Posted by: Christian | August 10, 2009

The Mystery of The Wall Street Journal and the Absentee Afghanists

Seth G. Jones writes an article in The Wall Street Journal, wherein he annoys Josh Foust. There is a lot in the article to choke on, especially his comments on tribes, arbakai and jirgas. But this comment is what got me:

…outside of some anthropologists, few people have bothered to examine Afghanistan’s stable periods.

That’s right. These scholars are missing in action. Perhaps off studying other areas? If only we had more material on “Afghanistan’s stable periods”….

The Missing Afghanists

Let’s start with anthropologists: “some”? I’ll stick to those anthropologists who did pre-1979 work. I came up with these, in a rather hasty manner, in no particular order:

  1. Louis Dupree
  2. Robert L. Canfield
  3. M. Nazif Shahrani
  4. Alef Shah Zadran
  5. Audrey Shalinsky
  6. Elizabeth Bacon
  7. Pierre Cenlivres
  8. Micheline Centlivres-Demont
  9. Richard Tapper
  10. Nancy Tapper (Lindisfarne)
  11. David J. Katz
  12. Yusuf Nuristani
  13. Erwyn Orywal
  14. Thomas Barfield
  15. Willi Steul
  16. Jon Anderson
  17. Inger Boeson
  18. A. Christensen
  19. Ashraf Ghani
  20. Takeshi Matsui
  21. Jeffrey Evans-von Krbek
  22. Ingeborg Baldauf (also a linguistic)
  23. Richard Strand (also a linguist)
  24. Khadiya Khashimbekov
  25. Erhard Franz
  26. Shuyler Jones
  27. Jan Ovesen
  28. Lincoln Keiser
  29. Michelle Poulton
  30. Robin Poulton
  31. J.P.S. Uberoi
  32. K. Wutt
  33. H.F. Shurman
  34. Aparna Rao
  35. R.T. Rashidov
  36. Carl-Johan Charpentier
  37. Etc….

This is getting tiring. And if I wanted to start poaching those who studied Pakhtuns on the other side of the Durand, some big names would pop up, notably Fredrik Barth, whose importance to the field of anthropology can not be understated, and the very influential Akbar Ahmed. Plus, I could include anthropologists would did their work post 1979. Also, if I took the time to pick out all the numerous local scholars and a full accounting of Soviet field research, the list would stretch on for quite a while. And apologies to anyone I forgot. I don’t feel like spending the next couple of hours on Worldcat.

So, back to the Jones’ quote:

…outside of some anthropologists, few people have bothered to examine Afghanistan’s stable periods.

Alright, the above list was “some anthropologists.” How about those “few people”? I will stick with history and political science for now, and I’ll stay in the contemporary era.  These are the scholars who came to mind when it comes to studies which include assessments of pre-1979 “stable periods” Afghanistan:

  1. Hassan Kakar
  2. Jonathan L. Lee
  3. Ludwig Adamec
  4. Robert McChesney
  5. R.T. Akhramovich
  6. Leon B. Poullada
  7. Vartan Gregorian
  8. Shah M. Hanifi
  9. M. Jamil Hanifi
  10. Burhan al-Din Kushkaki
  11. Mir Gholam Mohammad Ghobar
  12. Christine Noelle-Karimi
  13. Amin Saikal
  14. Etc… etc… etc…
  15. → 137.  Etc… etc…

I’m not going to belabor the point. This list could go on for a long, long time. I could make a list for popular history books that would not make the cut at an academic press. Then I could include a list for economists, IO/NGOs, religious studies, IR, etc… There’s so much to go on. Personally, I recommend these readings as a starting point.

Too bad there is such a paucity of material on Afghanistan’s stable periods!

PS: My apologies to RAND, the Hardy Boys and the Wall Street Journal for the sorry attempt at photoshop.


  1. Don’t forget Sir Olaf Caroe! If you don’t quote him and Akbar Ahmed, you can’t work for a government-funded think tank!

  2. And Evelyn Howell, Gerald Curtis, Frank Leeson, H.C.Wylly, and Robert Sandeman among many others…

  3. […] via Seth G. Jones on How to Win the War in Afghanistan – Hat tip Zen and the Ghosts of Alexander […]

  4. […] unlikely outside of Loya Paktiya. But he wrote a book, so listen to him! [Update: Christian Bleuer notices something I forgot in all my annoyance: Jones doesn't even understand the field he's writing off […]

  5. Whoops. I really shouldn’t have forgotten Whitney Azoy, the anthropologist who wrote “Buzkashi.”

  6. Only problem is trying to find these authors in your average university library. Admittedly, I haven’t bothered to take a 5 minute walk to SOAS library.

  7. […] of what “past” means. You can see some frank assessments of his earlier works, here and here), here is a crude lesson about what the U.S. is getting into in Baluchistan. An existing war since […]


%d bloggers like this: