Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History (Video)

The American Institute of Afghanistan Studies was pleased to host this public lecture with Professor Thomas Barfield.

“Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History”
Wednesday, March 2, 2011, 5:00 – 8:30 pm
Boston University
The Castle, 225 Bay State Road, Boston MA

Cosponsored by the Institute for the Study of Muslim Societies and Civilizations  and the Boston University Center for the Study of Asia.



Students in the Field

Callahan teaching English

Two American graduate students, both Boston University anthropologists, have recently begun working in Afghanistan. Ted Callahan serves as a consultant with the Central Asian Institute in the remote Pamirs of northeastern Badakhshan province. His main interests concern a remnant population of Kirghiz pastoralists, perhaps the most geographically isolated and culturally traditional group of Turkic people anywhere. While staying at the AIAS Center in Kabul this past June, Callahan made contact with a Pamir Kirghiz delegation that had come to meet President Karzai. AIAS hosted a restaurant dinner for Callahan, the Kirghiz, and Badakhshan government officials.

Coburn at Istalef

Noah Coburn is interested in the history and market economy of Istalef, a pottery making village the Shomali plain north of Kabul. Like Callahan, he began his Afghan tenure as a resident of the AIAS Center. Now a representative of the Turquoise Mountain Foundation, led by author and former British diplomat Rory Stewart, Coburn will both participate in and observe the revitalization of a local industry destroyed by the Taliban. While awaiting accommodations in Istalef, Coburn and his wife currently live in a reconstructed 19th century fortress overlooking Kabul.


Coburn at Istalef

Callahan, Azoy and Kirghiz at AIAS

Meeting of Afghan Archaeologists

Dr. Mark Kenoyer, director of the American Institute of Pakistan Studies (AIPS) visited AIAS on August 18th. He was in Afghanistan working on archeological site near the Aynak Copper Mine. AIAS organized a meeting of local archeologists at the Institute and assisted in facilitating this trip. 

Iftar Dinner for University Lecturers

In coordination with the Ministry of Higher Education, AIAS hosted group of 28 professors from Kabul and Nangarhar Universities who were invited by the ministry for training workshops on curriculum. AIAS organized an Iftar (dinner during Ramazan). The purpose of this program was to strengthen the institute’s relationship with academic institutions in the provinces and build a network of Afghan scholars in the provinces who can support the institute’s visiting scholars in their research projects. 

Investment and Security

A joint presentation and workshop by Afghan researchers who are working with Harakat, an independent non-profit Afghan-managed organization which works on improving business environment in Afghanistan, and Qara Consultancy which is a private think tank working on public relations and business management. The presentation and workshop focused on current level of investment, especially in the mining industry, existing legal framework and security challenges. Over 35 Afghan scholars and businessmen attended.

Fulbright and Humphrey Orientation Program

In coordination with the Public Affairs Section, AIAS organized the Fulbright Scholarship Orientation program. AIAS invited 40 students from various private universities, research institutions and several ministries, especially ministry of health and ministry of mining and industry. A team from the Public Affairs Section and Afghan Alumni Association explained the scholarship and ways to apply for the program.  

Concepts of Statehood and Territoriality in Early Modern Afghanistan

-An International Conference of the UCLA Program on Central Asia

Charles E. Young Research Library Building, Los Angeles, CA-

Christine Nölle-Karimi from the Institute for Iranian Studies at the Austrian Academy of Sciences specializes in regional history and concepts of power and space. She is the author of State and Tribe in Nineteenth-Century Afghanistan (1997), on the genesis of the modern Afghan state and its impact on the relationship between the state-supporting elite and local powerbrokers; and co-author of Afghanistan—A Country without a State? (2002). In this presentation, Prof. Nölle-Karimi briefly explored the construction of Afghanistan as a modern political entity and its projection into the past. The focus, however, was on early modern notions of territory and the constraints and opportunities that delimited the horizon of the military actors. Interestingly, the term “Afghanistan” was associated with different spatial concepts over time. On the basis of Persian chronicles, she argued that the mapping of the terrain was a dynamic process, which involved the agglomeration of known territorial units rather than the delineation of political entities.

Higher Education, Challenges and Reform

-Gowharshad University, Ministry of Higher Education-

AIAS hosted a presentation by representatives from the Ministry of Higher Education and Gowharshad University. The program was initiated by the AIAS in coordination with Gowharshad University and the Fulbright Alumni Association. Over 45 participants from various relevant organizations discussed the results of recent university entrance examinations in which tens of thousands of the applicants failed to achieve scores to enter university. The participants prepared a list of recommendations that will be submitted to the Ministry of Higher Education in an effort to combat this problem.  

Best Practices for Managing Large Organizations

-Alaina Teplitz, Embassy of the United States-

AIAS hosted a presentation by Alaina Teplitz, Councilor for Management, Embassy of the United States. The program was part of the Afghan Alumni Outreach Activity and organized jointly by AIAS and the Public Affairs Section. It focused on best practices for leading and management as part of the U.S. Embassy Speaker Program in support Women’s History Month. AIAS hosted over 35 participants for a two-hour presentation for an audience that was comprised of directors, managers, scholars, and program officers of Afghan NGOs and research institutions, who were also USG-exchange program alumni. The goal of this event was to foster a cross-cultural exchange of experience, and to help participants to take advantage of the opportunity to expand collaborative relationships. 

Heroin Heroines: Women and the Men Who Work with Them in Afghanistan’s Drug Trade

-An International Conference of the UCLA Program on Central Asia

Charles E. Young Research Library Building, Los Angeles, CA-

Fariba Nawa is the author of Opium Nation: Child Brides, Drug Lords and One Woman’s Journey Through Afghanistan, a mix of memoir and reportage about the drug trade in Afghanistan, (Harper Perennial, November 2011). In this talk, she highlighted this book, which delivers a searing account of the opium business, worth billions of dollars worldwide. In it, she traveled from Kandahar and Helmand to Herat and Kabul gathering remarkable stories of people, while also returning to her family’s ancestral home and reflecting on the bitter changes which have come to pass after decades of war. Along the way she encountered poppy farmers, betrayed and abandoned women and children, drug lords, smugglers, addicts, and others that gave a daring and insightful picture of a volatile country.