Today, we publish an important work, a bibliography of Afghanistan. It is intended to be an up-to-date resource for studying and researching contemporary Afghanistan, particularly the post-1979 period. The author, Christian Bleuer, began compiling this bibliography in 2004/05 when, as a graduate student, he became increasingly frustrated with trying to find sources. Initially, it was just for his own benefit. Later, he published the bibliography as a free online resource for other scholars, updating it regularly until 2012 when he became too busy. The bibliography published today represents a seven-year update, which AAN is proud to publish. Here, we give a brief outline of what the bibliography covers and we also hear from Christian Bleuer* about the work of a bibliographer, his favourite research and how funding has lead to overstudy of certain topics (eg governance, aid) and understudy of others (eg particular ethnic groups).Collection of books related to Afghanistan and the region at AAN's Kabul office. Photo: AAN, 2019
To download the bibliography, click here.
Spanning almost 300 pages, this bibliography covers a vast range of topics – from ethnic groups, through Islam, war, regional relations, the security sector, development, peace-building, governance, opium, women, human rights, migration, education and economics, to natural resources. (Actually, there are even more, too many to list here). Most of the sources are in English and date from the late 1970s onwards, with earlier publications on ethnic groups and, to a lesser extent, Islam also cited. The bibliography may be updated in the future, so if you would like to suggest fresh sources, preferably from an academic journal or well-established research institute, please check the appendix of the bibliography on how to contact us.
Compiling such a bibliography is a major work. We asked Christian Bleuer how and why it had come about.
(1) Why publish a bibliography on Afghanistan?
All the Afghanistan bibliographies that have been published as books are out of date. They are also of very little use for those who research Afghanistan post-2001. In addition, they are usually only found in university libraries and, even if you can find a copy to purchase, they are very expensive. In particular, a hard copy sitting in a western library is of no use to someone in Afghanistan who wants to start their research (on the English sources). There was a clear need for a contemporary Afghanistan bibliography that was freely available to download.
(2) What are the topics that are most researched on Afghanistan?
These are all connected to aid, development and state-building, as that is where the money in Afghanistan is being spent, so interest and funding has followed suit. There is a significant amount of military research as well, but the bulk of the most interesting military research is generally not publically available. I expect that the aid, development and state-building publications will soon collapse in terms of both quality and quantity, given that funding and access to fieldwork opportunities continue to disappear. Sadly, I expect that, soon, refugee and migration studies will predominate.
(3) Are there topics that you were surprised there were no or little research on?
There is a massive failure to research the drivers of conflict – an all-important topic. The publications on this subject are few and far between, and most have poor methodology (borne mostly out of fieldwork difficulties and lack of funding). Islam in Afghanistan is also another neglected research area. When compared to research on Islam done in other parts of the world in the last two decades, the shortcomings are glaringly obvious. Given the importance of Islam to Afghan politics, culture, security and even economics, it is astonishing.
A specific and narrow example of understudy, as I have outlined in a previous AAN dispatch, is the gross neglect of Afghanistan’s Tajik and Uzbek communities. I was personally stymied in my attempts, from 2005 through to 2013, to do fieldwork on the Uzbeks of northern Afghanistan by difficulties getting permission to travel and a lack of funding. There are many areas of research in Afghanistan that have yet to be explored; I wouldn’t be surprised if this is because other researchers have faced similar problems in their chosen fields. I have now given up and switched from having my research proposals on Uzbeks being rejected… to my proposals on Russia’s Afghanistan policies being rejected. Both topics are understudied and important. I believe there is a desire from scholars to research some of these understudied topics, but access, support and funding are not easy to secure.
(4) What are your favourite publications and why?
Over the last few years, four books stand out (from the perspective of one of my main research interests, namely state-society relations). The first two are broad analyses on a single research theme that will be useful references for decades to come:
The Hazaras and the Afghan State: Rebellion, Exclusion and the Struggle for Recognition by Niamatullah Ibrahimi (Oxford University Press, 2017) and;
A State Built on Sand: How Opium Undermined Afghanistan by David Mansfield (Oxford University Press, 2016).
The other two concern state-building (and its limits and failures in Afghanistan) and are great antidotes to the belief by some that academia has nothing to offer to policy makers and international organisations:
Aid Paradoxes in Afghanistan: Building and Undermining the State by Nematullah Bizhan (Routledge, 2017) and;
Informal Order and the State in Afghanistan by Jennifer Brick Murtazashvili (Cambridge University Press, 2016).
As for favourite articles, five come to mind. The first three concern the Taleban, namely how they have been successful on the battlefield, how they are building a system of governance inside Afghanistan, and the exact characteristics of their relationship with Pakistan:
Ashley Jackson. 2018. ‘Life under the Taliban shadow government’, Overseas Development Institute.
Theo Farrell. 2018. ‘Unbeatable: Social Resources, Military Adaptation, and the Afghan Taliban’, Texas National Security Review.
Safi Khalilullah. 2018. ‘The Afghan Taliban’s Relationship with Pakistan’, Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination.
My last two favourite articles are relatively narrow case studies that I have found especially useful. Both deal with problems of economic predation that will likely continue to fuel conflict and competition in Afghanistan well into the future:
Global Witness. 2016. ‘War in the Treasury of the People: Afghanistan, Lapis Lazuli and the Battle for Mineral Wealth’, Global Witness, and; Huma Saeed and Stephan Parmentier. 2017. ‘When Rabbits Are in Charge of Carrots: Land Grabbing, Transitional Justice and Economic-State Crime in Afghanistan’, State Crime Journal.
(5) Having compiled and updated bibliographies over many years and given the huge amount of research on Afghanistan and Central Asia, what are your best tips for carrying out good desk studies on the region?
A researcher, both the local and the outsider, needs to accept that there is no single source, index, database or reference tool that they can rely on. There are many, many sources that need to be consulted, from bibliographies to publication databases to library collections to individual experts. There is no easy shortcut. Student favourites such as the Google Scholar and JSTOR indexes combined cover probably less than 20 per cent of sources for any given research topic. Also, if you are a foreigner you should learn the local languages or find a skilled local research partner. Or ideally, you should do both. I’m a big proponent of collaborative research (not just hiring a local research assistant).
(6) This is not your first bibliography. You started compiling it for your own website, the Afghanistan Analyst. Can you tell us how this became an AAN bibliography?
In about 2004 and 2005, I became increasingly frustrated with researching Afghanistan while at university. When I was writing an essay on the ethnic Uzbeks of Afghanistan, I was lucky enough to be able to show up to Professor Nazif Shahrani’s office hours at Indiana University and ask him for recommendations. But on other topics, I had to do my own literature search. And it was slow and frustrating. So I decided that, as I planned to continue pursuing the study of Afghanistan, I should just create a bibliography for my own reference. And then in 2006, when I created a now-comatose online research resource for Afghanistan, I uploaded my bibliography for others to use. I then regularly updated the bibliography with new versions until 2012 when I became too busy to continually update the document. So this bibliography, with a new home at AAN and support from them, is an update seven years in the making.
Christian Bleuer is a 2012 PhD graduate of The Australian National University’s Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies (The Middle East and Central Asia) and a 2007 MA graduate of Indiana University’s Central Eurasian Studies Department. From 2011-2015 he worked in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan as a researcher and consultant for various organisations. From 2015-2016 he was a Research Fellow at the Australian National University, focusing on regional security dynamics. In 2016 he returned to Central Asia as a field researcher. Most recently he worked as a lecturer on international security at the OSCE Academy in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. His publications can be found here.
This article was last updated on 18 Mar 2020