Graveyard of Empires? Writing the Global History of Development in Cold War Afghanistan

Nunan, Humanitarian Invasion (Book Cover)

Timothy Nunan
Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies
Follow on Twitter @timothynunan

How did Afghanistan in 2016 end up, yet again, as the graveyard of empires? Not only do Taliban franchises control much of the countryside outside of Kabul, but the start-up Islamic State battles them for influence. Tens of billion of dollars of aid have gone missing. Many Afghans are voting with their feet, forming one of the largest refugee diasporas in the world (a title they held until the Syrian Civil War).

Yet as my recent book, Humanitarian Invasion: Global Development in Cold War Afghanistan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016) shows, tortured attempts to develop Afghanistan have a long history. Sure, events like the First Anglo-Afghan War (1839-1842) have left a deep imprint on how outsiders view the place. But for much of the twentieth century, neutral Afghanistan wasn’t at war with any of the superpowers. And when the Soviets went into Afghanistan, they did not annex it into some “Soviet empire.” The Democratic Republic of Afghanistan was a dues-paying member of the U.N. General Assembly, and Kabul played host to international conferences touting the regime’s solidarity with the Third World. Continue reading “Graveyard of Empires? Writing the Global History of Development in Cold War Afghanistan”