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> From: H-Net Staff via H-REVIEW <h-rev...@lists.h-net.org>
> Date: September 5, 2019 at 8:39:45 AM EDT
> To: h-rev...@lists.h-net.org
> Cc: H-Net Staff <revh...@mail.h-net.org>
> Subject: H-Net Review [H-War]:  Buck on Fredholm, 'Afghanistan Beyond the Fog 
> of War: Persistent Failure of a Rentier State'
> Reply-To: h-rev...@lists.h-net.org
> Michael Fredholm.  Afghanistan Beyond the Fog of War: Persistent 
> Failure of a Rentier State.  Copenhagen  NIAS PRESS, 2018.  368 pp.  
> $35.00 (paper), ISBN 978-87-7694-251-9.
> Reviewed by Brandan Buck (George Mason)
> Published on H-War (September, 2019)
> Commissioned by Margaret Sankey
> A bevy of works on Afghanistan's political, economic, and security 
> issues have been published since 9/11. Traditional histories of 
> modern Afghanistan are typically written episodically, treating 
> events as a series of conflicts predicated by a succession of 
> invasions and coups. Similarly, most works in the field focus on the 
> country's immeasurable security issues and reason their way 
> backwards, seeking answers on how to curb violence while overlooking 
> Afghanistan's core political issues. Historian Michael Fredholm 
> addresses both shortcomings in _Afghanistan__ Beyond the Fog of War: 
> Persistent Failure of a Rentier State. _An exhaustive and sober 
> examination of Afghanistan's recent history, this book argues that 
> the country's political economy was irrevocably guided by Abdur 
> Rahman Khan. Rahman, also known as the "Iron Amir," was Afghanistan's 
> first modern ruler and initiator of a governing model centered on 
> security, modernization, and economic reform. Fredholm examines how 
> the amir sought to implement his model by centralizing power through 
> Pashtunization, the creation of a modern, centralized military, and 
> coopting local power brokers, particularly rural imams. Fredholm 
> further argues that this method of governing impacted and, 
> ultimately, ruined Afghanistan's political development. He claims 
> that Afghanistan's rulers--be they strongmen, Soviet, or 
> Western-backed leaders--have since sought to implement Abdur Rahman 
> Khan's model, rather than pursuing more accommodationist political 
> arrangements. This desire for centralization has inflamed 
> Afghanistan's ethnic tensions, exacerbated rifts between religiously 
> conservative rural areas and more secular urban centers, and 
> furthered Afghanistan's dependence upon foreign aid, which has 
> undermined its independence.      
> Fredholm's content is expansive, consisting of ten chapters that 
> stretch from the rule of Abdur Rahman Khan (who reigned between 1880 
> and 1901) through the coalition troop drawdown in 2014. A final 
> chapter speculates as to Afghanistan's future. Chapters 1 and 2 set 
> up Fredholm's argument by describing Rahman's early state-building 
> efforts. They then examine tactics by Rahman's immediate Barakzai 
> dynasty successors through the first half of the twentieth century 
> and the genesis of Afghanistan's status as a rentier state. The 
> author outlines how Afghanistan's succession of kings wrangled with 
> various local power brokers, foreign interests, and rural religious 
> leaders.   
> Chapters 3 through 5 cover Afghan political history and foreign 
> relations during the 1960s, political turmoil during the 1970s, the 
> Soviet invasion, and subsequent Soviet-Afghan War. The strongest 
> material in these chapters is in Fredholm's treatment of 
> Afghanistan's domestic political fracturing prior to the bloodless 
> 1973 coup initiated by Mohammed Daoud Khan. The author interestingly 
> internationalizes the growth of Afghan political radicalism during 
> the 1960s, illustrating that the Afghan Marxist Left and Islamic 
> Right drew inspiration from abroad. As to the latter, Fredholm argues 
> that Afghanistan's turn toward political Islam was rooted in its own 
> experience with student radicalism and academic connections to 
> Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood (p. 97). Fredholm effectively argues that 
> the ideological core of Afghanistan's Islamic modernist movement was 
> urban and internationally inspired, both of which force a 
> reexamination of common conceptions of Islamic radicalism within the 
> country. While other works (such as Thomas Barfield's _Afghanistan_, 
> 2010) have highlighted these phenomena, Fredholm shows how these 
> nascent Islamic movements interacted with traditional conceptions of 
> a nominally secular state and traditional, rural religious interests. 
> Similarly, Fredholm argues that experiences of the Afghan 
> diasporas--displaced by the Soviet invasion, subsequent civil war, 
> and Taliban control--had profound effects upon conceptions of the 
> Afghan state. Chapters 6 through 10 address the US invasion of the 
> country, the creation of the new Islamic republic, and a multitude of 
> issues related thereto. Central to the author's argument is his 
> catalogue of the growth and influence of the Afghan diaspora and the 
> impact of its visons of Afghan statehood. He asserts that this group 
> of Afghan influencers envisioned a strong, centralized post-Taliban 
> state built upon the Rahman model. It was this clique, embodied best 
> by Hamid Karzai, who led the new Afghan state down a path of hyper 
> centralization. Fredholm convincingly argues that the United States 
> was all too happy to build such a government because it would be in 
> line with international norms and would be conducive to US influence 
> via aid distribution. Unfortunately, as Fredholm contends, the new 
> centralized state undermined traditional regional power brokers, 
> exacerbated ethnic tensions, incentivized fraud, and created an 
> unresponsive political environment. 
> Fredholm's final chapter speculates on Afghanistan's political future 
> and poses provocative questions as to the nature of political 
> relations and the legitimacy of centralized power. Is it ethical--and 
> ultimately prudent--to achieve security diffusely through local power 
> brokers, often referred to as "warlords?" Is such a label a fair 
> characterization? He concludes by asserting that federalism is 
> perhaps the country's best hope for political stability and therefore 
> the end to active conflict. The final chapter highlights that 
> Rahman's centralization model was dependent upon the successful 
> application of power and the suppression of ethnic and clerical 
> interests. Such a harsh model is no longer possible given modern 
> Afghanistan's political landscape and the international norms hooked 
> to foreign aid. 
> The work's primary flaw is perhaps its inclusiveness with regard to 
> content. It often reads like a work of narrative history and 
> therefore retreads well-worn ground. Given Fredholm's 
> comprehensiveness, it is at times unclear as to how the various 
> aspects of Afghanistan's recent history fit into his overall 
> argument. Also, Fredholm could have supported his argument with 
> evidence that showed the intellectual transmission of Rahman's model 
> through the country's various regimes, which was especially true 
> after the overthrow of the Afghan monarchy. How did Rahman's ideas of 
> governing survive the removal of the Barakzai Dynasty? How did they 
> make the jump from monarchy to communism to theocracy and to the 
> current Islamic republic? As strong as this work is, one is left to 
> wonder if the Rahman model is causal or merely a consequence of 
> Afghanistan's unique human and physical geography. 
> Despite these drawbacks _Afghanistan Beyond the Fog of War: 
> Persistent Failure of a Rentier State_ is an exceptionally well-done 
> book on Afghanistan's modern political history. Fredholm's political 
> lens poses provocative questions and ties together content that is 
> often presented discontinuously. 
> Citation: Brandan Buck. Review of Fredholm, Michael, _Afghanistan 
> Beyond the Fog of War: Persistent Failure of a Rentier State_. H-War, 
> H-Net Reviews. September, 2019.
> URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=53661
> This work is licensed under a Creative Commons 
> Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States 
> License.
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