Book review: A State Built On Sand

A Sate built on sand
How Opium undermined Afghanistan
By David Mansfield
Published by Hurst & Co
ISBN 9781849045681
Price £25.00 paperback

Variations in opium poppy production in Afghanistan had long been associated with how the state was perceived at the time of the 2001 invasion. The Taliban, for instance, had imposed a cultivation ban in 2000–01. But the international community’s subsequent attempts to prohibit opium production became intimately linked with its own state- building project, as rising levels of cultivation were seen as evidence of the failure of those international donors who spearheaded reconstruction in provinces like Helmand and Nangarhar.

Mansfield’s book examines why drug control has been imposed in Afghanistan; he documents the actors involved; and he scrutinises how prohibition served divergent and competing interests. Drawing on almost two decades of fieldwork in rural areas, he explains how these bans affected farming communities, and how prohibition endured in some areas while in others opium production bans undermined livelihoods and destabilised the political order, fuelling violence and rural rebellion.

Above all this book challenges how we have come to understand political power in rural
Afghanistan. Mansfield highlights the role that rural communities have played in shaping the political terrain, including establishing the conditions under which they could persist with opium production.

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