The Changing Nature of Power and Sovereignty in Afghanistan

Publication date:
Aziz Hakimi

Policy Research Papers

September 2012

Domestic and global anxiety about the fate of Afghanistan and the West's decade-long military, diplomatic and economic engagement in the region has intensified as United States (US) and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) troops prepare to disengage from the conflict. The change is reflected in Western policy's turn to realism - exemplified by demands to abandon nation building abroad and recognise the limits of Western power - and instead work through and with local allies, as has been attempted by Western counter-insurgency (Stewart 2009).

Western intervention is generally criticised on the basis of the assertion that Afghanistan is ill-suited to Western liberal models. Instead, a clear re-orientation is evident in both policy and academic circles towards the 'local' and the 'traditional' and in favour of hybrid political orders over the 'Westphalian state' (Boege, et al. 2009). Ironically, conservative politicians and critical theorists have come to agree on the same thing: liberal peace-building approaches had not necessarily led to peace in zones of conflict. However, the implication of this new understanding has not necessarily led to the questioning of key liberal assumptions underpinning Western forays into zones of instability. Instead, the failure of liberal ideas and institutions taking roots in the violent parts of the non-Western world has been, mistakenly, attributed to too much liberalism operating in Western projects of intervention; an inherent illiberalism on the part of non-Western societies; and their resistance to adopting Western norms and values over their own traditional practices (Chandler 2010).