the trope of good Pashtuns versus bad Pashtuns in Afghanistan.28
Imperial processes territorially defined the Durrani enterprise through international bordering projects. Colonial agency also ensured that Durrani rulers remained stationed in Kabul and did not shift their political center of gravity back to Qandahar or the favored winter co-capital of Peshawar, where the foundational colonial encounter between Mountstuart Elphinstone and Timur Shah’s son, Shah Shuja, occurred in 1809.29 In that sense, imperialism framed Kabul as Afghanistan’s capital through two “wars” and subsidization of client-elites who stayed put and quietly thankful for the largesse keeping them in local power. The map of modern Afghanistan is an imperial product that has been used against the people of the country insofar as it has impeded the movement of Afghans beyond those borders while amplifying the accessibility and coercive impact of the non-Afghan international community in that space.
In combination with global imperial strategizing revolving around the French, Russians, and India, British colonial knowledge fostered an understanding of the Kabul polity with Pashtuns at its historic core and political pinnacle. This colonial understanding arose from a strategic fetishization of both Pashto-speaking border tribes over whom Kabul rulers were thought to exert cultural leverage and Muslim holy war, or jihad, elsewhere in and on the tribal borders of India, Africa, and the Ottoman Middle East. In this way, colonialism generated both a culture-based and strategic political requirement that rulers in Kabul were to be Pashtuns. Knowing this, rulers, prospective rulers, and subordinate government functionaries in Kabul were motivated to claim Pashtun-ness for colonial patrons whose resources sustained the Afghan state. The practice of taqiya among the Qizilbash in Kabul and in the Durrani state structure complicated and destabilized actual and assumed identities in Afghanistan, for colonial actors and Afghans alike.
In the context of a restructured global system after World War II, Americans brought new ideas, personnel, and technologies to bear on Afghanistan based on an inherited British colonial archive. Dupree’s ubiquitous ethnic map subsumed colonial tribal cartography and revealed the weakness and contradiction of the Pashtun political predicate for Afghanistan. The ethnic map of Afghanistan was conceived and applied as Kabuli elites globally marketed Pashtunistan as a geo-politicking strategy involving the US, USSR, China, and other patrons, all of which revealed the vulnerability and contradictions of the colonial construction of Afghanistan. The complex relationships between tribes, ethnicities, and national identity were reduced to the Pashtun propensity for perpetual conflict by American scholars engaged with Afghanistan, as it had been by British colonial officials.30
Deceased Afghanistan experts, including Anthony Arnold, Louis Dupree, Leon Poullada, and Donald Wilbur, and many other living American scholars of Afghanistan, such as Thomas J. Barfield, Thomas Gouttiere, and Barnett Rubin, have, had, or aspire to have one or more forms of US government (civil, military, intelligence) background or experience, covert affiliation, or overt consultancy. For these individuals and intellectual communities, state oath-based loyalties, military and intelligence affiliations, and patriotic purposefulness officially factualize their scholarly work products, which are often designed by and for policy-making agendas, active military kill chains of command, and restorative humanitarian aspirations in Afghanistan. Deciphering Afghanistan at present requires an understanding of how US foreign policy has shaped knowledge of the country, and to be absolutely clear the same disentangling imperative between forms of knowledge and expressions of power applies to understanding the Soviet and earlier British colonial periods. The most important point, largely hidden behind war narratives, is that Kabuli elites have consistently reproduced imperial mindsets and crypto-colonial practices during and between episodes of formal imperial occupation.31
Empires are about power, and they favor applied, practical knowledge produced through inherently bifurcated, racialized ideas of belonging and othering that kill and dehumanize innocent people. Nowhere are the human consequences of this base historical fact about empire more evident than in Afghanistan where imperial effects have reshuffled and militarized local identities, leaving imperiled conditions of belonging and haunting suspicion of cultural others for all people in the country, not just Kabuli political elites. To decipher the history of modern Afghanistan it is essential to critically reckon with the military and cultural impacts of empire, not just on Kabuli political elites but on the people of the country today. Questions organized around new issues can identify more complex and subtle articulations of empire through which it is possible to see a comparative similarity in historical and cultural data that would otherwise be unrelatable.32
From the ground up, communities take shape around natural resources. Empires also form around natural resources. In Afghanistan, the degrading impact of imperial warfare on the environment, specifically the natural resources of water and timber, has jeopardized livelihoods for all people in that space, and the historical trend is toward impending unsustainability and forced depopulation.33 Large swaths of territory are presently uninhabitable due to extensive land mining and the use of poisonous defoliants during the Soviet war, for example. The future is especially bleak for people in the east and south of the country, the so-called Pashtun belt, where the War on Terror involved a wide variety of munitions that deposited depleted uranium into the groundwater system, generating birth defects among animals and humans. The limited database on depleted uranium in the soil and water of Afghanistan is concealed by US and other political authorities. In terms of future restorative justice the unheard mass victims of war deserve, the time is now to reckon with the explicit and concealed imperial effects on the political culture, social fabric, and natural resources in Afghanistan. Knowledge about Afghanistan built on critical histories of empire will do much less harm and much more good for far more people in the country. Deciphering the history of modern Afghanistan involves understanding the long-term consequences of war and the slow violence it reaps on the environment and people of Afghanistan, and part of the challenge of critical history is to think creatively about ways to generate local–global political action on this disturbing environmental knowledge.34
