The author of Afghanistan Rising responds to our critical review essays by six scholars of diverse historical expertise, from the late Ottoman and Habsburg Empires to Southeast Asia, and Islamic legal history to the political economy of the British Raj and Indo-Afghan frontier. Centering administrative and constitutional developments in Afghanistan within broader regional and global currents connecting the Balkans to Indian Ocean at the turn of the twentieth century, Ahmed reflects on what it means to write “a history that most people do not think exist.”
On the morning of August 17, 2019, a remarkable gathering of intellectuals coalesced in a modestly sized auditorium on the sprawling, tree-lined campus of Kabul University, Afghanistan's premier institution of higher education for nearly a century. Assembled were primarily students and scholars from Kabul, followed by a handful of major cities in Afghanistan, in addition to scholars from India, China, Pakistan, Iran, the US, UK, and EU. The purpose of their gathering was an academic conference to reflect on the centennial of Afghanistan's independence from Britain, the meaning(s) of Afghan independence then and now, and how history might inform a present fraught with uncertainty. Hosted by the Afghanistan Centre at Kabul University, the conference was organized in timing and theme to commemorate 100 years since Afghanistan's first national Independence Day celebration (Jashn-i istiqlal / Da Afghanistan da khpalwakey wraz) on 28 Asad 1298, or August 19, 1919, which has largely remained the country's official Independence Day holiday ever since.1
If participating in that conference, at that time and place, was among the greatest honors of my career since the publication of Afghanistan Rising, this Kitabkhana roundtable stands right beside it. Six distinguished colleagues have combined their expertise to provide a masterful “3D” perspective on the book. No less breathtaking for the author than peering over Kabul from many of its famed hilltops, the panoramic vistas offered by the commentators owe to their expertise and insights from at least six different vantage points: (1) the social and economic history of Afghanistan and British India (Shah Mahmoud Hanifi, “Local Experiences of Imperial Cultures”); (2) imperial citizenship and nationalism in the late Ottoman, Habsburg, and Russian Empires (Leyla Amzi-Erdoğdular, “Inter-Islamic Modernity at the End of Empire”); (3) Islamic law and legal praxis in colonial South Asia (Elizabeth Lhost, “Of Horizontal Exchanges and Inter-Islamic Inquiries”); (4) diasporic networks, legal pluralism, and Muslim sociolegal history in Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean (Nurfadzilah Yahaya, “Juridical Pan-Islam at the Height of Empire”); (5) intellectual history in the modern Middle East and Islamicate world (Michael O'Sullivan, “Islamic Modernism, the Hanafi Mazhab, and Codification in Aman Allah's Afghanistan”); along with (6) a dexterous introduction by Neilesh Bose (“The History of Afghanistan as Global History”) situating this roundtable within recent scholarship on decolonization, migration, and legal history in the age of modern empire and a rapidly shrinking world more broadly.
What follows is a reply to my colleagues' perceptive observations, identified lacunae, and critiques, all of which I benefited from and am sincerely grateful for. And with a few exceptions, I find myself agreeing with the majority of their comments, as follows.
The Perils of Kabul-centrism and Elitism in Afghanistan Studies
With the humility of a bona fide scholar, Shah Mahmoud Hanifi describes himself as a student of Afghanistan—but he is among the world's leading experts on the country's modern history and political economy. Long before Afghanistan Rising, I have been a student of his work, particularly the economic history of Afghanistan and its rural hinterlands and frontiers—including those traversed by diverse pastoral and mercantile networks westward into Iran, northward into Central Asia, but most of all, east and southward into British India. On the dangers of Kabul-centrism and an elitist internationalism in Afghanistan studies, Hanifi writes, “Afghanistan Rising and the preponderance of academic and nonacademic writing about the country tends to ‘jump scale’ in methodological terms by focusing on Kabul political elites and their connections to people and places outside rather than inside an Afghanistan that is more often than not left discursively hollowed out from itself.”
Hanifi is correct on both counts. It is true that Afghanistan Rising focuses on developments in the Kabul court and political elites more generally. “Movers and shakers,” one might say in colloquial English today, although I would prefer their rough synonyms in a variety of Islamicate historiographical traditions—ahl al-hal wa'l ‘aqd in classical Arabic; ayan or mütehayyizan in early modern Ottoman mirror for princes literature; ashraf in late Mughal India; or even “urban notables,” to use historian Albert Hourani's designation for provincial elites in Ottoman Syria and Palestine. It is also true that a strong undercurrent of the book is uncovering the connections of three Muhammadzai dynasts—Emirs ‘Abd al-Rahman, Habib Allah, and Aman Allah—to legal and administrative networks beyond Afghanistan, particularly in the Ottoman Empire and British India. Undeniably, both the royalist and transnational dimensions of Afghanistan Rising play a more salient role than the Kabul court's own domestic—and often exceedingly fraught—relations with local stakeholders, unruly governors, and strong(wo)men outside the capital city's walls and in the outlying provinces of Afghanistan itself.
Hanifi is right to point out the enduring lacuna when it comes to rigorous historical scholarship on Afghanistan's rural majority and hinterlands, especially its cross-border pastoral and mercantile communities, for which his book Connecting Histories in Afghanistan is an outstanding example.2 Moreover, Hanifi and I would probably agree with Elizabeth Lhost's assessment that overall Afghanistan studies remains “adrift somewhere between academic history and policy-oriented security studies,” although in the past decade and a half we have witnessed a swell of groundbreaking historical works on Afghanistan and the northwest provinces of British India/Pakistan, with more promising signs of advancement on the horizon.3
But the royalist and transnational—I propose the term interislamic—emphasis I adopted in Afghanistan Rising owes to a different observation and calling. “Thanks” to Google Earth and other GIS technologies, we now have unprecedented data and aerial imaging of Afghanistan's diverse topography—although it is far from clear whether those technologies have been harnessed for the improvement of Afghan lives more than their destruction. Under the drones, so to speak, ever since the US-led overthrow of the Taliban in late 2001 we have undoubtedly seen more investment by governments and myriad NGOs in producing knowledge on Afghan lives and communities outside Kabul—and as far as Quetta, Peshawar, and Swat in Pakistan.4 By contrast, it appears to me there has been far less attention to writing a legal or constitutional history of the state of Afghanistan—the presumption being the country simply does not have a legal history, or even state, to speak of.5
In Afghanistan Rising I sought to tackle that widespread but erroneous belief head on. Put plainly, one of the reasons I wrote the book was because I believe it is long overdue for Afghanistan and its citizens to be considered an equal member of the international community of nations, rather than a semi-mythical mountain kingdom of armed tribesmen and turbaned mullahs, or just as often, the world's favorite “failed state.” My aim was to tell a different kind of story about Afghanistan. It is a story of the first Muslim-majority country in the twentieth century to gain absolute and unconditional independence (that is, uncompromised by occupying European powers or public debt collection regimes), to produce an original and comprehensive body of national laws within an Islamic juristic framework, and to promulgate an original constitution after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Indeed, if the reactions of even veteran scholars of the Middle East and South Asia who read the book are any indication, Afghanistan seems to be an unexpected candidate for all of those distinctions. That citizens of Afghanistan today wield “the world's least useful passport” brings in to relief the surprising irony, but not the fallaciousness, of those historic achievements.6
True, those events culminated in Kabul. But that does not make them any less achievements for Afghanistan as a country and citizenry. Furthermore, as I am sure Hanifi will agree, Kabul is not just any other city. For at least a century it has been the financial epicenter of the country, and for two centuries the primary headquarters of all Afghan monarchies. Perhaps more than any other of Afghanistan's great cities today, Kabul is a symbol of survival, the country's ethnic diversity, and a bulwark against fragmentation—be it externally or internally driven as we saw in the civil-proxy war horrors of the 1990s that leveled much of the capital to rubble. I am deeply appreciative of Hanifi's groundbreaking work on the historicity of Kabul's preeminence—overshadowing the former prominence of Qandahar and Peshawar as relatively more important economic hubs for the Durrani Afghan Empire (ca. 1747–1823) before British colonialism expanded across the Indian subcontinent.7 But Afghanistan Rising begins its arc after Kabul attained primacy under the Raj's colonial supervision, when the city's status as an international capital of sorts had become a virtual fait accompli. In that sense the focus on Kabul was less an attempt to generalize conditions to the country as a whole as it was metonymy in the English language and prevalent international convention today, whereby capital cities are routinely interchanged for the governments of nation-states.
