Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Context and Culture

AAN’s 50 Most-Read Dispatches: War, headgear, politics…

Kate Clark 10 min

AAN researchers, individually, each follow the topics that interest us – although we also keep an eye on overall output to make sure we keep our coverage broad and our topics various. But what about you, our readers: what are you interested in? Three years after re-vamping the AAN website in 2014, we took a look back to see which of our dispatches had been the most widely-read. The results appear to show that we have a very ‘well-rounded’ readership. War-related publications and pieces to do with major political developments generally got the highest number of readers, but ‘quirkier’ or esoteric topics – to do with how ethnic groups are studied, or aspect of Afghanistan’s culture and wildlife ­– also featured strongly in the top 50 most-read AAN dispatches. AAN’s Kate Clark reports (data from Sudhanshu Verma).

At AAN, we try to cover not only the big events, but also ‘slow-burn’ developments and issues of minority interest. To make sure we get a nicely broad coverage, we also set ourselves to report on seven key themes:

  • War and Peace
  • The Political Landscape
  • International Engagement
  • Economy and Development
  • Rights and Freedoms
  • Regional Relations
  • Context and Culture

By category of dispatch, the percentage breakdown of the most-read dispatches was: war and peace 33%, political landscape 28%, context and culture 25%, economy and development 7%, rights and freedoms 4%, and international engagement 3%. (Regional relations did not feature in the top-50.) It suggests AAN’s readers turn to AAN for what we also perceive as our strengths – in-depth analysis of politics and security and an ability to put events into context.

Looking more closely at the list of our most-read dispatches, it seems that dispatches on major events that are not straightforward to understand attracted readers: why did Kunduz fall in 2015 (and continue to be troubled thereafter)? What did the death of Taleban leaders Mullah Muhammad Omar and then Mullah Akhtar Mansur mean to the insurgent group? What is Daesh? Indeed (as we also asked), why Daesh? In this category, although not war-related, appeared to fall AAN’s reporting on certain controversies, for example, the ethnic-based responses stirred up by the routing of the TUTAP electricity supply line, or the responses of mullahs and women’s rights activists to the mob killing of Farkhunda in 2015. In these pieces, we tried to give more detail and nuance to major events and explain the often complex responses of different parts of Afghan society.

Anything with biographies or information that is of lasting interest appeared to go down well, such as details of the new cabinet, or who was killed in a particular suicide attack, or what was in the Bilateral Security Agreement (signed in 2014 by the United States and Afghanistan).

Other popular dispatches were more surprising hits and may be related to a dearth of information from other sources. Two pieces, one on the study of Afghan ethnic groups, and another on how Uzbeks are reported on were both in the top 50, as was a look at the rise of a new Shia leader in Afghanistan.

Dispatches in our ‘Context and Culture’ category also featured heavily: the history of the pakol, films in which Afghanistan appears, the most useful foraging plants and the story of a houbara bustard tragically suspected of being a bird suicide bomber.

Here then is the list of the 50 dispatches which were most read by the AAN audience, 2014-2016.