Discussion of Literature
Historical writing on modern Afghanistan is expanding in a number of directions, including the engagement of hitherto unused source materials with new kinds of questions being asked of that data. A primary distinction in the literature before and after 2001 is a shift from treating Afghanistan in rather static isolation to a much more discernable emphasis on Afghanistan’s connectivity to surrounding regions and the global system. This reorientation has certainly been a very welcome and positive historiographic development. However, despite opening an expanded range of historical conversations and inquiries, there remains a tendency in this more recent literature to adopt or default to older core tenets grounded in colonial historiography. As such, the vast preponderance of literature on the history of Afghanistan before and after 2001 tends to address the country using one or more frames of reference predicated on imperial warfare, Kabul, or Pashtuns. There remain very few treatments of war’s residual social, political, economic, or environmental impact and very few questions asked about the diversity of Kabul or its connections to other cities. The new historical analyses of Afghanistan’s external connections and relations continue to be mediated by an older, near-exclusive focus on Kabul, and when this exceptional city is discussed in relation to its hinterlands, the country as a whole, or the outside world, historical causation remains mired in perniciously limiting and obfuscating colonial and orientalist discursive postures regarding Pashtun tribes, Pashtun ethnicity, and/or Pashtun ethnonationalism. The lack of discussion about how tribal, ethnic, and national communities reproduce and interact reflects a general absence of theoretical and comparative perspectives on relations among social groups, cities, and regions, as well as foreign relations, in the historiography of modern Afghanistan. There is fundamentally no critique of empire here. Imperial effects remain discursively veiled by political imperatives.
Three sets of primary textual sources can be identified en route to deciphering the history of modern Afghanistan: material in local languages, writings in regional languages, and sources in European languages. Among local languages, writings in Persian exponentially preponderate over writings in other languages that aggregate to a fraction of the volume of Persian writings. Beyond Persian, Pashto-language texts are far more numerous than writings in the remaining thirty-plus languages spoken in Afghanistan, most of which have not yet been rendered in script.35 When considering writings in local languages, it is important to remember the multilingualism of this Persianate literary sphere in which authors writing in non-Persian languages typically also write in Persian that functions as a classical language providing context, vocabulary, and models for vernacular writings such as those in Pashto.36 In terms of regional Islamicate languages, material in Urdu and Turkish are more abundant than those written in Arabic about Afghanistan.37 The hierarchy of European language sources begins with English materials that include both British and American documents and unofficial writings making English texts about Afghanistan the largest and most accessible body of materials but certainly not the most important. There is considerable relevant material in other European languages including French, German, and Russian; Asian languages, such as Chinese and Japanese; and many other languages.38
A Visual Genealogy of Ethnic Mapping in Afghanistan
The ethnic mapping of Afghanistan is a national and global enterprise.
Links to Digital Materials
- Afghanistan Digital Library (excellent collection of primarily Persian-language materials published in Afghanistan 1870–1930).
- Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (valuable collection of policy related research from the post-2001 era).
- The Arthur Paul Afghanistan Collection at the University of Nebraska–Omaha (for 20th-century periodical literature published in Afghanistan).
- The British Library (perhaps the most comprehensive material on Afghanistan in the world).
- Digital National Security Archive (US documents on Afghanistan from the 1970s and 1980s primarily).
- Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal (a major source for 19th-century colonialism).
- Phototheca Afghanica (extensive collections of 20th-century photographs).
- Linguistic Atlas of Afghanistan (focusing on a linguistic survey conducted in 1960s and 1970s).
- Qatar National Library (mainly British colonial documents dealing with Afghanistan through its connections to Iran primarily).
- PAHAR Mountains of Central Asia Digital Dataset (extensive collection of colonial documents).
- Scott’s Helmand Valley Archive (for US Cold War development activity in Afghanistan).
- Wilson Center (for English translations of Russian-language documents).
- World Digital Library (rich collections of Persian and English language materials).
- Ahmed, Faiz. Afghanistan Rising: Islamic Law and Statecraft between the Ottoman and British Empires. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2017.
- Bayly, Martin J. Taming the Imperial Imagination: Colonial Knowledge, International Relations, and the Anglo-Afghan Encounter, 1808–1878. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018.
- Crews, Robert D. Afghan Modern: The History of a Global Nation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015.
- Elphinstone, Mountstuart. An Account of the Kingdom of Caubul and its Dependencies in Persia, Tartary and India, etc. London: Longman, 1815.
- Green, Nile, ed. Afghan History through Afghan Eyes. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.
