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SHORT REVIEW- The Proliferation of Weapons in Afghanistan: A Historical Appraisal

View Il Pashtun Armato: La diffusione di armi da fuoco in Afghanistan e il declino dell'Impero britannico (1880-1914) at:


Il pashtun armato. La diffusione di armi da fuoco in Afghanistan e il declino dell’Impero britannico (1880-1914) / Elisa Giunchi. - Milano: Mondadori Education, 2021. - x, 247 p. - (Collana di storia internazionale; 9). - ISBN 978-88-6184-742-2 ; 978-88-6184-743-9 (ebk)

Elisa Giunchi, an Associate Professor of Asian History at the University of Milan, is Italy’s foremost expert on Afghanistan. In her most recent book, entitled Il pashtun armato [The armed Pashtun], she provides a compelling analysis, largely based on primary sources collected in several British archives, on the political and historical background that allowed the proliferation of small arms and light weapons (SALW) in Afghanistan and neighbouring areas, particularly between the end of the 19th century and the First World War. The author connects the ramifications of some of these dynamics to later developments, including the Taliban’s rise to power in the 1990s.

The book is divided into seven chapters. The first chapter analyses the flows of military technology in the area between the Amu Darya (the ancient Oxus) and the Sulaiman Mountains between the 14th and 18th centuries, and looks at Afghanistan as a crossroads for commercial and cultural interactions between different parts of Asia and Europe. Building on this background, chapter 2 brings in the “great game” that involved Great Britain and Russia, and introduces a number of Afghan emirs and their efforts to establish an Afghan army to defend the region from external influences and overcome internal fractures. The third chapter turns the attention to the early stages of the Afghan military industry under emirs Abdur Rahman and Habibullah in the two decades preceding the First World War, focusing in particular on the area of the “Durand Line”, a border drawn by the British authorities in 1893, which has always been controversial and that still today explains why the Afghans call the western part of Pakistan “Pashtunistan”. The two chapters that follow (4 and 5) provide a detailed account of the proliferation of SALW in the Persian Gulf, and the roles played in it by the Russian, French, German and British authorities. The final section (chapters 6 and 7) turns the attention to the attempts made by the British authorities, particularly starting from the First World War, to stem the proliferation of weapons in the Afghan area.

Overall, Elisa Giunchi convincingly applies trans-disciplinary approaches, research tools and analysis to the Afghan area in general, and the Pashtuns-weapons connection in particular. Especially credible is the way the author shifts research away from the prevailing geopolitical reductionism on these issues, while placing the weight of history centre stage.

Lorenzo Kamel

University of Turin and Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI)

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