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Warlords, Strongman Governors, and the State in Afghanistan Hardcover – February 13, 2014

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 388 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (February 13, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1107023920
  • ISBN-13: 978-1107023925
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #755,376 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Mukhopadhyay brings the much abused category of "warlord" to life in this innovative and path breaking study of regional politics in Afghanistan. It provides the previously missing analytic rigor in a comparative study of the fraught relationship of a weak state center and its unruly peripheries."
Thomas Barfield, Professor of Anthropology, Boston University

"This is an outstanding volume not only for the courageous fieldwork on which it is based and its subsequent empirical insights, but because it provides a needed alternative to outdated notions of state building. It challenges the too often accepted idea that power equals centralization. It also takes our focus away from normative, and nominal structures to the real informal processes behind any kind of authority. Third, it once again shows that the search for political perfection may be the worst enemy of basic governance. Should be read by anyone interested in 21st century politics."
Miguel Angel Centeno, Musgrave Professor of Sociology, Princeton University

"Warlords, Strongman Governors, and the State in Afghanistan could not be timelier. This book is among the few that take seriously the dynamic processes of state-building in Afghanistan and the resilience of its current and surprisingly resilient phase. Mukhopadhyay provides a keen analysis of how and under what conditions state authority benefits from local warlord strengths in terms of personal reputation, charisma and skill as a patron. Through extensive field research in Afghanistan, Mukhopadhyay shows how politics in Afghanistan really works, and reveals concrete and specific information on how the convergence of politics at the center and in the provinces makes the Afghan state stronger in significant ways. This book is essential reading for anyone interested in contemporary strategies of state-building generally and in this important process in this critical region."
William Reno, Professor of Political Science, University of Wisconsin

"Few terms are as pejorative in common usage as "warlord", and warlordism has been a source of great suffering in many settings. In Warlords, Strongman Governors, and the State in Afghanistan, however, Dipali Mukhopadhyay argues that Afghan warlordism has had highly variable dynamics and consequences: while some strongmen have brought suffering and instability, others have actually advanced the cause of political order in a weak state, with systematic variations in local conditions accounting for the difference. She builds her case on a foundation of richly detailed field research, with results that pose important implications for counterinsurgency, governance reform, and theories of political development. Her provocative analysis will cause both scholars and policy makers to re-examine their views on this critical topic."
Stephen Biddle, Professor of Political Science and International Affairs, The George Washington University

Book Description

In this book Dipali Mukhopadhyay argues that Afghani warlords, often considered the enemy of peace, security, and good governance, can under certain conditions become effective governors on behalf of the state. Based on extensive field work, she shows that although this brand of governance falls far short of international expectations, its emergence reflects the reassertion of the Afghan state in material and symbolic terms that deserve our attention.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Michael Buehler on July 5, 2014
Format: Hardcover
While recent research on subnational authoritarianism has presented conflicting theories on
the emergence of local strongmen (see, for instance, Gibson 2012 and Sidel 2014), most
accounts share the notion that the presence of such figures undermines the capacity of the
national government to rule effectively (Moncada and Snyder 2011).
Dipali Mukhopadhyay’s book on warlords and strongman governors in Afghanistan
presents evidence to the contrary. Usually seen as a state where a weak national government
struggles to domesticate an unruly periphery (Taylor and Botea 2008) and where the
presence of local strongmen has turned the centralized institutional hierarchy established
under the 2004 constitution into an ‘‘informal federation’’ (Brick Murtazashvili 2014, 325),
Afghanistan shows that warlords are willing to work on behalf of the national government
under certain circumstances. Concretely, the presence of two conditions makes it likely that
strongmen transition into what the author calls ‘‘strongman governors.’’ One, if a warlord
faces strong local competition from other warlords, he is inclined to enter an alliance with
the central government because the unique access to resources he receives as an ally of the
national government will give him an advantage over his local competitors. Two, a local
strongman needs to have enough informal local authority in his province to rule on behalf
of the national government because in Afghanistan the formal ‘‘institutional scaffolding
needed to support a robust police force, tax collection...or the provision of health and
education [is] severely anemic or entirely absent’’ (p. 49).
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