- Green, Nile, and Nushin Arbabzadah, eds. Afghanistan in Ink: Literature between Diaspora and Nation. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012.
- Gregorian, Vartan. The Emergence of Modern Afghanistan. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1969.
- Hanifi, Shah Mahmoud. Connecting Histories in Afghanistan: Market Relations and State Formation on a Colonial Frontier. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011.
- Hazara, Faiz Muhammad Katib. The History of Afghanistan Faiz Muhammad Katib Hazara’s Siraj al-Tawarikh. 11 vols. Translated and edited by Robert D. McChesney and Mohammad M. Khorrami. Leiden: Brill, 2012 (vols. I–VI) and 2016 (vols. VII–XI).
- Hopkins, B. D. The Making of Modern Afghanistan. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.
- Kakar, Hasan Kawun. Government and Society in Afghanistan: The Reign of Amir Abd al-Rahman Khan. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1979.
- Marsden, Magnus. Trading Worlds: Afghan Merchants across Modern Frontiers. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.
- Nunan, Timothy. Humanitarian Invasion: Global Development in Cold War Afghanistan. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016.
- Schinasi, May. Kabul: A History 1773–1948. Translated by Robert D. McChesney. Leiden: Brill, 2017.
1. Joan W. Scott, “The Evidence of Experience,” Critical Inquiry 17, no. 4 (1991): 773–797; Joan W. Scott, “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis,” The American Historical Review 91, no. 5 (1986): 1053–1075; and Joan W. Scott, “History-Writing as Critique,” in Manifestos for History, eds. Keith Jenkins, Sue Morgan and Alun Munslow (Abington, Oxon: Routledge, 2007), 19−38. A journal explicitly devoted to history as a critical endeavor is History of the Present: A Journal of Critical History.
2. See, for example, Gregory Fremont-Barnes, The Anglo-Afghan Wars 1839–1919 (Oxford: Osprey, 2009). This item is in a history of war series, and there is a series of histories of war in Afghanistan, including Ali Ahmad Jalali and Lester W. Grau, Afghan Guerilla Warfare: Mujahideen Tactics in the Soviet Afghan War (St. Paul, MN: MDI Publishing, 2001); Robert Johnson, The Afghan Way of War: How and Why They Fight (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012); Carter Malkasian, War Comes to Garmser: Thirty Years of Conflict on the Afghan Frontier (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013); Russian General Staff, The Soviet-Afghan War: How a Superpower Fought and Lost, trans. and ed. Lester W. Grau and Michael A. Gress (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2002); Abdulkader H. Sinno, Organizations at War in Afghanistan and Beyond (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2008); and Stephen Tanner, Afghanistan: A Military History from Alexander the Great to the War against the Taliban. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo, 2002).
3. Schinasi, May. Kabul: A History 1773–1948, trans. Robert D. McChesney (Leiden: Brill, 2017), 153. May Schinasi published the first substantial history of Kabul in French in 2008, and it was translated into English by Robert D. McChesney in 2017. We are fortunate that this impressive work relays a substantial volume of Persian materials in addition to sources in English, French, and German and that its first printing in French contains a unique and valuable historic archive of photographs of the city.
4. For a demographic, physical and legal description of Chendawol, see Charles Masson, Narrative of Various Journeys in Balochistan, Afghanistan, and the Panjab; including a Residence in those Countries from 1826–1838, vol. II (London: Richard Bentley, 1982), 260. For the main Qizilbash lineages and the power of their literacy, see Alexander Burnes’ “On the Persian Faction in Cabool” in Alexander Burnes, R. Leech, Perceval Barton Lord, and John Wood, Reports and Papers, Political, Geographical, & Commercial, etc. (Calcutta: G. H. Huttmann, Bengal Military Orphan Press, 1839).
5. Hazara, Faiz Muhammad Katib, The History of Afghanistan Faiz Muhammad Katib Hazara’s Siraj al-Tawarikh, 11 vols., trans. and ed. Robert D. McChesney and Mohammad M. Khorrami (Leiden: Brill, 2012, vols. 1–VI, and 2016, vols. VII–XI), vol I, 10; Mir Gholam Ghobar, Ahmad Shah Baba-ye Afghan [The Patriarch of Afghans] (Kabul, 1941), 82–90, with Breshna’s illustration facing p. 90.
6. Ernest Tucker, Nadir Shah’s Quest for Legitimacy in Post-Safavid Iran (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2006), and Ernest Tucker, “Nadir Shah and the Jafari Madhhab Reconsidered,” Iranian Studies 27, no. 1/4 (1994): 163–179. The historical presence and enduring practice of taqiya is well attested and evident in Kabul and Afghanistan. See Louis Dupree, “Further Notes on Taqiyya: Afghanistan,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 99, no. 4 (October–December 1979): 680–682; and Louis Dupree, “Qizilbash,” in Muslim Peoples: A World Ethnographic Survey, ed. Richard V. Weekes (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1984), 337–342.
