Introduction At the outset of the recent development intervention in Afghanistan, which started after the military ousting of the Taliban in late 2001, hardly any of the international development stakeholders had an idea about the impact of 20 years of war on local social institutions and their functioning. Even the obvious destruction of infrastructure and displacement of large parts of the population could only be numbered and assessed approximately. The subsequent response of the international community consisted of scattered measures for reconstruction and rehabilitation, one of these being the European Commission’s funding

commitment for the Kunduz River Basin Programme (KRBP). The KRBP aims at achieving food security and long-term poverty alleviation by helping to increase the agricultural production outputs to at least pre-war levels. The achievement of efficiency and equity in water management at the community or local level has been identified as pivotal in this regard. This chapter reports results from applied research into the social dynamics of irrigation management and irrigated agriculture in five canal systems of the Kunduz river basin in north Afghanistan.1 The emphasis on the ‘social’ characteristics of water management follows an approach that puts communities and rural people in the centre of actions by all stakeholders. Capacity building of local communities has been carved out as a major aim of the project which aspires to inclusion of all sections of the population as well as effective management of the project (SMWA 2005: 2). We will demonstrate how the development dimension of the intervention that currently takes place in Afghanistan is constrained by the very idea of reconstruction and its dominant technical meaning. Though destruction is widespread and can easily be detected in irrigation infrastructure, the irrigation systems have been functioning to a limited extent throughout the decades of political disorder. Local water management institutions have also endured, as in the continued appointment of mirabs.2 Nevertheless, the government of Afghanistan, with the assistance of the international community, started to design and implement large-scale water sector reforms, which originate from ambitious notions of ‘rebuilding’ a society. How this notion came into being remains a conjecture in this chapter. Yet, it is manifest in the interpretation of local conditions as having collapsed or been destroyed, leading to the assumption of an institutional void, including any governance and management structures at the local level. This view culminated in the acceptance that external models of governance can provide appropriate solutions for Afghanistan’s reconstruction efforts. In Afghanistan, putting good intentions into effect is inhibited by the misconception of external and even internal elites about what it would take to achieve efficiency and equity in future water management. The context of Afghan water sector reforms is highly complex, and complicated by dynamics largely unknown before the outbreak of conflict. Population growth, displacement and grievances have upset social relations at all levels of society. This chapter argues that ‘reconstruction’ efforts have to deal with very heterogeneous systems of community-managed irrigation despite the ecological and biophysical similarities of the schemes. As will be shown, even among the five studied schemes, a high variety of social institutional and technical set-ups exist, demanding tailored treatment and individual development or ‘reconstruction’ approaches in every canal system (Steege 2006; Mielke and Schetter 2007; Abdullayev and Shah 2008). Thus, instead of relying on blueprints, which are not adapted to local conditions, practical measures in the reform processes always need to include an identification of the institutional and technical dimensions of existing management mechanisms and a subsequent needs-analysis and assessment for potential reforms on that basis.