Still, Hanifi is justified in his critique that such Kabul-centric approaches—which I agree have become a primary culprit for “jumping scale” in Afghanistan studies all too often—leaves out other major cities and towns, to say nothing of villages and nomadic communities in a majority rural country. Just as Washington, DC, London, Paris, Moscow, and Beijing are not equal to the US, Britain, France, Russia, and China—not even close—the point is well taken with Kabul and Afghanistan. But there is more to Hanifi's critique than that. He also sharply reminds us that even if we make Kabulis our focus of attention, it is important to not overlook that urban substratum's own diversity, including the city's non-Muslim populations. I could not agree more. Kabul's ancient but dwindling population of Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, and Sikhs—yet another tragic consequence of the mass violence and political tumult that has befallen the country in recent decades—has not been given enough attention by historians.8 I would add to this, however, Kabul's Muslim diversity. On the latter point, Fayz Muhammad Katib Hazara (1862–1931), the prolific Shi‘i scholar, historian, and secretary for Emirs Habib Allah and Aman Allah, is but one prominent example of Muslim heterogeneity within the Muhammadzai court, to say nothing of the city's substantial non-Sunni neighborhoods.9
Here, I would add, Hanifi's criticisms are nicely complemented by Elizabeth Lhost's challenge “to look beyond the careers of extraordinary individuals and noteworthy travelers,” and the equally justified critique of Nurfadzilah Yahaya that Afghanistan Rising “tells the story of the state's development of Islamic law that is bound to exclude certain elements, and lineages.” While the absent (or silent) for Hanifi are Afghanistan's rural majority and pastoral-mercantile networks, for Yahaya the excluded in this account are not just certain groups of people, but competing forces and paradigms of governance—namely, “long-standing social realities of tribal sovereignty, fiercely defended local autonomy, and authority of political rulers on the ground”—themes which I agree could have been fleshed out more, but which she also generously acknowledges must be the “the subject of different book(s).” All of this is to say I find these criticisms defensible, and I join my colleagues in calling for more work on these understudied and undertheorized subjects in the historiography of Afghanistan.
The Hanafism of Afghan Emirs: Opportunities and Limits of the Hanafi School as a Source of Modern Law and Statecraft
In his incisive and eloquent commentary, Michael O'Sullivan is keen to remind us that the Hanafi school is internally complex, perhaps even factionalized, and certainly very heterogeneous. Similarly, for Leyla Amzi-Erdoğdular, Nurfadzilah Yahaya, and Elizabeth Lhost, the differences between jurists serving on Aman Allah's lawmaking commissions are just as important as their commonalities, but those differences are not dead ends. Judging by what they produced, those differences were generative for the jurists themselves—and what is more—productive to study for people who came after them, be they historians or lawyers, scholars or activists.10
My colleagues and I agree that the adjective Hanafi should not produce a uniform stereotype of a religious scholar (the catch-all but not-so-helpful term mullah, ubiquitous for describing law and society in Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan and now an entry in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, comes to mind). While most of the main characters in Afghanistan Rising could accurately be described as “Hanafis”—in the same way it is conventional to describe Central Asian or Turkish Muslims as mostly Hanafi, or Muslims of West Africa and the Maghreb as mostly Maliki, of Indonesia or Hadramaut as predominantly Shafi‘i, and so on—the descriptor does not exclude association with a variety of competing identities, ideologies, educations and professions (Bourdieu's habitus comes to mind), and, of course, politics.11
Although O'Sullivan and I are in agreement that the Hanafi school is internally diverse and complex, “a broad church, though no less acrimonious and febrile for that” to use his delightful phrase, he takes issue with two arguments in the book. First, he disputes whether Hanafism is an apt descriptor of the members who served on Aman Allah's law commission; and second, he questions whether their work represented a “codification” of Islamic law (again, specifically derived from the Hanafi school of jurisprudence). I am grateful to O'Sullivan for lodging these thoughtful criticisms. They are clearly borne out of close and informed reading, while also raising important questions about the opportunities and limits of Hanafism as a source of modern law and statecraft in Afghanistan or anywhere else.
Concerning the Hanafism of Aman Allah's jurists, O'Sullivan states,
Far from being euphonious in tone, Hanafi legal culture in this epoch was riven with divergent institutional trajectories and incompatible intellectual assumptions, especially in the Ottoman Empire and colonial India. . . . All of this ensured that the protagonists of Afghanistan Rising endorsed incompatible views about the viability of Hanafi legal traditions. . . . Even more compelling than the argument that Afghanistan was an expression of “Islamic legal modernism in power” (in Ahmed's wonderful phrase) is the reality that “Islamic law” meant irreconcilable things to the actors themselves.
I would share the following thoughts in response. First, “incompatible” and “irreconcilable” strike me as weighty words. While I would certainly not describe Aman Allah's commission (or any constitutional commission worth its salt, for that matter) as “euphonious” or characterized by “intellectual harmony,” I would also worry about going to the opposite extreme. Although disagreements and dissonances, even fervent and acrimonious, no doubt took their toll on the reign of Aman Allah Khan (1919–29), I do not believe those differences resulted in paralysis during the first half of his reign—precisely when his constitution and the majority of his signature codes were produced. Had the jurists on Aman Allah's lawmaking commission been truly incompatible or irreconcilable, one wonders whether they would have produced a landmark constitutional charter and over seventy statutes spanning the gamut of modern governance, from the founding of new government ministries to land and marriage registrations, to criminal law and animal rights, as they in fact did between 1919 and 1923. Even taking the 1924 Khost Rebellion into account, no doubt a local response to Aman Allah's laws and emboldened central government in Kabul, it is notable that the outcome of that turbulent process was not abolishing the 1923 Constitution, but amending it. As Nazif Shahrani and Sana Haroon have shown, neither the 1924 revolt, which was suppressed, nor the rebellion of 1928–29 that eventually toppled Aman Allah's rule were countrywide insurrections. The revolts were largely limited to Khost in the former case, and strategic districts north of Kabul and Qandahar in the latter case.12 Even after Aman Allah's downfall—and as any fair constitutional scholar would recognize although subsequent Afghan rulers were loath to admit—all subsequent governments of Afghanistan benefited from official international independence and drew on the comprehensive promulgation of national laws and various ministries established by Aman Allah Khan and his legislative commission between 1919 and 1923.13
Peering from a different perspective, the first constitution of the United States of America, The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union as it was officially known, hardly fared as well. Drafted in 1777, the US's first national charter was mired by fears of centralization and rancorous debates over the authority of states vis-à-vis the federal government. As a result, the document was not ratified until 1781, but remained embattled. Less than a decade later it was replaced by the current United States Constitution, which dramatically overhauled the fundamental structure of the US as proposed by the Articles of Confederation, and promoted a much stronger federal government.14 By comparison, once cleft of the reformist king's most controversial laws (many of which were criticized even by his supporters as cosmetic, premature, or unnecessary, such as regulations on clothing, headgear, and the expenses of marriage ceremonies), all of Afghanistan's subsequent constitutions, with the exception of those promulgated under communist rule, were not so radically different structurally speaking from the original version promulgated under Aman Allah in April of 1923. At the very least, they overlap more than they diverge.15
Continuing with this comparative perspective, must we presume that starkly opposed world views, contentious politics, or even incompatible and irreconcilable ideologies, are in and of themselves barriers to constitutional governance? Even so, are they unique to Afghanistan? Are Republicans and Democrats in the US, Conservatives and Labour in the UK, AKP and CHP in Turkey, or BJP and Congress in India promoting any less incompatible or irreconcilable world views and visions of the good society today? The point of these comparisons to some of the world's leading democracies is not to collapse their obvious differences and histories, but to argue that turmoil and civil strife in the Amani era cannot be reduced to incompatible differences among Aman Allah's jurists, or even his government more broadly.
