Mountstuart Elphinstone and the Historical Foundations of Afghanistan Studies

The AIAS co-sponsored program “Mountstuart Elphinstone and the Historical Foundations of Afghanistan Studies: Reframing Colonial Knowledge of the Indo-Persian World in the Post-Colonial Era” examined the intellectual legacy of Mountstuart Elphinstone (1779-1859) whose career as a diplomat, administrator and scholar left a substantial and lasting impact on colonial fields of knowledge and governance in Afghanistan and British India. Elphinstone’s seminal Account of the Kingdom of Caubul (1815) established the framework for knowing and engaging Afghanistan, and his influential History of India (1841) built upon significant and highly transformative administrative tenures in Poona/Pune and Bombay/Mumbai.

The conference took place at SOAS, University of London, from November 6-7, 2015, and included a key-note address given by William Dalrymple, based upon research for his book Return of a King (2012).

Part II of the Elphinstone Conference series will take place at Elphinstone College in Mumbai, India in April 2017.

Afghanistan 2015: Transitions to Transformations

AIAS hosted an international conference with the Hollings Center for International Dialogue, “Afghanistan 2015: Transitions to Transformations” to discuss the demographic, institutional, and structural changes taking place within the country. The conference took place in Istanbul, Turkey from August 5 to 9, 2015 and brought together a diverse group of Afghans, Americans and other nationals from various disciplines, including policy practitioners, academics, journalists, and civil society representatives. Participants followed Chatham House rules to allow for an open and candid discussion. Session topics spanned cultural identity, generational changes and challenges, urbanization, international politics, economic policies, and governance and elections. The conference concluded with breakout sessions in which participants brainstormed areas for practical implementation of the ideas expressed.

View the conference report here: AFG-2015-Snapshot-FINAL-12-3-15



Afghan Cameleers in Australia from 1860-1920

On 7 October, 2015 AIAS with the coordination of ACKU hosted a presentation by Mr. Fahim Hashemy in Afghanistan center in Kabul university about the history of Afghan cameleers in Australia.

Between the mid 1800s and the turn of the nineteenth century more than 3000 men from Afghanistan made the long and harrowing voyage out to Australia to take up work managing the camels shipped along with them. These men and their camel trains were the essential means of transport allowing for the earliest colonial exploration, pastoral and mining developments throughout Outback Australia. Prohibited by Australian Immigration regulations from bringing wives or children, most of these hardy pioneers put in a few years of hard work then returned to their homelands.

About Mr. fahim Hashemy

Fahim Hashimy was born on 1980 in Kabul. At the age of 12 He moved away from Kabul to settle in the western city of Afghanistan, Herat. He finished bachelor of International Studies, Politics and Relationship, University of Adelaide. He also has finished Screen and Media “film and TV production course” from Collage for the ART South Australia.

As well as making dramatic films, documentaries and educational shorts since 2001, Fahim has successfully finished filmmaking training in Iran 2005 and at the German Goethe Institute, Kabul.

Two of his dramatic films (HISS and The Road) have won top awards in Afghanistan and been selected for many national and international film festivals. He was selected for Berlin Talent Compose and at June same year his script selected the top 10 best script out of 330 from all around the world for the Berlin Today Award competition. He traveled to Australia to make an ambitious historical documentary “Afghan Cameleers in Australia from 1860-1920”, completed early 2014.

Reception for Dr. Thomas Barfield & Dr. Michael Alexander Barry

On 22 August, 2015 AIAS hosted a reception for Dr. Thomas Barfield & Dr. Michael Alexander Barry.

Dr. Thomas Barfield’s current research focuses on problems of political development in Afghanistan, particularly on systems of local governance and dispute resolution. He has also published extensively on contemporary and historic nomadic pastoral societies in Eurasia with a particular emphasis on politics and economy.