7. There is considerable literature on the Qizilbash in both the Ottoman and Safavid imperial contexts. For a useful overview of the Qizilbash, see R. M. Savory, “Kizilbash,” Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed., ed. Peri Bearman, Thierry Bianquis, C. Edmund Bosworth, E. J. van Donzel, Wolfhart P. Heinrichs (Leiden: Brill, 2012). For the Ottoman context, see Riza Yildrim, “Turkomans Between Two Empires—The Origins of the Qizilbash Identity in Anatolia” (PhD thesis, Bilkent University, 2008); Riza Yildrim, “The Safavid-Qizilbash Ecumene and the Formation of the Qizilbash-Alevi Community in the Ottoman Empire, c. 1500–c. 1700,” Iranian Studies 52, no. 3–4 (2019): 449–483; and the writings of Ayse Baltacioglu-Brammer, including “Neither Victim nor Accomplice: The Qizilbash as a Borderland Authority in the Early Modern Ottoman Realm,” in Historicizing Sunni Islam in the Ottoman Empire, c. 1450–1700, edited by Tijana Kristic and Derin Terzioğlu (Leiden: Brill, 2020), 423–449; “One Word, Many Implications: The Term ‘Kizilbaş’ in the Early Modern Ottoman Context,” in Ottoman Sunnism: New Perspectives, edited by Vefa Erginbaş (Edinburg: Edinburgh University Press, 2019), 47–70; “‘Those Heretics Gathering Secretly . . .’: Qizilbash Rituals and Ceremonies according to Early Modern Ottoman Sources,” Journal of Ottoman and Turkish Studies Association 6, no. 1 (2019): 39–60; “The Formation of Kizilbaş Communities in Anatolia and Ottoman Responses, 1450s–1630s,” International Journal of Turkish Studies 20, no. 1–2 (2014): 21–48. For an overview the Safavid context, see Kathryn Babayan, “The Safavid Synthesis- From Qizilbash Islam to Imamite Shi’ism,” Iranian Studies 27, no. 1/4 (1994): 135–161; for a pertinent discussion of how the term Qizilbash shifted meanings and associations during the Safavid Empire, see Shahzad Bashir, “The Origins and Rhetorical Evolution of the Term Qizilbash in Persianate Literature,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 57 (2014): 364–339; and for the Qizilbash practicing cannibalism, see his “Shah Ismaʿil and the Qizilbash: Cannibalism in the Religious History of Early Safavid Iran,” History of Religions 45, no. 3 (2006): 234–256. Although this discussion of Turkic cultural groups in Afghanistan has been limited to the Qizilbash, for attention to the important historical experience of Uzbek communities in Afghanistan, for which there little English-language material, see Ingeborg Baldauf, “Uzbek Oral Histories of Migration and War: Remembering the Early Twentieth Century in Northern Afghanistan,” in Afghan History through Afghan Eyes, ed. Nile Green (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 235–256, and writings by Audrey C. Shalinsky, including “The Significance of Islam in pre‐1978 Northern Afghanistan: An Urban Uzbek Example,” Central Asian Survey 9, no. 4 (1990): 99–108; “Talking about Marriage: Fate and Choice in the Social Discourse of Traditional Northern Afghanistan,” Anthropos 84 (1989): 133–140; and “Reason, Desire, and Sexuality: The Meaning of Gender in Northern Afghanistan,” Ethos 14, no. 4 (1986): 323–343. The Hazara community has received considerable attention in English, Persian, and other languages. For Persian sources, see Mohammad ‘Isa Gharjestani, Az Hazarajat ta London [From Hazarajat to London] (Quetta: Shura-e Farhangi-ye Islami-ye Afghanistan, 1987); Yar Mohammad Kohsar, Jonbesh-e Hazaraha wa Ahl-e Tashayo’ dar Afghanistan [The Hazara and Shi’a (Peoples) Movement in Afghanistan] (Peshawar: Maiwand, 1999); and Hussain Nayel, Saya Roshanhay-e az Waz’ Jame’a-ye Hazara [Light on the shadowy situation of the Hazara society] (Kabul: Ministry of Ethnic Groups and Tribes, 1985). For English sources focusing on the Hazaras in Afghanistan, see Naysan Adlparvar, “‘When Glass Breaks, it Becomes Sharper’: Deconstructing Ethnicity in the Bamyan Valley, Afghanistan” (PhD diss., University of Sussex, 2014); Melissa Kerr Chiovenda, “Hazara Civil Society Activists and Local, National and International Political Institutions,” in Modern Afghanistan: The Impact of 40 Years of War, ed. Nazif M. Shahrani (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2018), 251–270; Hafizullah Emadi, “The Hazaras and their Role in the Process of Political Transformation in Afghanistan,” Central Asian Survey 16, no. 3 (1997): 363–387; Rabia Latif Khan, “On Marginality and Overcoming: Narrative, Memory and Identity among British Hazaras” (PhD diss., University of London School of Oriental and African Studies, 2021); Alessandro Monsutti, War and Migration: Social Networks and Economic Strategies of the Hazaras of Afghanistan, trans. Patrick Camiller (London: Routledge, 2005); and Sayed Askar Mousavi, The Hazaras of Afghanistan: An Historical, Cultural, Economic and Political Study (London: Curzon, 1998). For a brief treatment of the Qizilbash and Hazaras in Afghanistan after 2001, see Shah Mahmoud Hanifi, “Making Space for Shi’ism in Afghanistan’s Public Sphere and State Structure,” Perspectives on History: The News Magazine of the American Historical Association,” special online edition (Summer 2015).
