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The Enduring Heart of Central Asia: A Study to Understand Afghanistan's Survival

Joseph A McCarthy, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Afghanistan is portrayed by academic scholars and policy professionals as an ethnically fractured state without a national identity with rival ethnic groups and tribes competing for political control within arbitrary borders. The state of Afghanistan has an ethnically heterogeneous population, a history of weak and failed central governments, a dismal economy, and a landscape disseminated by interstate and civil wars. Surprisingly, however, Afghanistan remains intact and has remained one state since its formation in 1747. What then binds Afghanistan together? This dissertation draws on existing theories of secession and social cohesion, combined with surveys of Afghanistan by anthropologists, historians, and political scientists to generate an original theory explaining why Afghanistan has not fractured. A mixed methods approach is applied, to include interviews with 52 former Afghan government officials; data from the 2004-2017 Survey of the Afghan People, international reports, and Afghanistan government statistics; and a comparative-historical analysis, to not only test an original theory, but also to improve upon this initial explanation and present a revised theory of Afghanistan Unification. Results from this study identified that the drive for individual and familial survival compelled individual citizens to congeal with people from different ethnic groups throughout the existence of the modern state of Afghanistan. Findings indicate that this “social glue” binding Afghans together has evolved from three main sources: the development of a shared national identity, institutional practices inducing social behavioral change, and the effects of international influences on domestic happenings. Additionally, the effects of regional autonomy and geographic security have mixed effects on the probability of fracturization. This project offers a different perspective on how we understand the domestic politics of Afghanistan. It provides a comprehensive analysis of the largest qualitative dataset of former Afghan political elites to date to explain the complexities of Afghanistan unification. This study attempts to provide the viewpoint of people who dedicated their lives to their country, and the diverse people that inhabit Afghanistan. It found that Afghans have more commonalities than differences, and a social cohesion forged from a history of suffering and international meddling.

Subject Area

Political science

Recommended Citation

McCarthy, Joseph A, "The Enduring Heart of Central Asia: A Study to Understand Afghanistan's Survival" (2018). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI10792338.