By all accounts, the post-2001 state-building effort in Afghanistan failed to deliver on its promise. Rather than blame politicians, insurgency, or obdurate customary authority, this article suggests the constitutional principles upon which the state was constructed ultimately undermined the state itself. In an attempt to address the enormous human suffering in Afghanistan, the 2004 Constitution proclaimed a vast array of positive rights to be implemented by an extremely centralized state apparatus. Yet this vision, in which individuals should look to the state as a source of individual and community well-being, is dramatically out of step with a reality in which individuals neither trusts the centralized state, nor relies on it for many public goods. For many Afghans, the notion of well-being is tied to independence from the state. An alternative state-building vision, one that appreciates a constitutional order stressing negative rights and recognizes the virtues of self-governance, would have resonated much more deeply with a society that has been served by chronically weak governments. This article uses evidence from an original nationally-representative survey and field interviews to illustrate the disjuncture between a self-governing society in which individuals strive for limited government and a state-building ‘antidote’ that offers up a very different medicine. The essay concludes by explaining why a more limited and politically bounded state-building approach, especially in rural areas, may be an important alternative to promote citizen well-being.
T. Barfield“Culture and Custom in Nation-Building: Law in Afghanistan,”Maine Law Review60 no. 2 (2008): 348–373; A. Wardak “Building a Post-War Justice System in Afghanistan” Crime Law and Social Change 41 no. 4 (2004): 319–341; N. Coburn Informal Justice and the International Community in Afghanistan (Washington dc: United States Institute of Peace Press 2013).
P. Leeson“Efficient Anarchy,”Public Choice130 nos. 1/2 (2007): 41–53; P. Leeson Anarchy Unbound: Why Self-Governance Works Better than You Think (New York: Cambridge University Press 2014). See also J. Herbst States and Power in Africa: Comparative Lessons in Authority and Control (Princeton nj: Princeton University Press 2000); and D. Bromley and G. Anderson Vulnerable People Vulnerable States: Redefining the Development Challenge (New York: Routledge 2012).
J. Wunsch“Refounding the African State and Local Self-Governance: The Neglected Foundation,”Journal of Modern African Studies38 no. 3 (2000): 487–509; E. Ostrom J. Walker and R. Gardner “Covenants With and Without a Sword: Self-Governance Is Possible” American Political Science Review 86 no. 2 (1992): 404–417; S. Joireman Where There Is No Government: Enforcing Property Rights in Common Law Africa (New York: Oxford University Press 2011).
P. Boettke and C. Coyne“Methodological Individualism, Spontaneous Order, and the Research Program of the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis,”Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization57 (2005): 145–158.
N. NojumiThe Rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan: Mass Mobilization Civil War and The Future of the Region (New York: Palgrave2002); O. Roy Islam and Resistance in Afghanistan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1990).
J. Thier“The Making of a Constitution in Afghanistan,”New York Law School Law Review51 (2006): 557; International Crisis Group Afghanistan: The Constitutional Loya Jirga (Kabul/Brussels: International Crisis Group 2003).
J. Murtazashvili“Informal Federalism: Self-Governance and Power Sharing in Afghanistan,”Publius: The Journal of Federalism44 no. 2 (2014): 324–343. Also see J. Murtazashvili Survey on Political Institutions Elections and Democracy in Afghanistan (Washington dc: Democracy International and United States Agency for International Development 2012).