8. Abbas Amanat and Assef Ashraf, eds., The Persianate World: Rethinking a Shared Sphere (Leiden: Brill, 2019); Ali Anooshahr, Turkestan and the Rise of Eurasian Empires: A Study of Politics and Invented Traditions (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018); Richard Eaton, India in the Persianate Age, 1000–1765 (Oakland: University of California Press 2019; see also Perso-Indica); Richard Eaton, “The Persianate Cosmopolis,” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Asian History; Nile Green, The Persianate World: The Frontiers of a Eurasian Lingua Franca (Oakland: University of California Press, 2019); Kaveh Hemmat, “Completing the Persianate Turn,” Iranian Studies 54, no. 3–4 (2021): 633–646; Mana Kia, Persianate Selves: Memories of Place and Origin before Nationalism (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2020); “The Indo-Persianate World,” special issue, Comparative Studies in South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East 30, no. 4 (2010); A. C. S. Peacock and D. G. Tor, eds., The Medieval Central Asia and the Persianate World: Iranian Tradition and Islamic Civilisation (London: I. B. Tauris, 2015); Brian Spooner and William L. Hanaway, eds., Literacy in the Persianate World- Writing and the Social Order (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012); and John E. Woods, The Aqquyunlu: Clan, Confederation, Empire. A Study in 15th/9th Century Turko-Iranian Politics (Minneapolis and Chicago: University of Utah Press,  1999).
9. For a map of Qandahar including Nadirabad, see George Passman Tate, The Kingdom of Afghanistan: A Historical Sketch (Bombay: Times of India, 1911), map facing p. 1. This map of “Three Kandahars” identifies the old city, Ahmad Shah’s complex, and Nadirabad.
10. For a discussion of Chendawol, see Schinasi, Kabul, 28–29.
11. For Timur’s harem and Sharbat Ali’s daughter’s role therein, see Mir Mohammad Sidique Farhang, Afghanistan dar Panj Qarn-e Akhir [Afghanistan During the Last Five Centuries], 2 vols. (Herndon, VA: American Speedy, 1988), vol. I, 115. For the Qizilbash replacing Durranis in Timur’s ghulam corps, see Faiz Muhammad, Seraj al Tawarikh, trans. R. D. McChesney and Mohammad M. Khorrami (Leiden: Brill, 2012), vol. I, 58.
12. In addition to Burnes et al.’s Reports and Papers, Mounstuart Elphinstone also highlights the prominence of a Turkish language in Shah Shuja’s Persianate court, for which see his An Account of the Kingdom of Caubul and its Dependencies in Persia, Tartary and India, etc. (London: Longman, 1815), 44. For more on Mountstuart Elphinstone, see B. D. Hopkins, The Making of Modern Afghanistan (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014); Shah Mahmoud Hanifi, ed. Mountstuart Elphinstone in South Asia: Pioneer of Colonial Rule (London and New York: Hurst and Oxford University Press, 2019); and Shah Mahmoud Hanifi, “A Book History of An Account of the Kingdom of Caubul,” in Mounstuart Elphinstone, ed. Shah Mahmoud Hanifi (London and New York: Hurst and Oxford University Press, 2019), 17–40, 26.
13. Richmond Campbell Shakespear served as military secretary to General Pollock, who commanded the Army of Retribution to revenge the loss of the Army of the Indus, which it did with wanton terror inflicted on local populations. Shakespeare took a Qizilbash contingent to Bamian to assume custody of the surviving hostages, for which see J.A. Norris, The First Afghan War, 1839–1842 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967), 414. The experience of the British hostages is recounted by Lady Sale, the wife the British officer Robert Sale, for which see Lady Florentina Sale, A Journal of the Disasters in Afghanistan: A Firsthand Account by One of the Few Survivors (Franklin, TN: Tantallon Press,  2002).
14. For the Qizilbash as state writers, see Shah Mahmoud Hanifi, Connecting Histories in Afghanistan: Market Relations and State Formation on a Colonial Frontier (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011), 121–152. For “intense dissimulation” among Qizilbash beginning with Abd al Rahman’s reign see Solaiman M. Fazel, “Ethnohistory of the Qizilbash in Kabul: Migration, State and a Shi’a Minority,” (PhD diss., Indiana University, 2017), 183–185, 273.
