Anarchy in Afghanistan

There's no government, like no government.

There’s no government, like no government.

Dr. Ilia Murtazashvili and Dr. Jennifer Murtazashvili have done research on conflict resolution systems in Afghanistan that many ancaps will find interesting. In their paper, “Anarchy, self-governance, and legal titling“, they describe how most Afghanis choose traditional, decentralized conflict resolution solutions over state provided systems. Specifically, the paper focuses on conflicts over land and how, after doing extensive field research, the authors believe that “…it is time to rethink anarchy as a policy option in Afghanistan and similar fragile states.”

The Murtazashvilis are not suggesting total anarchy, but rather a complete laissez-faire system for resolution of disputes over land. This is not simply a matter of economic efficiency, but also the cultural and social norms of the various groups that live in the country.

From a historical perspective in different areas of the world, they point to other academic research:

“The experience on the American frontier provides ample examples of order in the pale shadow of the state. Anderson and Hill (1990, 2002, 2004) depicted how frontier settlers cooperated without relying on the American government in an ‘‘anarcho-capitalist’’ environment. During the California gold rush that commenced in 1848, individuals established informal systems of property rights to allocate access to gold deposits (Umbeck 1977).3 In fact, individuals in each of the major frontier sectors jumped the gun on land settlement by establishing government-like organizations to specify and enforce property rights during times when they had no formal rights to do so (Murtazashvili 2013).”

In Afghanistan, the situation is similar. Officially, the state is in control. In practice, local village leaders (maliks), village councils (shuras or jirgas), and religious arbiters (mullahs) resolve disputes in the rural areas where 80% of Afghanis live. According to the authors, “Although governments of all ideological stripes—monarchs, communists, and, more recently, religious autocrats such as the Taliban—have attempted to stamp them out, customary forms of governance remain common across all Afghan ethnic groups.”

Not only do the authors describe how the state is shrugged off in favor of informal systems, they also describe how the state has intentionally prevented economic development for its own ends. It has often been said that economics is value free and can be used for evil. Well, here is one real world example:

“Afghanistan has had a highly centralized system of government since Abdur Rahman attempted to consolidate political authority during a brutal reign from 1880 to 1901. Previously, Afghanistan was more like a loose confederation of quasi-independent tribes than the centralized states of Europe (Newell 1972). As part of this strategy of consolidation, Abdur Rahman declared all land to be Crown property, subject to reallocation by sovereign decree, as well as prohibited the development of railroads (Barfield 2010; Kakar 1979). The Iron Amir, as Abdur Rahman came to be known, believed that a poor country would be less attractive to foreign meddling (Rahman 1900). Although subsequent leaders may have eschewed the brutality of the Iron Amir, they generally aspired to the ideal of a centralized state.”

 So, while this may prompt some statists to tell ancaps to move to Afgahnistan, it will provide a useful illustration of libertarian ideas for more those who are more thoughtful.

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