Reviews

One of the best-informed observers of the evolution of regional and tribal power in Afghanistan during the past decades, the author examines the impact of the spectacular increase of foreign patronage on Afghanistan’s internal dynamics since the late 1970s. Through the province of Qandahar ― the country’s traditional provider of ruling élite ―, A. Giustozzi deals with three groups of tribal strongmen who have been trying to use tribally based patronage systems to take a claim to local power. Resorting to an Ibn-Khaldunian pattern, he notably shows that the historical Durrani tribal élite appeared in the 1980s in an advanced stage of cyclical decline, through migration to Kabul and refusal to join the armed resistance to the Soviet invasion of 1979. The lead in the fight was then taken by the Ghilzai or by junior Durrani chiefs, a new distance between tribesmen and aristocracy permitting people like Gul Agha Sherzai in their conquest of the tribes. At the same time, the Ibn-Khaldunian cycle is itself questioned by the reassertion of tribal aristocracy in Qandahar as for 2003-4. The author shows in particular how English-speaking aristocrats like Ahmad-Wali Karzai had an edge in dealing with the expatriate community and hence with the foreign patrons. As a result, the foreign-speaking offspring of aristocratic families showed much better positioned to woo international actors than families like the Gul. In the case of tribes other than the Barakzais, the author suggests that the recovery of tribal aristocracy from 2003 onwards has been facilitated by the preservation of its influence over the strongmen even during jihad. These tribes’ strongmen always needed the guidance of families such as the Wasifis and Karzais. However, A. Giustozzi also demonstrates that “the return to the status quo ante was impossible, as did the revitalisation of the decayed aristocracy.” By mid-2006, with the progression of the Taliban in the Qandahar villages, a power vacuum had been created. As a global result of the growing weight of external patronage, king-making in Kabul was no longer determined by the tribal dynamics of the Qandahar region, but on the contrary it decided the tribal dynamics in Qandahar ― producing what the authors qualifies as the first complete reversion of the Ibn Khaldunian cycle.

The Redaction
CER: II-7.4.B-637