Dr. Barfield conducted ethnographic fieldwork in northern Afghanistan in the mid-1970s as well as shorter periods of research in Xinjiang, China, and post-Soviet Uzbekistan. He is author of The Central Asian Arabs of Afghanistan (1981), The Perilous Frontier: Nomadic Empires and China (1989), and The Nomadic Alternative (1993), co-author of Afghanistan: An Atlas of Indigenous Domestic Architecture (1991), and editor of Blackwell’s Dictionary of Anthropology (1997). Barfield received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2006 that led to the publication of his newest book, Afghanistan: A Political and Cultural History.

He is also director of Boston University’s Institute for the Study of Muslim Societies & Civilization and currently serves as president of the American Institute for Afghanistan Studies.

Michael Alexander Barry has lectured in Princeton’s Near Eastern Studies Department since 2004 on the medieval and modern Islamic cultures of Iran, India, Pakistan, and most especially Afghanistan—where his work over more than four decades has ranged from anthropological research to defense of human rights and coordinating humanitarian assistance for the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights, for Médecins du Monde, and for the United Nations. He has published extensively in both his writing languages, English and French; his academic works have been translated into Persian and a half-dozen European versions; and he holds seven literary prizes from France and Iran.

While fluent in the Persian language (including the Afghan or “Dari” variant thereof) and deeply committed to reviving the study of its literature in Princeton.

How does the context of war effect the method? Qualitative research in/on armed conflicts


A lecture by

Teresa Koloma Beck PhD

Tuesday May 12

5:00 pm 


The lecture discussed the main challenges for social science research in/on violent conflict and its implications for developing methodological approaches. Scientific knowledge is supposed to be produced through systematic and controlled processes of data gathering and analysis. Drawing on experiences from ethnographic research on everyday life in war and postwar societies undertaken in Angola and Mozambique, the lecture will discuss how this ideal is practically challenged in contexts influenced by violence and conflict.


Teresa Koloma Beck holds a PhD in social sciences and is currently heading the research group »Violence and Social Spaces« at the Centre Marc Bloch at Humboldt University Berlin. Prior to that she worked as a substitute professor for International Conflict Management at the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy at Erfurt University, Germany, as well as in interdisciplinary research projects on civil war and post-civil war societies. Her research focuses on the everyday dynamics of violence and conflict in a globalised world. She has conducted extensive field research in Angola and Mozambique. Among her publications are The normality of civil war (Campus, 2012) and Transitional Justice Theories (2014, Routledge, co-edited with S. Buckley-Zistel, C. Braun and F. Mieth).


Terminology of Muslim extremism

AIAS organized a talk by Mohammad Moheq about the Terminology of Muslim extremism on 26 March, 2015.  Mohammad moheq is a writer with a master degree in Theology. He has worked as a lecturer in Herat University, advisor in Afghanistan strategic studies center of ministry of foreign affairs, and as a diplomat in Afghanistan embassy, Cairo. He has published many books and translated different articles till date, from which the books (Az chashm andaz-e- now), and (Rah-e-now negah-e-now) can be named.

From Sufis to Taliban: Trajectories of Islam in Afghanistan

From October 30 to October 31, 2014 AIAS co-sponsored a conference hosted by UCLA’s Program on Central Asia, called “From Sufis to Taliban: Trajectories of Islam in Afghanistan.”

Providing idioms and organizations for both anti-state and anti-foreign mobilization, Islam has proven to be a vital socio-political resource in modern Afghanistan. Even as it has been deployed as the national cement of a multi-ethnic “Emirate” and then “Islamic Republic,” Islam has been no less a destabilizing force in Afghan society. Despite the universal scholarly recognition of the centrality of Islam to modern Afghan history, its developmental trajectories have received relatively little sustained attention outside monographs and essays devoted to particular moments or movements. This conference brought together specialists on the different historical periods, regions and languages of Afghanistan to develop a more comprehensive, comparative and developmental picture of Afghan Islam from the nineteenth century to the present and to see beyond the unifying rhetoric of Islam into its disparate forms.

