The Challenges and Role of Structures in the Reconstruction of Afghanistan

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Connections: The Quarterly Journal, Volume 11, Issue 2, p.5-35 (2012)


complexity, culture, gender attitudes, history, insurgent networks, political perceptions, politics, social structure, tribal networks, values, way of life


An intervention in Afghanistan that has lasted longer than a decade has not brought about what was most hoped for: security for the Afghan people and stabilization of the entire region. These processes are challenged every day by the complexity of Afghanistan’s social structures: its culture, values, way of life, tribal networks, politics, insurgent networks, and its history. A closer examination of examples of cultural and political structures can provide us with a perspective on this complexity, and on the deeply intertwined relationships among various actors engaged in the Afghan conflict. In this light, we can demonstrate the repeated shortcomings of liberal peace building in the case of Afghanistan. These examples also manifest the differences in values, attitudes toward gender, and cultural and political perceptions between Afghan and Western societies. The possibilities of conflict resolution, and its foundation in traditional structures—such as local communities, tribal or religious structures, or traditional value sets—offer scenarios for feasible strategies to be explored and possibly implemented. Acknowledgement of the Afghan reality on the ground and preparation for peace building missions can effectively improve the goals of efforts pursued and carried out by the international community, with a corresponding improvement in results. In a country that has managed to repel foreign invasions in the past, and tends not to accept dictates from the outside, our chances of success in our mission can be increased if we can admit that liberal values might not apply universally. By listening to Afghan voices directly and ensuring their involvement in the process of reconstruction, our respect for the realities of Afghan life, in the context of their values, creates the possibility to set up a successful strategy for Afghanistan’s recovery.