As a growing body of scholarship comes optimistically to view education as a major element of conflict prevention and peace-building,1 close scrutiny of the Afghanistan case reveals that education can also foster attitudes liable to lead to violence and societal breakdown. Afghanistan affords a spectacle of textbook politics at their most brutal. Control over the apparatus of education has been treated by successive regimes as a cipher for decoding a fractionalised state, and an instrument for writing upon it political ideologies to buttress new authority and shaping its political terrain toward various combinations of reformist and religious textures. Each such attempt to reshape political attitudes has in turn been met with varying extents of resistance and rebellion. It has been an eventful quarter-century in Afghanistan. First came the disintegration in 1973 of the monarchy of Zahir Shah, under whom the country knew an unprecedented 40-year phase of stability. In 1978 the Soviet Union installed a secularising client state, and this was followed by a successful Mujahideen insurgency abetted by the United States and Pakistan, that culminated in Soviet withdrawal in 1989. The succeeding period witnessed factional strife amongst the anti-Soviet insurgents, leading in 1994 to the establishment, over much of the national territory, of rule by the Taleban movement of Pathan2 religious students; and most recently, a second foreign intervention in 2001 led by the United States, resulting in the installation in 2004 of Hamid Karzai’s Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, as an international protectorate with imperfect jurisdiction. Together these episodes constitute an Afghan civil war spanning 35 years – with foreign involvement at all junctures reminiscent of the earlier Great Game that

preceded Amanullah Khan’s accession to the Afghan throne in 1919, after the last of the three Anglo-Afghan wars of the age of Empire. Curiously pivotal in each ensuing chapter of this latter Great Game is the ongoing contest between religious and secular forces for dominance of Afghanistan’s educational institutions. King Amanullah’s forced abdication in 1929 in favour of the reactionary Habibullah Kalakani was largely a result of civil strife provoked by the king’s modernising education reforms. The educational had become the political, with Amanullah’s universal secular education reforms, including promotion of the education of women, provoking a tribal revolt that toppled him from power. Much later, the communist regime after 1979 placed education in the vanguard of its campaign to unify, modernise and render socialist what it viewed as a backward, fragmented and excessively religious society. The Pathan religious students’ Taleban movement, having itself emerged from an education system linked to the Deobandi school of Islam (influential on the Indian subcontinent), made the closure of girls’ schools a top priority in areas that came under its control. As against the sovereignty that is the soul of Leviathan, and that is for Rousseau indivisible, Afghanistan is a case study in punctured sovereignty. Whereas functioning polities have authority structures which are both legitimate and effective, failed states such as Afghanistan have neither.3 In Afghanistan, in Krasner’s phrase, ‘conventional sovereignty has miscarried’ (Krasner n.d.), resulting in deleterious consequences for the strong as well as the weak, amongst whom Afghanistan’s children and women are disproportionately numbered (Krasner 2004). In education more than in other domains, jurisdiction over the formation of policy has been unremittingly contested not only among rival domestic claimants, but – as is discussed below – between these and bodies of the United Nations, international private charitable organisations, and even the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). The story of education policy in Afghanistan is thus one of the conduct of broader domestic politics – and, at times, civil war – by other means. Its central role in successive nation-building and identity-formation measures makes education policy crucial to an understanding of the broader security situation. It has been the nucleus of the modernising and sacralising narratives at the centre of the communist and Taleban governments’ grandest projects, and their attempts to assert their legitimacy; and it has also been a crucial site of contestation between a failed state and international actors over exercise of one of the most fundamental functions of an enfeebled country’s sovereignty. This chapter analyses the contemporary history of educational politics in Afghanistan from the perspective of studies of conflict, nation-building and international intervention amidst the penetrated sovereignty of a failed state, focusing on the communist and Taleban regimes from 1978 to 2001, with briefer reference to periods before and since. This history constitutes a striking example of the political role of education, with implications for the emerging literatures on human security, nation-building and conflict prevention, and in particular furnishes a cautionary tale of the potential for education to function as a cause of

conflict and societal disintegration rather than as a vehicle for the promotion of social cohesion.