To learn more about the conference and view the list of participants, please visit the conference page.

Afghans engaged the forces of global capitalism past and present

On November 20, 2014 AIAS hosted a talk by Dr. Robert Crews.

This talk explored controversies over capitalism in Afghan intellectual and political debates.  Tracing key shifts in Afghan elite thinking about markets, state management, and social justice from the 1930s, it highlighted the post-2001 period of capitalist institution building as a radical departure from previous ways of imagining the Afghan economy and as a flash-point for future political struggles.

Dr. Robert Crews is an Associate Professor of History at Stanford University. He is the author of *For Prophet and Tsar: Islam and Empire in Russia and Central Asia* (Harvard University Press, 2006).  He has also co-edited *The Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan* (Harvard University Press, 2008) and *Under the Drones: Modern Lives in the Afghanistan-Pakistan Borderlands* (Harvard University Press, 2012). He received his Ph.D. from Princeton University.

The Afghanistan Pakistan India Triangle. Current views from New Delhi and Islamabad

On September 30, 2014 AIAS and ACKU organized a  lecture by Dr. Jean-Luc Racine about the Afghanistan-Pakistan and India triangle, discussing the current views on the countries. The parameters of the Afghanistan-Pakistan-India conundrum are well known, and are often seen as one of the main challenges which may affect the Transformation Decade Afghanistan is entering in. At the light of recent events in the three countries and in the region, could we expect to go beyond the zero sum game rationale which has usually prevailed?  It remains to be seen if the new political equations in New Delhi and in Kabul (and either, up to a point, in Islamabad) will open new vistas more open to convergence, as recent think tanks dialogues recommend—including those between India and China.

SORBONNE, JEAN – LUC RACINE is Emeritus Senior CNRS Fellow, Center for South Asian Studies at the School for Advanced Studies in Social Sciences, Paris, and Vice-President of the Paris-based think tank Asia Center.

Author or editor of a dozen of books, his research is focused on three main issues: a)- the internal dynamics of change in India; b)- India’s foreign and security policy; c)- The geopolitics of Pakistan and India-Pakistan-Afghanistan relations.

Elections are not what you think they are: Lessons from Afghanistan’s past decade of elections

On June 11 2014 Dr. Noah Coburn had a discussion about the elections of Afghanistan and lessons learned from it in AIAS:

Too often in our discussions and analysis of elections, we become fixated on predicting outcomes.  This ignores the fact that elections and their long-term political effects are about much more than simply selecting political representation.  This talk focused on the Afghan elections of 2009 and 2010, in order to look ahead and try to understand the ways in which elections reaffirm and reshape historic structures, serve as political rituals, create and re-create embedded symbols, serve as forums for the emergence of new technology and reflect demographic shifts in political power. There were five points focused on the program:

  • Elections as Political Rituals
  • Elections as Political Expression
  • Elections as Reaffirming/Reshaping Local Structures
  • Elections and Violence
  • Elections as Embedded Symbols

Coburn is a United States Institute of Peace, the Afghan Research and Evaluation Unit and the Agha Khan Trust for Culture.socio-cultural anthropologist focusing on political structures and violence in the Middle East and Central Asia. At Bennington he teaches courses on the overlap of politics, power and culture. He has conducted over 5 years of field research in Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

In 2006-2008 he spent 18 months with a group of potters in the town of Istalif, some 30 miles north of Kabul. His book, Bazaar Politics: Power and Pottery in an Afghan Market Town, explains how various lineages of potters and other craftspeople in town worked together to maintain peace even while the insurgency grew rapidly in neighboring districts. This first full length ethnography from Afghanistan since the 1970s was reviewed in The New York Times, The Financial Times and elsewhere. More recently, Coburn has conducted extensive research on elections and dispute resolution in several different provinces across Afghanistan.