chapter  10
21 Pages

Scholars, advisers and state-builders: Soviet Afghan studies in light of present-day Afghan development: Anna R. Paterson


A large community of international specialists has been engaged in the US-led international effort in post-Taliban Afghanistan. Russia is not a significant participant in this effort, but the Soviet Union was a key contributor to previous generations of international experts working in and on Afghanistan. The involvement of Soviet non-military as well as military specialists reached its zenith during the period of the Soviet intervention from 1979 to 1989. As in today’s Afghanistan, academics were also mobilized, feeding into official understandings of Afghan society, attending field missions, providing language and other training at home, and raising the profile of Afghan studies. Some academics took advisory positions in Afghanistan; others began their careers as translators or “technical experts” in Afghanistan and later moved into academia. The use and experience of Soviet scholars, specialists and advisers bear some similarity with the current mobilization of “expertise” on Afghanistan. However, the scholarly output and roles of Soviet specialists were also different from their post-Taliban equivalents. Soviet academic sources rely to varying degrees on the class analysis of conflict and development in Afghanistan which was required of Soviet experts, and which distinguishes them from most of the current generation of experts, advisers and development practitioners. There was less room amongst Soviet Afghan specialists for outright and direct criticism of the military and political intervention of their leaders in Afghanistan, although indirect criticism was voiced, and sometimes challenged the very foundations of Soviet theories of history and development.