Transcending Traditionalism: The Emergence of Non-state Military Formations in Afghanistan

Peer-reviewed Journal Article

Harpviken, Kristian Berg (1997) Transcending Traditionalism: The Emergence of Non-state Military Formations in Afghanistan, Journal of Peace Research 34(3): 271–287.

​​​Non-state organizations with a state-like coercive capability are key actors in a number of internal wars. Often emerging in response to the threat of a state's coercive apparatus, they tend to maintain a life of their own after the initial threat has disappeared. A key analytical question is when non-state military organizations are likely to take on a permanent nature. This question has often been answered from a traditional-modern dichotomization, which this article deems inadequate. It is exactly the movements incorporating established community relations that are most likely to develop into large-scale, military effective, organizations. A version of collective action theory is proposed which emphasizes the role of community, opening up for an understanding of how and why `traditional' modes of social organization are central for `modern' organizations with large war-making capacity. This extended logic of collective action is used to analyse the emergence of various armed formations in Afghanistan since the coup in 1978. The article deals specifically with organizations emerging within two ethnic populations, the newly assertive Hazara, and the historically dominant Pashtun, including an analysis of the Taliban movement. It is argued that current international policy-making on Afghanistan is informed by analysis based on the traditional-modern dichotomy, neglecting crucial changes initiated by the war. The cases analysed here give considerable support for further applications of the extended logic of collective action, particularly to non-western case material.

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Kristian Berg Harpviken

Kristian Berg Harpviken

Research Professor

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