Moving on to other components of O'Sullivan's thoughtful critique, I must register an objection to the claim that “most of these figures [that Ahmed studies] were Islamic legal modernists who regarded Islamic law—or at least its living custodians, the ulema—as a source of controversy, if not outright derision.” The crux of my disagreement here can be summed up as follows: the ulema who served on Aman Allah's law commission were themselves Islamic legal modernists. And they did not play a marginal role in Aman Allah's lawmaking project. That point is most directly addressed in chapter 5, which shows that just under half of the members of Aman Allah's Mahfil-i waz‘-i qawanin—or Codification of Laws Commission (hereafter CLC)—were ulema. Eight out of nineteen, to be exact. The CLC was the primary body charged with promulgating Afghanistan's official state laws between 1919 and 1923, also known eponymously as the Nizamnamihha-yi Amaniyyih (or Aman Allah Codes) after their royal patron. The rather weighty role and respect given to Afghanistan's ulema establishment, especially of Kabul and Qandahar, are reflected in the bicameral structure of the CLC itself, also explained in chapter 5 (220–23).
Hence non-ulema contributors like Osman Bedri Bey and Dr. Abdul Ghani Khan, although influential, can hardly be said to have overshadowed or enjoyed the upper hand against members trained in Hanafi madrasas of Afghanistan or India. When it comes to the protagonists of the book—specifically the jurists who served on Aman Allah's law commissions—I would be wary of downplaying the role of madrasa-trained Afghan ulema of Kabul and Qandahar especially, for whom Islamic legal modernism (as flexibly defined in the book) was neither abhorrent nor an aberration (14–15, 22, 209, 279). For me, that is precisely what made Aman Allah's project and scholarly figures like Mawlawi ‘Abd al-Wasi‘ Qandahari (1873–1929), the reformist king's chief justice for nearly half of his reign, so fascinating (14–16, 208–11, 228–31, 278–80).16 While the work of late Ottoman “hybrid” or “transitional” ulema-bureaucrats like Ahmet Cevdet Pasha (1822–1895) and especially the latter's Mecelle Civil Code are now well known to scholars and historians of Islamic law, the role of similarly dynamic and high profile Hanafi ulema in Afghanistan—such as ‘Abd al-Wasi‘ Qandahari (chief architect of the Nizamnamihha-yi Amaniyyih); ‘Abd al-Raziq Khan and Muhammad Sarwar Khan (authors of the extraordinary compendium of civil law, Siraj al-Ahkam fi Mu‘amalat al-Islam, during the reign of Habib Allah); or Ahmad Jan Khan Alkuzai (author of the civil procedure code Asas al-Quzat, during the reign of ‘Abd al-Rahman)—remain poorly understood or not known at all among scholars of Islamic law, even of the Hanafi school.17
As for “Hanafi jurists” being more misleading than illuminating as a term, my response may be disappointingly mundane: is there a more precise or appropriate term than calling them Hanafi jurists? “Muslim” would also be accurate, of course, but it is also too broad, generic, and disaggregated; it does not account for the fact that Shi‘i Muslims (from Afghanistan or elsewhere) appear to have been entirely excluded from the CLC's composition and work. That leaves the alternative of “Sunni jurists,” but that also is too broad, and even misleading, because Aman Allah himself and leading jurists specifically emphasized the Hanafi school in their work, expressly using that exact term, and never, for example, the neo-Salafi Islamist emphasis on “Sunnism” we've seen in more recent decades of Afghanistan's history and the greater Middle East more broadly. There are actually several instances in the Nizamnamihha-yi Amaniyyih of specific references to the Hanafi school. A primary example is the Tamassuk al-Quzat al-Amaniyyih (Handbook for Aman Allah's Judges), published in Kabul in 1921–22. Apart from the hallmark and canonical Hanafi texts of both early and late generations that the work expressly cites—from al-Sarakhsi's Al-Mabsut to Ibn ‘Abidin's Radd al-Muhtar—the preface to the handbook unambiguously states the author's reliance on “the refined Hanafi school” (mazhab-i muhazzab-i Hanafi) as the source of jurisprudential authority.18 Similar references to the Hanafi school can be found in other Aman Allah Codes as well.19
Furthermore, there is also explicit textual evidence of Hanafism beyond the Aman Allah Codes themselves. In the autumn of 1925—roughly the midpoint of his reign—Aman Allah Khan delivered a series of important speeches in the southeastern city of Qandahar. Transcripts of those speeches include Aman Allah referring to the Hanafi mazhab, or school of Islamic law and ethics, as the basis for his Nizamnamih codes. For example, on 14 ‘Aqrab 1304/November 5, 1925, Aman Allah asserted not a vague “sharia compliance,” but specifically the Hanafi-compliant character of his legislation.
The codes that have been compiled and organized in the period of my reign are in complete accordance with the Immaculate Quran and the Noblest Messenger following the honorable Hanafi school of jurisprudence.
[Original Persian: Dar dowrih-’i hukumat-i man qawanin kih waz‘ wa tartib shudihand tamaman haman ahkam-i qur'an-i pak wa rasul-i akram budih mutabiq bimazhab-i sharif hanafi ast].20
In the very next line of his sermon, Aman Allah proceeds to justify his codification project as in the interest of the Afghan public and officials alike, stating, “The necessity of their compilation is evident for the general masses and most government officials who are not aware of the nuanced meanings of Quranic verses and the Hadith and the intricacies of the Shari‘a. In this manner, they will be prevented from imposing their personal whims and desires on others.”21
O'Sullivan cannot be faulted for overlooking the above references—which are not always easy to find amid the thousands of pages that make up the Nizamnamihha-yi Amaniyyih—and the aforementioned examples from Aman Allah's Qandahar speeches are not in the book. He is also justified to raise the question of the 1924 Loya Jirga's impact on the 1923 Constitution, which resulted in some important amendments to the original text—most pertinent here, an amendment to Article 2 declaring the Hanafi school the official mazhab of the Afghan state.22 The bolstered status of the Hanafi school in the 1924 constitutional amendments does not signify Hanafism was absent in the earlier production of the Aman Allah Codes, however—as seen in the judges' handbook Tamassuk al-Quzat al-Amaniyyih (1921–22), for example—but rather speaks to a scholarly jostling taking place at the time between Afghan ulema of the Deobandi persuasion over their Ahl-i Hadith or Shi‘i counterparts (248–49).23
Finally, there is one other relevant criticism at play in O'Sullivan's engagement with my argument on the Hanafism of Afghan emirs. He suggests it may be an overstatement to say that Aman Allah's jurists engaged “the challenges of modern state building from within the Hanafi legal tradition, not from outside it” (234). To begin with, I deeply appreciate—and agree with—O'Sullivan's recognition of hybridity and complexity as strong undercurrents during this era of Afghanistan's history. And I share his caution against purist depictions of Aman Allah's legal advisors, or turn-of-the-twentieth-century Muslim intellectuals and professionals more broadly for that matter (per Nurfadzilah Yahaya and Will Hanley's sensible advice, we'll not overdo the “cosmopolitan” trope). As I try to make clear in the introduction to the book, “this is not an account of a puritanical, insular, or monolithic Islam or ‘Muslim world view’ in Afghanistan framed in juxtaposition against an equally imagined West” (14). “Equally important,” as I emphasize in the introduction, “is a recognition that the juridical fields of different states and societies . . . are not pure, autonomous, or self-contained units, but are mutually constituted and enriched by overlap, entanglement, even intertwining” (12).
Having said that—and although O'Sullivan is careful to make clear this is not his position—there is little question that the handful of scholarly works on Afghanistan's modern legal history suggest that Aman Allah Khan relied on European (especially French) laws and advisors in building his newly independent state. It was that contention in particular that much of Afghanistan Rising was responding to. The eminent historian of Afghanistan Leon Poullada, for example, in probably the most influential academic work published squarely on the Amani period, states, “Amanullah employed some French advisers in his legislative program.”24 Poullada did not provide evidence for this claim. Yet, a quarter century later, the Pakistani legal scholar Nighat Chishti writes in Constitutional Development in Afghanistan on the landmark Amani period, “Amir Amanullah Khan employed some French advisors to help him in his legislative programme,” citing Poullada's aforementioned remark as evidence.25
I have yet to find a single strand of evidence of French legal experts participating in the drafting of the Nizamnamihha-yi Amaniyyih, or any other legislation during the reign of Aman Allah Khan.26 Why (and where), then, do the claims of French legal advisors and influence arise? Given the absence of evidence, I must conclude such claims commonly found in the historiography of modern Afghanistan are actually presumptions—specifically, diffusionist assumptions of historical change in which European legal cultures and colonial practices are exported to passive recipients in the global South through the violence of colonialism, or Europhile mimicry, or both. “Surely the Afghans must have borrowed it from France” seems to be the default presumption in such works (here again I must stress that this is not O’Sullivan’s far more nuanced position, but rather a long-standing historiographical problem I was determined to confront in Afghanistan Rising more broadly). Beyond rectifying factual errors and preserving an accurate historical record for posterity, the dangers of accentuating European influence in Aman Allah's constitutional and codification of law project—let alone when there is no evidence of it—should be especially clear in a country that has had a tumultuous relationship with foreign powers. And it is for those reasons that I emphasized Aman Allah and his legal advisors were engaging the challenges of modern state-building from within a (specifically Hanafi) jurisprudential tradition of Islam, and not from outside it.
If my comments here are geared to underscoring what Afghanistan's state lawmaking processes under Aman Allah Khan were not, then Elizabeth Lhost provides an excellent parallel of what they more likely were. In sum, my reading of the “Hanafism” of Afghan emirs is very much in line with Lhost's insightful discussion of the 1924 letter exchange between Aman Allah Khan's minister of education and the Indian scholar of Delhi and chief mufti of the Jam‘iyat ‘Ulama’-i Hind, Muhammad Kifayat Allah. In the episodes of Islamic-Hanafi legal modernism canvassed in Afghanistan Rising, and the 1924 exchange described in Lhost's essay, we see examples of an Afghan emir “promoting reforms in accordance with Hanafi jurisprudence and calling on experts from across the Islamic world to aid him,” to use Lhost's words, while simultaneously demonstrating their “attempts to rethink the nature of decentralized Islamic authority, the role new nation-states might play in the interpretation and implementation of God's commands, and the relationship between Islamic jurisprudence and the ‘modern’ (muta'akhkhirin) reforms observed elsewhere in the world.”
With these remarks on Hanafism being embedded in the Nizamnamihha-yi Amaniyyih project, I turn to another stimulating question raised by my colleagues: were the Aman Allah Codes actually codes?
“Codifying” Islamic Law: Colonial Construction, Indigenous Ingenuity, or Inherent Impossibility?
O'Sullivan's second criticism, equally considerate and welcomed, deals with my use of the term codification to refer to the work of Aman Allah's lawmaking commission. I would offer five points in response. To begin with, my use of the term codification, and specifically Codification of Laws Commission, is a direct translation from the Persian Mahfil-i waz‘-i qawanin. (Alternatively, the more literal “Committee for the Compilation of Codes” would also pass muster). I first came across this term in the magnum opus but long out of print work of Afghan historian ‘Aziz al-Din Fofalzai, Dar al-Qaza’ dar Afghanistan (The Judiciary of Afghanistan). Published in Dari (Afghan Persian) in Kabul on the heels of the Soviet withdrawal from the country, and based on hitherto lost or destroyed primary sources on the Amani era, it would not be far-fetched to describe that work as the best legal history of the country written in one of Afghanistan's native languages during the twentieth century. According to Fofalzai, within months of Aman Allah's ascent to the throne he personally organized a “mahfil-i waz‘-i qawanin” to promulgate a comprehensive body of laws for his newly independent state.27 Roughly synonymous terms in Persian, including mahfil-i qanun and markaz-i qanunguzari, are used to designate the same committee by other historians of Afghanistan as well.28
Beyond this standard term used in the historiography of modern Afghanistan, more broadly the Arabic term qanun (plural: qawanin), along with its Ottoman Turkish and Persian equivalents nizamname/nizamnamih and kanunname/qanunnamih, correspond to the terms used for “codes” in the Ottoman Empire, Khedival Egypt, Qajar Iran, and Uzbek emirates, among other late imperial Islamicate and Persianate settings.29 O'Sullivan makes a good point on the genealogical roots but also distinctions to earlier canonical Hanafi texts (and the voluminous commentaries and glosses they generated around the world). Hence, we are in agreement that the term compilation more aptly refers to early modern fatwa compendiums of Delhi Sultanate or Mughal patronage, such as the Fatawa Tatarkhaniyya or Fatawa ‘Alamgiriyya (better known in the Arab world and Turkey as Fatawa Hindiyya), for example. But I would still deem the word code as appropriate for most (but notably, not all) of the Nizamnamihha-yi Amaniyyih, as I shall elaborate below.
O'Sullivan's critique turns on two questions: What exactly is a “code,” and do the Nizamnamihha-yi Amaniyyih match the definition? “Is it proper to describe Aman Allah's code as a ‘codification’ of fiqh [Islamic jurisprudence],” O'Sullivan asks, “. . . if by codification we mean the creation of a civil code where the state ‘determines what law is and that state law is the highest form of law,’ one would assume that the state acquired a monopoly of interpretation over jurists (both those appointed by the state and those outside its remit), and constrained their decision-making powers”? Citing the eminent Islamic legal historian Rudolph Peters's definition of a code, O'Sullivan makes clear his position that Aman Allah's laws do not clear the bar.
My response may be pointed but I hope not discourteous: Is it necessary to adopt such a narrow definition of code? While it is important to be precise and develop a common language for referring to common historical processes, it is also important to avoid unduly restrictive definitions that result, intentionally or not, in propping industrialized Europe or the global North as the standard bearers for our terms. Why not, for example, employ the precise but also flexible definition from Black's Law Dictionary, a widely used lexicon in US law schools, of code as a “systematic collection or revision of laws, rules, or regulations,” and codification as “the process of compiling, arranging, and systematizing the laws of a given jurisdiction, or of a discrete branch of law, into an ordered code”—and leave it at that?30
To expand on the dangers of Eurocentric or overly restrictive definitions a bit more, if we accept O'Sullivan/Peters's definition of code, which demands that “the state acquired a monopoly of interpretation over jurists,” out of consistency, what is stopping us from employing similar Weberian standards for legal or administrative processes in world history more broadly? The consequences are not trifling. Many fair-minded observers could dispute whether Aman Allah's government—and arguably, even the government of Afghanistan today—has ever had a monopoly on force, to cite Weber's famous definition of a state. Does that mean Afghanistan is not a state? When overly relied on, it would seem Weberian frameworks or other conceptualizations of a Eurocentric bent are bound to lead to an all too familiar triad of popular but misleading tropes on Afghanistan—“failed state,” “artificial country,” “forged nation”—to say nothing of Weber's kadijustiz.
Out of fairness to O'Sullivan, I should note he premises his assessment of the Nizamnamihha-yi Amaniyyih falling short of being codes by qualifying that “if by codification we mean the creation of a civil code . . . one would assume . . .” (emphasis mine). O'Sullivan's careful attention to consistency with terms deserves respect. But would alternative definitions for code and codification above, in Black's Law Dictionary, for example, not also apply? When we examine the physical features of the Nizamnamihha-yi Amaniyyih, beautifully digitized and freely accessible at New York University's Afghanistan Digital Library, some common traits of modern codes become apparent: specifically, vertically ordered and consecutively numbered articles, each followed by a succinct statement of a rule or policy.31 As with the Code Napoléon, Ottoman Mecelle, or Uniform Civil Code of the United States—but lacking the extensive discussion, commentaries, and glosses of Hanafi fatwa compilations such as the Fatawa Hindiyya—for this author Afghanistan's Nizamnamihha-yi Amaniyyih clears the bar if the vault is about modern codification.
On a related point, some legal formalists may posit that actual reliance on the state-issued “code” must be demonstrated to conclude codification is at work. To say with certainty that codification was achieved in Afghanistan, so the argument goes, one would have to ascertain that actual judicial rulings of government-appointed judges themselves conformed to the strictures of the code. My fondness for court records from the Ottoman Empire to British India notwithstanding, I do not buy this additional factor. If the Napoleonic Code had scanty adherence in the French Empire or any of its successor states, would that have made it any less of a legal code? Or, more on the mark, when the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs drafted a new criminal procedure code for the use of Afghanistan's state judges in 2004, but many Afghan judges refused to use it in practice, did that make the document less of a code?32 I must conclude the answer is no, as that seems to be confusing uniform implementation of a legal text for the text itself and successful codification with the practice of codification itself. As far as the particularities of Afghanistan as a juridical field—to employ another helpful framework from Bourdieu—it is apparent that Afghanistan at the turn of the twentieth century had not developed centralized state structures as sophisticated or widespread as, by comparison, British India or the Ottoman Empire at the time.33 But for me, that does not make the literature Aman Allah's jurists produced any less of a project in codification. Nor should it take away from the innovative project and effort of codification itself.
In sum, my argument here is not to privilege my own definitions or to say that those of my colleagues are wrong. It is also not clear to me what is gained (or lost) by describing the Nizamnamihha-yi Amaniyyih as a compilation versus a code in English. Rather, putting aside definitions, the questions of what kind of codes, what kind of state, and most of all, what kinds of institutions Afghans produced in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries—and why they matter—strike me as more generative paths to explore. On that note, arguably the two most significant institutional developments of the reign of Aman Allah Khan, independence from Britain and a written constitution, come to the fore.
Independence and Imperial Independence; Constitutionalism and Imperial Constitutionalism
Bucking the prevalent trend of treating independence and constitutionalism as inherently good things, and with characteristic acumen, Shah Mahmoud Hanifi argues that independence and constitutionalism in Afghanistan were, with devastating irony, conditioned on continuing foreign domination in the country. Whether one agrees with Hanifi's assertions or not for any period of Afghanistan's century of “official” independence since 1919, they serve as a fitting warning for would-be apologists of any Afghan government to tone down the celebratory rhetoric and congratulations when it comes to the Amani era—or post-2001 milestones in the country for that matter.
There may be no one more warranted to make such bold criticisms as Hanifi makes here. His focus on Afghanistan's rural majority and pastoral-mercantile networks in his own work point to his ability to discern the harms—or at least query the purported benefits—of the country's official independence in 1919. At the root of that critique is an undeniably important question: how has Afghanistan's official independence in 1919, and its multiple constitutions ever since, actually improved the lives of citizens beyond the Arg palace in Kabul and its coterie of allies strewn across major cities and large landed estates in the country? First, I wish to thank Hanifi for even raising this question, which remains all too often ignored, in spite of its relevance to the vast majority of Afghanistan's citizenry. As for its answer, in equal frankness, I could not even begin to answer or claim Afghanistan Rising has answers to that legitimate question.
But Hanifi's argument is not limited to highlighting the lack of benefits for ordinary citizens of Afghanistan in their everyday lives; he also makes a critical point with regard to the country's political economy, and specifically Kabul's dependency on foreign capital and techno-political assistance since the country's independence in 1919. “Leaving questions about the meaning and weight of the Afghan constitution for populations beyond Kabul aside for a moment,” Hanifi notes, “the point to emphasize is that Afghanistan's independence heightened state rulers' dependencies on and fetishization of external resources.” With brilliant metaphors to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, poignant and poetic as they are timely, Hanifi offers a scathing critique of the imperial conditionality and overall illusory nature of independence constitutionalism in Afghanistan.
In response, I wish to make clear that I do not dispute Hanifi's description for later eras of Afghanistan's history after the reign of Aman Allah Khan—beginning with the Musahiban Dynasty (1929–73) on to the current era. Those periods are not the subject of Afghanistan Rising. As for the Amani era, I also do not dispute the loss of revenue in the Kabul court's coffers associated with independence from Britain, which was a critical subsidy for Aman Allah's father and grandfather, Emirs Habib Allah and ‘Abd al-Rahman. But, we can conclude, that was a sacrifice Aman Allah and his many early supporters were willing to make for independence. On this issue Nurfadzilah Yahaya also emphasizes the acute lack of revenue stemming from dependency on British subsidies and the taxation on trade rather than agricultural production. My contention with Hanifi's argument is whether his assertions of the imperial conditionality and illusory nature of independence and constitutionalism in Afghanistan apply to the reign of Aman Allah Khan, which marks the culmination of the book's historical arc. I do not believe those assertions hold for the Amani reason, for four reasons.
First, it seems to be a stretch to describe Emir Aman Allah Khan as inviting foreign dependency or that he and his government were somehow subject to an outside imperial power. At age twenty-six, the young monarch had just led the country in a defiant war of independence against the British Empire, the largest in world history, and more specifically the colonial supervision of the British Raj. But there was more than just symbolic sovereignty and fetishization of independence at play here. In Afghanistan Rising I was intent on overturning another long-standing colonial framework when it comes to Afghanistan and Afghanistan studies: that the country does not have a legal history, and all its administrative achievements must somehow be a by-product of British, Russian, and, more recently, American tutelage. On this point I agree with Leyla Amzi-Erdoğdular, for example, that “Afghanistan, the Ottoman Empire, and other Muslim polities were not indolent recipients of European policies.” By denying those aspects of Afghans' agency and autochthonous legal production there is a danger of “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” when it comes to independence and constitutionalism during Aman Allah's reign in particular. That Aman Allah Khan clearly inspired throngs of colonized Muslims and Asians from the Balkans to Bengal adds to the counterhegemonic dimensions of his project and its importance to the Islamicate world and global South more broadly.
Second, were Afghan emirs before 1919—internally sovereign monarchs but otherwise administering a British protectorate—not even more indebted to foreign colonial patronage? And how did official independence in 1919 make that dependency worse? On a related point, one might make the argument that at least with independence in 1919, and even through the non-aligned policies of Zahir Shah's reign (1933–73), Afghanistan followed a multipolar foreign policy that did not obligate it to a single foreign power or “bloc”—as was the case with Emirs ‘Abd al-Rahman and Habib Allah, the Soviet-allied People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), the Pakistani-Saudi-UAE backed Taliban, or since the fateful autumn of 2001, a Kabul administration at the mercy of financial and military decisions proclaimed in Washington, DC, London, or Brussels, among other foreign locales. Was Afghanistan during Aman Allah Khan's reign—with all of its faults and shortcomings—not a more autonomous, self-governing, and for lack of a better term, independent government and country?
Third, as for the imperial conditionality of constitutionalism in Afghanistan, what imperial power was imposing itself on Afghanistan when it comes to the design and promulgation of the 1923 constitution? On this point I am less in agreement with Hanifi's assessment of the Amani era than Nurfadzilah Yahaya's depiction of the book and era as “a poignant story of a dynamic Muslim-majority country not yet overwhelmed by colonial interests, on the eve of it being overrun by a surfeit of neocolonial jurisdictions,” and even “a legal history of a country that was attentive to foreign influences without being overwhelmed by them.” If what is meant by imperial conditionality here is the profound influence of the late Ottoman Empire on Afghanistan's legal and administrative development, a major theme of the book, here I must register an objection. The Ottomans, for all their faults and shortcomings, can hardly be said to have been a colonial power in Asia or Africa in the way other major European powers were during the long nineteenth century. The Pan-Turanian ambitions of Cemal and Enver Pashas in Central Asia notwithstanding, and even taking into account the occasionally condescending attitudes Ottoman Turks displayed to some of their Afghan counterparts, the Ottoman Empire did not come close to rivaling British or Russian imperial power in Afghanistan. Some may even go so far as to describe an “anticolonial” dimension to late Ottoman policies in Asia—particularly from the reign of Sultan Abdülhamid II on—in both rhetoric and practice. As historians of Ottoman engagements in colonial Africa and Asia like Mostafa Minawi, Lale Can, and Michael Christopher Low have richly shown, Ottoman Turkey was both an empire and a target of European colonial expansion at the same time.34 The unique position of Istanbul vis-à-vis rival European powers provided the Ottomans, custodians of the last caliphate and five holiest cities of Islam (Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem, plus Najaf and Kerbala), with a distinctive sociopolitical capital which Ottoman governments used to their advantage in garnering the support of colonized Muslims around the world, including India and Afghanistan, and across sectarian divides. To quote Amzi-Erdoğdular's apt synopsis in this issue, “The Ottoman Empire, itself the focus of marginalization from the ‘family of sovereign nations,’ took advantage of the opportunities to claim protection over Muslims worldwide, many of whom were colonial subjects.” Still, in the case of Ottomans in Afghanistan, they came to Kabul not as conquerors or overlords, or even with an army, but as a relatively small number of civil servants and technocrats employed for specific purposes in the courts of Habib Allah and Aman Allah.
Fourth, on the violence of the modern state—a reality that must be grappled with by any sober study of Afghanistan's history—Yahaya puts it aptly when she writes, per Comaroff's notion of lawfare, “Law is a weapon, often wielded to stamp out rivals.” I could not possibly disagree. As stressed in the conclusion to my book, in seeking to understand the complex and long-misunderstood reign of Aman Allah Khan in particular, we must also be careful to not condone the violence, elitism, and patriarchy embedded in state-building projects launched by him, or his father and grandfather.35 For what it is worth, the lawfare of the Afghan state—including under Aman Allah—is a theme I have written about at length elsewhere.36 As for elitism, there was no doubt Afghanistan's constitutional drafting was an elite process, as conceded in the first section of this response. But that is hardly a flaw or weakness unique to Afghanistan. From India and Australia to the United States, I am not aware of a single instance where a former British colony or protectorate won independence and promulgated its own constitution that was not an elite process at its conception—even if those constitutions were later popularized in society at large, as in the republics of India and the United States, or the commonwealth of Australia.37
Finally, perhaps something deserves to be said on how Afghanistan's independence in 1919 has mattered to many Afghans themselves. Otherwise it would not have been celebrated in the ways that it has been—remarkably, through the twists and turns of successive but diametrically opposed Afghan regimes including the Musahiban Dynasty, PDPA, Taliban, and now a century later, citizens of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. It also clearly mattered to multitudes of colonized Muslims outside Afghanistan (236–38). That it mattered to so many people in so many places deserves recognition and should make it important for historians, too.
In one of the most flattering praises of Afghanistan Rising I have ever received, Elizabeth Lhost writes, “It is not easy to write a history that most people think does not exist.” That is one compliment I am willing to accept. But in aspiring to meet that challenge and write the book, the author has no doubt that he fell short—or did not even begin to take on—other important imperatives for students and scholars of Afghanistan. That is to say nothing of the history of the late Ottoman Empire and Middle East, colonial India and South Asia, and modern Islamic legal history more broadly—places and themes that, I hope is clear by now, Afghans and Afghanistan have long been entangled in and that the book is also about.
For example, one enduring stereotype of Afghanistan I was not able to dislodge is that of a place “in between” places, empires, or states—between the Mughals and Safavids; between Britain and Russia; between the US and USSR; and so forth. The very subtitle of my book also employs “in between,” but for the Ottoman and British Empires, signaling a historiographical lacuna the book sought to address. The “in-between-ness” of Afghanistan as a battleground for global powers has all too often surfaced in the literature on the Great Game, Cold War, and more recently, between the regional proxy wars of India and Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran, or still yet, America and Russia. On a more abstract level, Afghanistan remains caught between three constructed regions and area studies paradigms—the Middle East, South Asia, and Central Asia—with the peculiar result of being excluded or only partially included on maps for all three zones. But as Amzi-Erdoğdular and Yahaya remind us, Afghanistan must have played a connecting role to other Islamicate places, actors, and regions, too, such as Bosnia, Morocco, Oman, or Malaya, but also to independent monarchies or republics where Muslims were not a clear majority, such as Thailand, Bulgaria, Japan, or Greece. On that note, Afghanistan shares similarities with the regions of southeastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and even the Indian Ocean as neither here, neither there, and yet contributing richly to so many processes in modern global history.
Similarly, all six of the commentators remind us of the importance of studying the liminal spaces and corridors between empires and regions—be they the spaces between Afghanistan and the British Empire (à la Bose, Lhost, and Hanifi), Afghanistan and the Middle East (à la O'Sullivan), or Afghanistan and the Ottoman, Russian, Habsburg, and Dutch Empires, as Amzi-Erdoğdular and Yahaya again remind us so incisively. Those liminal spaces are not remote no-man's-lands or peripheral spaces; they are active, they are productive, and they are generative. Were I to write Afghanistan Rising again—a fearsome prospect indeed—I would try to flesh out more connections to Afghan, Indian, and Ottoman expat communities in lesser-known places (as it were, Canada, the United States, and the Americas more broadly come to mind)—but also devote more attention to the hybridity and complexity of foreign visitors who came to Afghanistan and the multiple genealogies they may have represented. Indeed, if there is a common terminus where the discerning essays of my six esteemed colleagues in this Kitabkhana exchange meet, it is the historian's embrace of human (and environmental) interconnectivity, but also complexity, contingency, and the overall “messiness” of our collective past—even if national, sectarian, or other official memories are not always willing to admit it.
