2012 Fellowship Recipients

Research Fellowships

H. William Warner (James Madison University), 'Afghans Outside Afghanistan: Migration to the Indian Subcontinent, c. 1800-1950.'

Most scholarship on modern Afghanistan has focused on instances of foreign intervention and occupation. As a result, Afghans and Afghanistan have been largely portrayed as idle figures in the dramatic social, political, and economic changes that accompanied British imperial expansion. Using material housed in a number of Indian archives, Warner’s research seeks to demonstrate the ways Afghans actively participated in the Indian subcontinent during the colonial period. Focusing on migrant laborers, exiles, and merchants, his dissertation examines how these groups arrived in the Indian subcontinent, their experiences in British India, and their lives after their return to Afghanistan. His work will elucidate the social and economic connections that Afghans developed with colonial South Asia.


James Bradford (Northeastern University), 'Seeds of Dissent: Opium, State Building, and Diplomacy During the Musahiban Dynasty, 1929-1978.'

The project examined the history of opium in Afghanistan during the Musahiban Dynasty, 1929-1978, and reveals that opium was an active component in its political and economic development. It also sought to demonstrate that Afghan opium’s role as either a licit or illicit commodity was determined by the failure of the Afghan state to effectively implement international opium regulations. Bradford showed that despite the Afghan state’s underlying aim to create a licit opium economy, the international community, especially the United States, pushed Afghanistan to implement strict regulations that not only failed but also proved divisive among the rural Afghan population. However, opium production endured, and transformed into a vital commodity for those resisting state control. Thus, the project examined how American and international drug diplomacy, in pushing Afghanistan to adopt its anti-narcotic stance, affected the development of the Afghan state. In doing so, it also revealed the political and cultural conflicts between Afghanistan and the international anti-opium community, as well as, between the Afghan state and its people.As of the writing of this report, the final report on this award has been received. AIAS is awaiting copies of any resulting publications from this work.

Ryan Brasher (Indiana University), 'Ideology and State Development in Afghanistan under the Musahiban brothers.'

What accounts for the weak Afghan state before 1978? Standard explanations of its stunted development and inability to penetrate its rural periphery focus on geographic determinants, the history of foreign economic and military intervention, and centrifugal forces embedded in Afghan culture itself. These explanations, however, ignore the sub-national variation in the territorial expansion of the state. Unlike Reza Shah in Iran, the traditionalist Musahiban brothers did not seek to transform Afghan society or reshape the state. They projected state power, through mobilization of their traditional tribal base, only into those territories dominated by perceived rivals. Those regions governed by traditional allies, however, were left autonomous. It is precisely in these ‘stateless’ regions that resistance against Communist revolutionary rule under Taraki and Amin first sprung up, and led to a widespread insurgency after the Soviet invasion. Brasher seeks to explore the interconnectedness of national decision-making, regional elites, and state development in the Afghan provinces by thoroughly investigating archival source material. He plans to return to London to comb through this material and to access additional sources at the archival collections on religious, business, and non-governmental organizations at the School of Oriental and African Studies.

Travel Fellowships

James Caron (University of Pennsylvania), 'Pashto Literature: Combative Texts and Contested Publics in a Transnational Social History, 1930-2012.'

This travel grant will complete the research toward Caron’s first book, a social history of the modern Afghan Pashto literary sphere. He will focus on the activist social arenas created by literary, especially poetic, activity; those arenas’ intersections with 20th century state consolidation in Afghanistan; and their roles in articulating cross-regional identities that eluded state (and other) power.

Throughout, he will address the question of historical methods in unorthodox sources: biographical dictionaries and emergent literary genres, from courtly verse polemics against rural notables to angry protest poetry by non-literate sharecroppers. Caron will explore what hybrid literary-historical methods can tell us about life in early and mid-twentieth century rural eastern Afghanistan, a setting for which we have few other fine-grained sources; and he will also explore what new perspectives these methods can offer on the better-documented recent past. He will trace the ways in which diverse people expressed perspectives on the wider world, beyond local and national borders that were still relatively artificial yet increasingly burdensome; and ways in which a historically mobile population, intimately integrated into the geography of the Gangetic and Indus plains, was forcibly rooted into a mountain enclave only to be dislocated again. The project is thus an innovative exploration of sources, and also a historiographical resituating of Pashtun society in Afghanistan’s long twentieth century—one that centers a rich variety of active voices in narrating the past; one that problematizes the state and its boundaries while not dismissing their power.


Joanie Meharry (Independent Scholar), 'Untold Stories: the Oral Histories of Afghanistan's Cultural Heritage.'

The cultural heritage of Afghanistan has been a source of pride for its people and for the world. Yet recent decades of political turmoil have threatened the preservation of this heritage. This project aims to create an educational book, Untold Stories: the Oral Histories of Afghanistan’s Cultural Heritage, in order to promote the country’s rich cultural heritage. The book will include a series of interviews with Afghanistan’s cultural heritage specialists, recent and historical photographs of the people and cultural sites, as well as a DVD with short films of the interviews with the specialists, in either Dari or English with respective subtitles, to be accessible to a wide audience in Afghanistan and abroad. In doing so, it will provide safekeeping for the oral history of the country’s recent cultural heritage and raise awareness about challenges facing the preservation of this heritage. Finally, it will provide an opportunity to learn about and enjoy the shared cultural heritage of Afghanistan.


Dipali Mukhopadhyay (Tufts University), 'Warlords, Strongman Governors, and State Building in Afghanistan.'

This grant was requested to complete fieldwork for Mukhopadhyay’s book manuscript, Warlords, Strongman Governors, and State Building in Afghanistan (under contract with Cambridge University Press). This is the fourth and final field research trip for this project. The manuscript draws on the literature and methods of comparative politics and political sociology. It considers the character of informal power in post-2001 Afghanistan and its impact on the state building project and the delivery of provincial governance. The research poses the following questions: Under what circumstances can the state’s competitors leverage their informal power on behalf of the state and contribute constructively to governance? Can warlords become “good” governors? Over the course of three field research trips between 2007 and 2009, I conducted more than 150 interviews in Kabul, northern and eastern Afghanistan to investigate the governorships of Atta Mohammad Noor and Gul Agha Sherzai. With rare exception, in-depth, qualitative analysis of this kind at the subnational level in Afghanistan remains an untouched but critical research frontier. With these two in-depth case studies and two shadow case studies (on Governors Ismail Khan and Juma Khan Hamdard), she theorizes that a strong warlord appointed to a competitive province is both able and willing to establish a primitive brand of provincial governance on behalf of the regime in Kabul. This conception of “strongman provincial governance” contributes to social scientific scholarship on state formation, subnational governance, and power politics in so-called weak states like Afghanistan.