15. Hamid Karzai has affinal kinship connections to the Qandahar Qizilbash, and Ashraf Ghani has consanguinal kinship connections to Shia communities from Koh Daman. Ashraf Ghani’s brother Heshmat Ghani’s self-fashioning as a spokesman for kuchi nomads in Afghanistan epitomizes how Kabul serves as a space of sometimes rapid and extreme identity reconstruction.
16. For critiques of the Pashtun domination theory of Afghanistan, see Shah Mahmoud Hanifi, “The Pashtun Counter-Narrative,” Middle East Critique 25, no. 4 (2016): 385–400, and Shah Mahmoud Hanifi, “Quandaries of the Afghan Nation,” in Under the Drones: Modern Lives in the Afghanistan-Pakistan Borderlands, ed. Shahzad Bashir and Robert D. Crews (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press), 83–101.
17. Ahmad Shah’s diwan arrived at the British Library through the agency of Henry George Raverty, where it is is catalogued as Oriental Manuscript 44950, the last line of which indicates the text was written “by the hand of Muhammad Ali Chaharyari.” For more on Raverty, see Shah Mahmoud Hanifi, “Henry George Raverty and the Colonial Marketing of Pashto,” in Knowing India: Colonial and Modern Constructions of the Past: Essays in Honor of Thomas R. Trautmann, ed. Cynthia Talbot (Delhi: Yoda Publications, 2011), 84–107. For more on Ahmad Shah, see Mahmud ibn Ibrahim al-Hussaini (edited by D. Saidmuradov), Tarikh-e Ahmad Shahi, 2 vols. (Moscow: U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences, [c. 1773] 1974); Amin Tarzi, “Tarikh-i Ahmad Shahi: The First History of ‘Afghanistan,’” in Afghan History Through Afghan Eyes, 79–96; Christine Noelle-Karimi, “Afghan Polities and the Indo-Persian Literary Realm: The Durrani Rulers and Their Portrayal in Eighteenth-Century Historiography,” in Afghan History through Afghan Eyes, 53–78; Neelam Khoja, “Competing Sovereignties in Eighteenth-Century South Asia: Afghan Claims to Kingship,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 63, no. 4 (2020): 555–581; and Ganda Singh, Ahmad Shah Durrani (Bombay: Asia Publishing House, 1959). For the letter to the Ottoman Sultan Mustafa III (r. 1757–1774), see N. R. Farooqi, “Discovering New Sources for Medieval Indian History: Ottoman Documents on India,” Proceedings of the Indian History Congress 70 (2009–2010): 231. For the letter itself, see Ahmad Shah Durrani, Ahmad Shah the Great’s Letter to Sultan Mustafa III Usmani, Taken from the Only Manuscript Preserved in the Imperial Archives at Istanbul (Commentary and Notes by Ghulam Jailani Jalali), ed. Jalali Ghulam Jailani (Kabul: The Historical Society of Afghanistan, 1967).
18. See S.M. Hanifi, “A Book History,” 26, for a discussion of Ahmad Shah’s Pashto diwan at the British Library. See Tarzi, “The Tarikh-i Ahmad Shahi,” 96, for reference to another copy in Tashkent.
19. For the Pashto language guide by Mulla Pir Muhammad Kakar titled Marifat al-Afghani (c. 1773), see Shah Mahmoud Hanifi, “A History of Linguistic Boundary Crossing within and around Pashto,” in Beyond Swat: History, Society and Economy along the Afghanistan-Pakistan Frontier, ed. Benjamin D. Hopkins and Magnus Marsden (London and New York: Hurst & Co. and Columbia University Press, 2013), 287, referencing V. Kushev, “The Dawn of Pashtun Linguistics: Early Grammatical and Lexicographical Works and Their Manuscripts,” Manuscripta Orientalia 7, no. 2 (2001): 3–9. It is unclear why Ahmad Shah commissioned this work if he spoke Pashto. For Solaiman’s Shiism, see Abu al-Hasan Golestana, Mojmal al-Tawarikh [A general history] (Tehran,  1965), 121. The same source (p. 187), the Seraj al-Tawarikh (Faiz Muhammad, trans. McChesney and Khorammi, vol. I, p. 55), and Ghobar, Ahmad Shah, 45, list six sons for Ahmad Shah: Timur, Solaiman, Chahab, Sekandar, Darab, and Parvaez (the suffix Merza appears with these names), while J. P. Ferrier, History of the Afghans (London: John Murray, 1858), 97, lists eight sons, the aforementioned six, plus Yazdan-bakhsh Merza and Sanjar Merza. These are all classic Persian and Turkish names, rarely found among Pashtuns, with only Solaiman appearing with any frequency as a name among Pashtuns.
20. See Ghulam Jan Laqmani, Sual wa Jawab-i Dawlati wa Band wa Bast Saltanati Muallafahu da Mulla Ghulam Jan Lamqani Pashtu Nivis (Kabul: Dar al-Saltanah,  1886). This text appears to be designed for consumption by Pashto readers and speakers in British India.
