Afghanistan Table of Contents

Many Afghans look back with nostalgia on the generation of modernization, democratization and diverse foreign assistance that began shortly after World War II. For the royal family and its retainers, the challenge was to expand government functions while retaining control after nearly a century of hard won political consolidation. By the early 1950s, the government presented an obvious paradox. Its authority was stronger than ever, but acquiescence was problematic among large sections of the population. Special immunities maintained the loyalty of the eastern Pushtun tribes. The Shia Hazaras of the central Hazarajat still resented the brutal suppression they had suffered at the end of the nineteenth century. A Tajik rebel had seized control of Kabul as recently as 1929. In 1947 a revolt of the Safi tribe of the Ghilzai confederation had to be suppressed.

These challenges to royal authority firmly fixed the attention of the government on internal security. Its primary objective was enforcement of credible coercion over all challengers. Army officers were frequently appointed governors of sensitive provinces. The Ministry of Interior, with its mostly Pushtun senior staff, maintained an authoritarian and arbitrary posture. Bureaucratic coercion was imposed in the autocratic manner adopted from Persian tradition. Government presence thus bordered on colonialism in the minority regions of the north, west and center.

Such a heavy emphasis on control seriously limited resources available for development. And, while it served to make official authority appear formidable, the segmented and inward looking features of Afghan society assured that the government's writ was actually shallow on matters of most concern to rural and nomadic Afghans. Traditional patriarchal, patrilinear organization of households, lineages and clans determined local arrangements for property control, division of labor, dispute settlement, and for physical security. Government authority was kept at arms length.

Despite its own tribal heritage, the royal leadership was a foreign entity to most of its fellow Pushtuns. Persianized in language and partially detribalized in marriage and social relations, the royal and administrative hierarchy was sensitive to its cultural isolation. Its strenuous effort to impose Pushtu as the working language of government on the Persian- (Dari-) speaking bureaucrats was an indication of the monarchy's anxiety to be identified with Pushtun roots and sentiment. Its dispute with Pakistan over Pushtunistan was another means of identifying with Pushtuns.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress