Bibliography | 23 April 2014, by Martin Saxer

Notes on Goodhand’s Bandits, Borderlands, and Opium Wars in Afghanistan


Goodhand, Jonathan. 2012. Bandits, Borderlands and Opium Wars in Afghanistan. In A Companion to Border Studies. Ed. Thomas M Wilson and Hastings Donnan. Malden MA, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

This is a good overview of the socio-political shifts in relation to Opium in the Afghan-Tajik borderlands (with a special focus on Shegnan). Goodhand’s main thesis is:

In contrast to conclusions reached in most main-stream policy debates, the drugs economy in Sheghnan has contributed to the emergence of a measure of political order and has had significant developmental outcomes. (Goodhand 2012: 332)

Goodman draws on Richard Snyder’s work on “lootable wealth” (Snyder 2006) to conceptualise the dynamics of resource extraction in the borderlands. He argues that potential drug fortunes bring state actors to the hinterland, and, in some respect, state actors are now dependent on the periphery (ibid.). In this context, it does not make sense to think of a formal and an informal sector. Goodhand quotes Gallant (1999: 25) to make the point:

Bandits helped make states and states made bandits. (Goodhand 2012: 334)

The bandits are brokers between state and borderland; the war and shadow economies they engage with can thus be seen as “part of the long and brutal politics of sovereignty” (ibid.)

Goodhand is writing against the mainstream public opinion about Afghanistan, drugs, and state power. He is reversing the argument and blurring the lines between the actors involved. I can see where he wants to go. However, I am a bit sceptical against the notion of “bandits” in the indirect service of state power, as this figure of thought implicitly situates agency, once more, in the centres and portrays trade and brokerage as new and outside forces that alter pre-existing subsistence-oriented agricultural livelihoods. Was Shegnan ever self-sufficient in terms of agricultural output? And is opium really the first resource boom that shapes the region?

Bibliography

Gallant, Thomas. 1999. Brigandage, Piracy, Capitalism, and State Formation: Transnational Crime From a Historical World Systems Perspective. In States and Illegal Practices. Ed. Josiah McConnell Heyman. Oxford; New York: Berg.

Goodhand, Jonathan. 2012. Bandits, Borderlands and Opium Wars in Afghanistan. In A Companion to Border Studies. Ed. Thomas M Wilson and Hastings Donnan. Malden MA, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Snyder, Richard. 2006. Does Lootable Wealth Breed Disorder?: A Political Economy of Extraction Framework. Comparative Political Studies 39 (8): 943-968.