21. Salih, Muhammad. Lumra Kitab de Pashto I (Kabul: Matba Mashin Khana,  1917). Muhammd Abd al-Wasi Qandahari, Lumray Mashar de Marki de Pashto (Kabul,  1923). Qandahar Majlis-e Talif Pashto, Muallim-e Pashto Kitab-e Duwwum, Kwad Amuz (Qandahar: Majlis-e Talif Pashto,  1935). The Pashto majlis in Qandahar was a state-sanctioned collective. During this period, it is also necessary to emphasize the importance of Mahmud Tarzi’s nationalist reimagining of Pashto as the progenitor of all Afghan languages, for which see Vartan Gregorian, “Mahmud Tarzi and Saraj-ol-Akhbar: Ideology of Nationalism and Modernization in Afghanistan,” Middle East Journal 21, no. 3 (Summer 1967): 345–368 at 362.
22. For consideration of individuals including Salih Muhammad Qandahari and Abd al-Wasi Qandahari, as well as Mahmud Tarzi whose ancestral background can be partially traced to Qandahar, see Thomas Wide, “Demarcating Pashto: Cross-Border Literature and the Afghan State, 1880–1930,” in Afghanistan in Ink: Literature Between Diaspora and Nation, edited by Nile Green and Nushin Arbabzada (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013), 91–112, and Thomas Wide, “The Refuge of the World: Afghanistan and the Muslim Imagination, 1880–1922,” (PhD diss., Oxford University, 2014). It is important to note the Pashto Maraka was formed in Qandahar in 1922 before being subsumed into the Pashto Tolana 1932 that was an incomplete and contested fusion.
23. The Persianate tazkera literary genre (for which see Kevin L. Schwartz, “A Transregional Persianate Library: The Production and Circulation of Tadhkiras of Persian Poets 18th-19th c.,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 52, no. 1 (2020): 109−135) is not to be confused with Afghan state identity documents of the same name, for which see the following discussion.
24. See James Caron, “Cultural Histories of Pashtun Nationalism: Public Participation and Social Inequality in Monarchic Afghanistan, 1905–1960,” (PhD diss., University of Pennsylvania, 2009); “Ambiguity of Orality and Literacy, Territory and Border Crossings: Public Activism and Pashto Literature in Afghanistan, 1930–2010,” in Afghanistan in Ink: Literature between Diaspora and Nation, ed. Nile Green and Nushin Arbabzada (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012), 113–150; and “Reading the Power of Printed Orality in Afghanistan: Popular Pashto Literature as Historical Evidence and Public Intervention,” Journal of Social History 45, no. 1 (Fall 2011): 172–94.
25. The issue of Pashtunistan has been considered primarily from a geopolitical perspective, but it also involves a considerable personal dimension insofar as its primary advocate, the Afghan prime minister, Mohammad Daud, was contemporaneously locally understood to be motivated to reclaim Peshawar, the governorship of which his grandfather and Dost Mohammad Khan’s younger brother, Sultan Mohammad Telai, once held. Among Pashtuns in Afghanistan, the Pashtunistan issue generated the politically uncomfortable questions about Afghan Pashtuns potentially voting for their own independence from the Kabul regime in which they had isolated representation and no political leverage.
26. The previous system involved aliqadr or magnificent, jalalatmaab or illustrious, and sedaqatmand/sedaqatmaab or truthful, that were represented by their first letters (ayn, jeem, swat, or ع, ج, ص, respectively) that could be combined in two to form short acronymic designations that would be appended to a bureaucrats name, similar to how BA, BS, MA, MA, JS, and the like appear in academic contexts today. The 1950s is also when the Arabo-Persian geographic administrative designation of hukumati was replaced with the Pashto woleswali. It is important to note that the military was linguistically refitted with multiple Pashto words and elements of Pashto inserted for ranks and units that were previously inflected by Turkic-language influences, but such retitling did not disrupt Persian as the language used on daily basis in oral and textual practice in the military bureaucracy.
28. I adapt this phrase from Mahmood Mamdani, “Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: A Political Perspective on Culture and Terrorism,” American Anthropologist 104, no. 3 (2002): 766–775. My use of mentalities arises from the Annales school of French historiography, particularly the work of Marc Bloch, Fernand Braudel, and Lucien Febvre.
29. Shah Mahmoud Hanifi, “Shah Shuja’s ‘Hidden History’ and its Implications for the Historiography of Afghanistan,” SAMAJ: South Asian Multidisciplinary Academic Journal, March 14, 2012, and “A Book History.”
30. See, for example, Leon B. Poullada, The Pashtun Role in the Afghan Political System, Occasional Paper No. 1 (New York: Afghanistan Council of the Asia Society, 1970). In this important piece, Poullada claims “a well-known Pushtu saying, that all conflicts revolve zar, zan zamin, i.e., gold, women and land,” which is, in fact, a Persian, not a Pashto, construction. Surprisingly, the footnote used traces the phrase to the “In and Around Town” column of the American-sponsored English-language Kabul Times newspaper on July 20 and 27, 1968.
