Bureaucratic Legacies and State-Building in Afghanistan

Thursday, December 7, 2023
12:00 PM - 1:15 PM

Virtual to Public. Only those with an active Stanford ID with access to Encina E008 in Encina Hall may attend in person.

  • Jennifer Brick Murtazashvili
Jennifer Brick Murtazashvili seminar

This presentation examines the failure of state-building efforts in Afghanistan and argues that the international community's focus on building state capacity quickly led to the resurrection of centralized state institutions from Afghanistan's Soviet past. These institutions emphasized national governmental power and fiscal control, which significantly widened the disconnect between the Afghan state and society, posing substantial challenges to building political stability and economic development. Centralized models are in conflict with societies that have strong norms of local self-governance or are skeptical of the state. The Afghan bureaucracy, which shaped individual interactions with the state, was also overlooked. Paradoxically, efforts to build a strong state undermined it, and Afghanistan remains trapped in a vicious cycle of state collapse. This dilemma is not unique to Afghanistan but is also faced by other countries, such as Somalia and Ethiopia, where Soviet-era institutions cast a strong shadow on governance. The argument highlights that bridging the gap between de facto and de jure institutions is the key to stability, legitimacy, and development.


Jennifer Brick Murtazashvili is the Founding Director of the Center for Governance and Markets and a Professor at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh. Her research focuses on issues of self-governance, security, political economy, and public sector reform. She is a nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and was named one of the world's top global thinkers by Prospect Magazine (UK).

Murtazashvili is the author of Informal Order and the State in Afghanistan (Cambridge University Press, 2016), which received the Best Book Award in Social Sciences from the Central Eurasian Studies Society and received honorable mention from the International Development Section of the International Studies Association. She is also the author of Land, the State, and War: Property Institutions and Political Order in Afghanistan (with Ilia Murtazashvili) (Cambridge University Press, 2021) and several other books. Murtazashvili has advised the United States Agency for International Development, the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, World Bank, the US Department of Defense, the United Nations Development Program, and UNICEF. She served as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.

She is the past-president of the Central Eurasian Studies Society and was elected board member of the Section for International and Comparative Public Administration of the American Society of Public Administration. She is also a member of PONARS Eurasia, a research organization focused on security issues in Eurasia. She previously served as a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Eurasia Center.

Virtual to Public. Only those with an active Stanford ID with access to Encina E008 in Encina Hall may attend in person.