Reviews

An anthropologist personally involved in the implementation of the AKDN’s development programmes in Afghan Badakhshan since the mid-1990s, the author sketches a historical overview of the relations between the Isma‘ili community of Afghanistan and varied forms of regional and central power since the country’s occupation by the Soviet army from 1979 to 1989.  The paper begins with a geographical panorama of the Isma‘ili populations in the various districts of Afghan Badakhshan, each paragraph being centred on the (mainly rural and petty commercial) economic activities of local communities, and on the recent evolutions of political authority—with a particular interest in the relations between Isma‘ili citizens, their traditional leadership, and diverse categories of Sunni power.  Elliptic paragraphs are devoted to the anti-establishment sentiments developed by Isma‘ili pirs and khalifas under the monarchy and Daoud presidency, and on the support given by them to radical intellectuals in their struggle for social justice.  The varying fortune of local rulers, according to the evolution of their respective relations with Sunni Mujahidin political parties during the civil war, is shortly illustrated by personal cases—the resulting narrative not always avoiding confusion, as to the description of the conflicts in Shughnan between local militia leaders and Sayyid ‘Abd-Allah Nuri (d. 2006), the leader of the Tajikistani oppositional forces in the mid-1990s (p. 184).  Conversely, the situation inherited from the post-Taliban era is exposed more convincingly, the author stressing the two major changes for the Isma‘ili community in Afghan Badakhshan: (1) in the political arena, the newly appointed government functionaries work to improve ties with Isma‘ilis; (2) in the religious domain, the latter experience a change in the traditional hereditary leadership system of their communities.  At the same time, the author’s often critical considerations on the authority of local pirs and khalifas—these terms are not properly explained—and his denunciation of the latter’s “traditionalist” opposition to the modernisation brought about by Agha Khan iv could have been developed in a more subtle way (e.g., p. 187).  As it is generally the case with studies written by protagonists and witnesses about the AKDN’s involvement in development policy in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Central Asia, the overall tone is apologetic, if not openly hagiographical, and documented factual information remains scanty.  The paper is enriched by statistical material gathered by the author during field studies in the early 2000s.

Stéphane A. Dudoignon, National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris
CER: I-7.4.B-632