Context & Culture

New Book: ‘Empires of Mud’


Antonio Giustozzi is arguably the most studious and productive researcher and author on Afghan affairs. His output is based on insight won during intensive travels to the country far beyond the capital.

After editing the recently published ‘Decoding the New Taliban” – with AAN members and friends contributing some chapters – he has now put out a profound analysis of warlords and warlordism in Afghanistan: ‘Empires of Mud: War and Warlords in Afghanistan’ (Hurst).

Here a few first impressions on the book – before actually reading it. We want to be quick with recommending it. More is to come.

As usual, the book is based on a broad variety of sources – including plenty of Afghan ones – and contains masses of detailed material, graphs and maps. Something to chew, indeed. It mainly is based on two earlier released case studies: one on General Dostum’s Jombesh and one on Ismail Khan’s Western Afghan ‘Emirate’. Additionally, there is a chapter on Ahmad Shah Massoud’s Shura-ye Nazar. The 2009 study on tribes and warlords in the Kandahar region is missing, though.

But it is part one that adds to what was available in scattered papers: a history of Afghan warlordism – its roots, the ‘jihad’ phase, the period of 1980-1992 which Giustozzi calls ‘statecide in the making’, the ‘apogee and crisis’ period of the mujahedin-led Islamic State and – most up-to-date – what he calls ‘the explosion of peace’, post-2001. That all sounds extremely interesting. And anyone who knows Antonio can expect a well-argued systematization of the phenomenon. At the same time, the part on ‘warlord’ theory is kept concise and short enough not to deter readers more interested in facts.

The relevance of the book is it discussion of an issue which lies at the heart of the current crisis in Afghanistan: how to do state-building, by including or excluding the warlords? Just one sentence from his conclusions: ‘[T]he “international community” busied itself finding as many distractions as possible in “reconstruction”, “development”, “electoral processes”, and so on, which had no chance of ultimately succeeding in the absence of effective state authority. Efforts to build viable political organizations, particularly by warlords but not only, were discouraged.’ The next question is now: Is it already too late for this?

Giustozzi’s book is a first in its depth on the subject – and a must read for everyone who wants to know more than just superficial stuff about Afghanistan.

Order the book here.

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Thematic Category: Context & Culture