There is at least one other notable point of convergence between the six commentators in their reviews not mentioned above—but it is arguably the most important for us as historians. Their comments remind us that the questions we ask, and the sources we use, are bound to lead us down certain pathways to the exclusion of others. As noted in the conclusion to the book, even if we concentrate on Kabul alone, the city itself betrays a much richer past than would meet the eye in that turbulent autumn of 2001—or today, for that matter. Yet, in spite of that rich and multilayered history, depending on the decade, the people of Afghanistan are too often essentialized to the alternating tropes of lionized freedom fighters (e.g., the 1980s Afghan-Soviet War), demonized terrorists (e.g., 1990s–2000s Taliban era), or beautifully tragic refugees (e.g., multiple decades and National Geographic covers). The common thread among all these narratives is caricaturing Afghans as prone to explosive violence, romantic bravado, or hapless dependency. Like so many of the country's citizens rendered invalid in recent decades by Soviet MiG jets or US drones, by hidden land mines and indiscriminate shelling, or in suicide attacks by domestic and foreign perpetrators, Afghans are rarely thought to be able to stand on both feet and shape their own historical destiny. In this flat and ahistorical narrative, Afghans star only as pitiful victims or self-destructive aggressors; but more often they simply occupy the role of backdrops and extras for someone else's story; their only dramatic genre: tragedy.
I sincerely hope that the fruits of this exchange, as with the book itself, will not be more dramatic tragedies—or comedies and romances for that matter—but new histories of Afghanistan beyond endless wars and marauding tribes. By using Afghan, Ottoman, and Indian sources, my aim was that members of Afghan governments and legal commissions emerge as more rounded figures, human beings with complex views and motivations rather than just bigots, fanatics, and treacherous tribes as they are often described in the language of British colonial officers. Instead, the principal actors in Afghanistan Rising are not only a remarkable king and queen, but also jurists and administrators, and perhaps some of history's most underrated human agents—students and scholars. The fact that those diverse individuals contributed to and succeeded in promulgating a constitution and comprehensive body of statutory law on their own terms and virtually from scratch, thereby forming the juridical bedrock of the modern state of Afghanistan until this day, should not be underestimated. In that way, this Kitabkhana exchange—and perhaps the book itself, I can only hope—succeeded by having a conversation about Afghanistan without invoking crisis and failure as the perennially defining and essential dimensions of Afghanistan.
Some will say it is naive to portray the themes canvassed in Afghanistan Rising as a success. After all, one can easily find ample examples of ongoing imperialism, civil strife, and human and environmental devastation of the externally spawned or self-inflicted ilk in Afghanistan's modern history—including of the quite dramatic fashion when Aman Allah Khan's reign came tumbling down and could never be put back together again.
But, as the late historical luminaries Nathan Huggins, Hayden White, and Michel-Rolph Trouillot were all keen to remind us, narrative choices of emplotment and silencing shape the production of histories as much as the dusty archives (and now digitized texts) we summon as evidentiary support.38 If a historian's craft is only to describe and explain and not to judge, à la Marc Bloch, the question remains as to what aspects of a story should the historian describe or explain, while other aspects of the canvas remain silent or overlooked?39 Dwelling on unsavory dimensions of Afghanistan's modern history, as much as they seem to rhyme from one decade to the next, is therefore a discursive choice. Success and failure are both historical crafts.
Put another way, “Afghanistan Falling” is a book already written—and what a popular genre it is. In Afghanistan Rising, I choose to uncover a history of what Afghans achieved, as it were, exactly a century ago. It is not for me to instrumentalize that knowledge or memory for certain political outcomes, but I hope the offering of a different narrative may prove to be beneficial for all daughters and sons of Afghanistan in shaping a better tomorrow. To close with the inspiring but demanding words of a mentor and friend, and a question at the top of my mind during the centennial of Afghanistan's independence conference at Kabul University, How can we begin to imagine a different future if we cannot imagine a different past?
Hence none of this minimizes the significant strides made by historians, anthropologists, and literary scholars of Afghanistan over the past decade and a half, including seminal monographs and edited volumes by Wali Ahmadi, Shah Mahmoud Hanifi, Nile Green, Sana Haroon, Amin Saikal, Robert Crews, Ben Hopkins, and Magnus Marsden— to name some leading examples in English. Nor am I overlooking the foundational work of earlier pioneers in this field, including Senzil Nawid, M. Hasan Kakar, Nazif Shahrani, Sayed Askar Mousavi, Robert D. McChesney, Ashraf Ghani, David Edwards, Barnett Rubin, and Thomas Barfield, among others. No less deserving of recognition are the groundbreaking dissertations and theses of a new generation of scholars in Afghanistan studies, including Jawan Shir Rasikh, James Caron, Abhilash Medhi, Michael O'Sullivan, Marjan Wardaki, Mejgan Massoumi, Hakeem Naim, Marya Hannun, and Zeynep Tungur to name only the voices who I have been honored to learn from. It is therefore not an overstatement to say the state of the field is leaps and bounds better than when I started researching this book. For more on the growth and maturation of Afghanistan studies, see the February 2013 International Journal of Middle East Studies roundtable: Green et al., “The Future of Afghan History.”
It goes without saying that knowledge has largely been instrumentalized for a variety of policy applications in post-2001 Afghanistan, humanitarian and otherwise. In addition to Connecting Histories in Afghanistan, notable scholarly exceptions that have richly contributed to our understanding of the social and cultural history of the Indo-Afghan borderlands include the aptly titled Under the Drones (Bashir and Crews, eds.), Beyond Swat (Hopkins and Marsden, eds.), and Haroon, Frontier of Faith.
To the extent of my knowledge, intermittent exceptions over the long twentieth century include Khan, Constitution and Laws of Afghanistan; Gregorian, Emergence of Modern Afghanistan; Poullada, Reform and Rebellion in Afghanistan; Hager, Forward of Laws of Afghanistan; Ghani, “Islam and State-Building in a Tribal Society”; Kakar, Government and Society in Afghanistan; Kamali, Law in Afghanistan; Vafai, Afghanistan; Noelle, State and Tribe in Nineteenth-Century Afghanistan; and Tarzi, “Judicial State.” Still, from my own vista at least, those works seem to be outnumbered by the surge of post-1979 publishing on primarily (but not exclusively) Pashto, Balochi, Hindko, and Pashai-speaking populations in the southern and eastern provinces of Afghanistan and northwestern region of Pakistan—again, for a variety of motivations and purposes. That is to say nothing of the still classified intelligence by a host of government agencies on the “Af-Pak” borderlands specifically, from Islamabad to New Delhi, Tehran to Riyadh, and, of course, Moscow and London to greater Washington, DC.
Hanifi, Connecting Histories in Afghanistan, xv, 13, 89–92, 142.
Hanifi's observations on the role of various professional, educational, and other divisions within the Kabul court and Muhammadzai royal family, and even varied sartorial customs as displayed in surviving but seldom used photographic collections from the Amani period, are also well taken. To the latter I would add the remarkable collection of Turkish and German photographs of Afghanistan from the Habib Allah and Aman Allah eras—including some of the first aerial images of the country ever taken—Tarihi Fotoğraflarla Türk-Afgan Dostluğu (A History of Turkish-Afghan Friendship in Photos), published by the Research Center for Islamic History, Art, and Culture in Istanbul.
For Fayz Muhammad Katib's magnum opus on Afghanistan history, see Siraj al-Tawarikh , recently edited and translated by Robert D. McChesney and M. M. Khorami.
For example, surveying evolving trends within the global Hanafi scholarly community on the controversial issue of modern girl's schooling, Lhost reminds us that by the turn of the twentieth century Hanafi scholars of India, Central Asia, and Turkey largely “shared the opinion that it was permissible and desirable to send girls to school, particularly if they went to special girls' schools, but the ulema of Afghanistan had yet to arrive at this opinion.”
