Social Engineering, USA, Afghanistan, Realism, Taliban

When it comes to the Long Distance Social Engineering (LDSE) projects, particularly in Afghanistan, two main theoretical approaches can be thought of i.e. the Democratic Peace Theory and the Multiple Realism Deficiency Disorder (MRDD).

As far as the Democratic Peace theory is concerned, it envisages that the democracies don’t fight with each other. So, if democratic variables like that of parliament, elections and accountability are transplanted in any nation, the state is expected to follow the charter of liberalism even if it is a rogue one. The concept of this kind of nation building is largely emphasized in so many ways, specifically, after the US intervention in any region. It also ranks paramount on the political agenda that can be exclusively ascribed to the neoconservatives.

Conversely, the theory of MRDD as hypothesised by Amitai Etzioni is believed to be constituted of thinking embedded in the American conscience, i.e. they are the bearers of exclusivist social and moral beliefs, purveyors of these values to the rest of the world, communally creative, and are positive in their future disposition. This could be witnessed in numerous accounts of US foreign policy and overseas endeavours like that during Obama administration when the President assured the Capitol Hill that the intervention in Libya will be completed in just few days, not even weeks; a recurring echo since the past two decades featuring in the discourse of the interventionists.

The philosophy behind the MRDD suggests that the American society is all perfect and omnipotent. It has achieved the final and blessed form of human civilization that is based on the essence of both happiness and liberal democracy. The crux of the theory illustrates that the West wants to construct nations in their own image just because they’ve achieved the unchallengeable ideal state of humanity.

According to Amitai, efforts’ being put for overhauling of basic societal framework is wastage of nation’s resources and nothing else. Any projects being implanted in any foreign society must be in accordance with the respective culture. Local people will pursue the culturally rooted practices in the long run. In his article titled as the ‘Failures of Long Distance Engineering”, Amitai argued that the World Bank investments, during the mid-1990s to early 2000s, resulted painfully short of estimated aims. The states experimented upon had witnessed both very low per-capita income and corrupt regimes.

Same is the case with Afghanistan where the United States tried to socially engineer the domestic milieu after 9/11. The attempts to establish a semblance of democracy, reconstruction, and economic development in Afghanistan created a structural vortex (social, political, and economic) which was later on successfully exploited by the militant actors as the scheme didn’t take in account the heterogeneity of population and the long history of warlords.

The US social engineering formula had three strands: democracy, reconstruction, and economic development. It was assumed that this aid in the nation building process in a long run.


There is no single definition that can enumerate the elements of democracy, but it is considered to have a civil society with sizeable middle class; high literacy rate; regulative capability of state; independent judiciary and rule of law; economic development; role differentiation; and autonomous political structure. Along with these factors, few other pre-requisites mandatory to ensure the smooth functioning of democratic machinery includes mass-media; public opinion, political parties, free and fair elections, provision of fundamental human rights, negligent or no corruption, and minority protection

If we do introspection of the evolution of political system, democracy comes to be the product of modern structure. Before that, we have encountered intermittent, traditional (patrimonial, feudalistic, patriarchal) and historical bureaucratic empires. All have shown refinement in the context of role differentiation, autonomy, and cultural secularization. This evolution didn’t come in a day but took century’s long process as depicted, explicitly, in case of Britain and US.

Cultural secularization has been considered a vital part of democracy which comes through political socialization of the very respective people. For that, as per Almond and Powell analysis, modern political structure has various sub components like that of mass media, pressure groups, political parties, public opinion etc.

So, the question arises, does Afghanistan comprise of a modern day political system?

How can the democracy be transplanted where the very basic elements (sizeable middle class, education, respect for rule of law, structured political system, cultural pragmatism and less corruption) are non-existent at the moment?

Probably, the US establishment knows better.

Afghanistan is ethnically divided area having Pushtoons, Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, Aimaq, Turkmen, Baloch, Nuristani and other small groups. These groups are then sub-divided into several other sub-tribes showing that Afghanistan has a patrimonial political structure where ethnic groups, largely, associate their loyalty towards chieftains.

In a patrimonial structure with no rule of law, ethnically polarized population, and illiteracy rate of 69%, how can one successfully elected government operate? The elections and parliamentary structures can’t keep the militancy threatening to unravel the order at bay, but political socialization and active consciousness of civil society can.

Bizarrely, lack of proper direction has now led to the strengthening of Taliban and the return of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar from public exile. Russians are gaining influence as well. It’s like history is repeating itself, and Afghanistan seems more dangerous than ever before.

If we look into Max Weber definition of state, he recommended that anything which enjoys the monopoly of force would be called as state. By applying the same definition in Afghanistan, one can easily witness multitudes of states in the form of various warlords and ethnic tribal leaders.

The solution is to integrate these states into a unitary structure with ample autonomy in order to first fill the political gap created by the overthrow of Taliban government. A federal structure is not necessary in order to get the basic prospects of security, as the unitary can also work out the situation. Having normalized conditions, devoid of any threat of civil war and militants, will be a step forward for the establishment of a tolerant democratic society in true sense.

In his 1989 essay, “The End of History”, Francis Fukuyama quoted his expressions as under;

 “The state that emerges at the end of history is liberal in so far as it recognizes and protects, through a system of laws, man’s universal right to freedom, and democratic in so far as it exists only with the consent of the governed.”


In order to carry out the reconstruction activities in Afghanistan, Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT’s) were formulated. Initially the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was given the respective job but, later on, the PRT’s were created to spread the ISAF affect.

They were given the objective of ‘all things to all’ that is somehow costly and impractical as far as the primary and secondary necessities are concerned. “Confused mission statements, intermittent structural policies, scattered objectives, and limited resources”, in the words of an official muddled up the success of the reconstruction efforts undertaken.

Recourse to the Triage principle is apt for such scenarios. Amitai Etzioni defines Triage in the following words, “Reconstruction would greatly benefit if the concept of Triage were applied to it. Triage is employed when a disaster causes a large number of causalities and the responders lack sufficient numbers and resources to treat them simultaneously.”

If this approach is applied to the case of Afghanistan, the first priority is the arrangement of basic security, and the second one is rebuilding of crucial infrastructure. But, the practice is contrary to this policy i.e. the Scattergun Approach – both costly and ineffective.

Economic Development

The third and final principle of US social engineering efforts is economic development. Real power vested in the various warlords who commanded influence in the major custom areas of Afghanistan. These localised power structures served as the basic and most significant source of revenue generation. Should the governance be allowed like this, the situation would have been much different and better.

Some interesting lines in a report on USAID’s efforts in Afghanistan from the Washington Post are being shared here: “The United States invested $40 million in Afghanistan to launch a strawberry plantation on soil too salty to grow crops; built a highway from Kabul to Kandahar using asphalt too thin to withstand melting snow; and laid a sixth of a mire of Bolivian cobblestone road that hurt the hooves of Afghan channels.”


The whole scenario of failure runs around one thing which depicts that the foreign nation building agenda would be ineffective, if and only if, it is brought without taking consent of the native cultural descriptions and basic societal fabric. Imported regimes and centralism in the name of ethnic co-existence is not an inch less than a political science fiction devoid of contemporary strategic and geographical realities.

Tahira Khan

is pursuing her major in Political Science from the University of Punjab.

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