31. For more on Afghanistan as a crypto-colony, see M. Jamil Hanifi and Shah Mahmoud Hanifi, “Crypto-Colonial Independence Rituals in Afghanistan,” Afghanistan 4, no. 1 (2021): 70–78.
32. Critical thinking about imperial and national cultural production allows one to see genealogical imaginations at work in a variety of similar ways. For example, it allows for an understanding of why and how Mir Gholam Ghobar and Abdul Ghaffur Breshna created a narrative and visual image of Ahmad Shah as “Baba-ye Afghan,” or the Father of Afghans, at a time when the Afghan state was haltingly and unevenly Pashtunizing itself, on one hand, and the historical context by which Nancy Dupree became the “Grandmother of Afghanistan,” on the other hand.
33. Much of the valuable but limited literature on Afghanistan’s natural resources since 2001 has been produced under US military aegis, directly or indirectly. See, for example, Harry R. Bader, Clint Hanna, Clint Douglas, and John D. Fox, “Illegal Timber Exploitation and Counterinsurgency Operations in Kunar Province of Afghanistan: A Case Study Describing the Nexus among Insurgents, Criminal Cartels, and Communities within the Forest Sector,” Journal of Sustainable Forestry 32, no. 4 (2013): 329–353; John W. Groninger and Charles M. Ruffner, “Hearts, Minds and Trees: Forestry’s Role in Operation Enduring Freedom,” Journal of Forestry 108, no. 3 (April/May 2010): 141–147; and John Schroder, Natural Resources in Afghanistan: Geographic Perspectives on Centuries of Conflict (San Diego, CA: Elsevier, 2014).
34. For the impact of chemicals and warfare on the environment in the United States and around the world, see Rachel Carson, Silent Spring: The Classic that Launched the Environmental Movement (Boston: Houghton Mifflin,  2002); Rob Nixon, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013); and Catherine Lutz, ed., The Bases of Empire: The Global Struggle against U.S. Military Posts (New York: New York University Press, 2009). See also Shah Mahmoud Hanifi, “What Next for Afghanistan,” Royal Society of the Arts Journal (December 15, 2021): 32–35; and Shah Mahmoud Hanifi, “Imperial War Crimes in Afghanistan,” South Asia Avant Garde.
35. For languages in Afghanistan, see Charles M. Kieffer, “AFGHANISTAN v. Languages,” Encyclopaedia Iranica 1, fasc. 5 (1983): 501–516. For a survey of local language histories in Persian and Pashto, see Nile Green, “Introduction,” in Afghan History through Afghan Eyes edited by Nile Green (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 1–51. See also the Linguistic Atlas of Afghanistan Project.
36. For diglossia between Persian and Pashto in Afghanistan, see Harold F. Schiffman and Brian Spooner, “Afghan Languages in a Larger Context of Central and South Asia,” in Language Policy and Language Conflict in Afghanistan and its Neighbors: The Changing Politics of Language Choice, ed. Harold F. Schiffman (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 1–28.
37. See Nile Green, “Introduction,” in Afghan History through Afghan Eyes.
38. For German sources, see Marjan Wardaki, “Knowledge-Migrants between South Asia and Europe: The Production of Technical and Scientific Ideas among Students and Scientists, 1919–1945” (PhD diss., University of California, Los Angeles, 2019). For the French archaeological delegation, see Francine Tissot, “Delegation Archeologique Francaise en Afghanistan,” Encyclopaedia Iranica 7, fasc. 3 (1994): 238–242. For Russian sources, see Timothy Nunan, Humanitarian Invasion: Global Development in Cold War Afghanistan (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016); and Robert D. Crews, Afghan Modern: The History of a Global Nation (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015). For Chinese sources, see Shuzhi Peng, ed., The History of Afghanistan (Xian: Shan Xi Lu You Chu Ban, 1993); and Xinghan Ma, “Recall the Past and Compare it with Afghan Present,” part I in Investigation and Analysis of Chinese Diplomats, ed. Xinghan Ma (Beijing: Shi Jie Zhi Shi Chu Ban She, 2002). I thank Bao Deleng for this information about Chinese sources. For Japanese sources see Masao Sekine, Nihon-Afuganisutan Kankei Zenshi [A Complete History of Japanese-Afghani Relations] (Tokyo: Akashi Publisher, 2006), and Masato Toriya, Kindai Afuganisutan-no Kokka Keisei: Rekishijojutu-to Dainiji Afugan Sensô Zengo-no Seiji-Dôkô [State-Formation of Modern Afghanistan: Historical Narrative and Political Situation before and after the Second Afghan War] (Tokyo: Akashi Publishers, 2019). I thank Nobuaki Kondo for the information about Japanese sources.