Hence, my focus on the Muhammadzai dynasty's Hanafism “is not to suggest there was ideological uniformity between the Muslims of Aman Allah's court—far from it.” Afghanistan Rising, 211. Hereafter cited in the text. Furthermore, chapters 2, 4, and 5 outlined different factions within the royal courts of Habib Allah and Aman Allah, including tensions between Young Afghan constitutionalists (including royalist and republican factions within them); old guard military generals with strong connections to British India and Pashtun confederations in the east and south like Nader Khan, rivaling those with connections to Young Turk or other Hamidian exiles in Kabul like Mahmud Tarzi; late Ottoman officials like Mahmud Sami, Cemal Pasha, and Bedri Bey versus early Republican Turks appointed by Mustafa Kemal like Fahrettin Pasha; and competing waves of Indian Muslim muhajirs to Kabul.
Hence Leon Poullada concluded in 1973, “even if Amanullah had done nothing else, the juridical base he provided for Afghanistan was of considerable important since it gave the country the skeleton of the government it was eventually to develop.” Reform and Rebellion, 93. Poullada also discovered that the provisions of Aman Allah's 1923 Constitution “were extensively copied in the 1931 Constitution drawn up under Nadir Shah,” although no mention of the 1923 charter, King Aman Allah, or his legislative commission was made in official literature of the 1931 Constitution. Reform and Rebellion, 93. See also Pasarlay and Qadamshah, “Durability of Constitutional Solutions,” and Kamali, “Islam and Women in the Afghan Constitution” for differing views on the impact of the 1923 Constitution and its relationship to subsequent national charters.
For an overview of Afghanistan's modern constitutional history to the twenty-first century, see Yassari and Saboory, “Sharia and National Law in Afghanistan”; Chishti, Constitutional Development in Afghanistan; and Kamali, “Islam and Women in the Afghan Constitution.”
Hence, while agreeing with O'Sullivan and Salaymeh that one should not presume official, state-sponsored projects are more “Islamic” or carry more legitimacy than those who challenge them, I would also be wary of dichotomous frameworks that at the end of the day—whether to a demonizing or valorizing tune—boil down to a Manichean dualism of a secular, modernizing officialdom on one side versus reactionary, traditional clerics on the other. There were never just two sides to this story. For their part, ulema in Afghanistan, as in British India and the Ottoman Empire, were hardly in unison on such controversial and contested projects as constitutionalism, codification of law and bureaucratization of law courts, and related centralization measures. Complicating the picture further, Afghan ulema played a leading and certainly more complex role vis-à-vis processes of modern state formation and bureaucratization than meets the eye. Hedging bets on whom and how to support leaders in power, high-profile ulema who chose to work with rather than against the Kabul palace engaged in case-by-case assessments of particular legal questions and political contexts rather than sweeping ideological indictments or working with an emir in power or not. Indeed, I would argue, on the whole less attention has been paid to how Afghanistan's ulema have actually participated in and substantially contributed to modern state-building projects, whereas the default assumption has been that they resisted or challenged them—due to purported fears of “westernization,” a loss of status or authority, or because of an oxymoronic impossibility when it comes to Islamic law and the modern state. For parallels to the role of ulema in the late Ottoman Empire and specifically the late/modern Hanafi school, see Ayoub, Law, Empire, and the Sultan. For earlier periods, and the role of the Hanafi school in the early modern Ottoman Empire, see Burak, Second Formation of Islamic Law.
Siraj al-Ahkam fi Mu‘amalat al-Islam ; Asas al-Quzat . The fact that many of these works of Islamic law and governance were published in Persian, rather than Arabic, seems to be one factor behind the lack of awareness in what is still a largely Arabophone academic discipline in North America and Europe (to the exclusion of other Islamicate languages, that is, albeit for understandable but ultimately unsatisfactory reasons).
See, for example, Nizamnamih-’i Marasim-i Ta‘ziyihdari , bottom of page 7 to top of page 8, which I would translate as, “The provisions of this code are issued in conformity with the rulings of the sacred Shari‘a according to the refined Hanafi school following authoritative chains of transmission.” [Original Persian: Muwad-i nizamnamih-’i haza muwafiq ahkam-i shar‘-i sharif wa mutabiq mazhab-i muhazzab hanafi wa mabni biriwayat-i quwiyyih mufta biha ast].
Afghanistan's 1923 Constitution was published in both Pashto and Persian languages as Asasi Nizamnamih da Lur Dawlat da Afghanistan and Nizamnamih-’i Asasi-yi Dawlat-i ‘Aliyyih-i Afghanistan , respectively. For said amendments to the Constitution ratified after the 1924 Loya Jirga in Paghman, and becoming effective on 8 Dalwa 1303/January 28, 1925, see Nizamnamih-’i Asasi-yi Dawlat-i ‘Aliyyih-i Afghanistan (ADL no. 0675, last two unnumbered pages). For the extraordinary transcript of the 1924 Loya Jirga proceedings, numbering some 450 pages and including quotations from exchanges between Aman Allah Khan and dozens of prominent ulema at the convention, see Ruydad-i luyah jirgah-’i Dar al-Saltanih .
On the burgeoning role of Deobandi-trained ulema in late nineteenth- and twentieth-century Afghanistan, and their competition with scholarly counterparts representing other modern Muslim traditions in South Asia more broadly, see Nawid, Religious Response to Social Change, 106–13; Haroon, Frontier of Faith, 98–104; Haroon, “The Rise of Deobandi Islam”; Roy, Islam and Resistance in Afghanistan, 57–58; and Zaman, The Ulama in Contemporary Islam. On the contested history and politics of “national loya jirgas” in modern Afghanistan, see M. Jamil Hanifi, “Editing the Past.”
Poullada, Reform and Rebellion in Afghanistan, 93–94. Also deserving of recognition here is Rhea Talley Stewart's remarkably detailed account of the late Habib Allah and Aman Allah eras in Fire in Afghanistan, 1914–1929 . The best work to date on the Amani period, however, and most meticulously researched using rare Afghan government sources in Pashto and Dari remains Nawid's Religious Response to Social Change in Afghanistan.
Vartan Gregorian mentions the founding of the binational archaeological mission Délégation archéologique française en Afghanistan in 1922, and the presence of five French high school teachers at Kabul's Lycée Istiqlal. Both of these “French connections” are a far cry from legislative or judicial advising, however. Emergence of Modern Afghanistan, 239.
For what it is worth, Majmu‘i-yi Qawanin-i Napoliyun, Qawanin Napoliyun, and Napolyon Kanunları are some of the most standard translations for the Code Napoléon in Persian, Arabic, and Ottoman Turkish, respectively (all translating literally as “The Codes of Napoleon”).
Black's Law Dictionary, 2nd ed., edited by Bryan A. Garner, 1996, 106.
Afghanistan Digital Library, NYU Libraries, afghanistandl.nyu.edu (accessed February 2, 2021).
“This is not to romanticize the achievements, or lament the lost possibilities, of Afghan modernity in earlier times, including under the reformist king Aman Allah Khan. There is much that contemporary sensibilities could find problematic in the policies of the governing regimes described in this book, be it the insufficient protection (or empowerment) of Afghan women, the status of minorities, or raw authoritarianism and the modern state's violence, to name a few enduring ills that are clearly still with us worldwide. That is to say nothing of the locally tailored civilizing missions embedded in the Muhammadzai state-building campaigns, themselves drawing on attitudes of British or even Ottoman Orientalisms brought by Indian and Turkish expatriates in the Afghan domains” (283).