AFGHANISTAN xi. Administration



xi. Administration

The form and function of Afghanistan’s administrative organizations have reflected the changing balance of power between centripetal and centrifugal forces. The political history of the period under consideration does not reveal a steady tendency towards administrative centralization or the opposite. A division into subperiods can better describe the fluctuating trends. Though regional and international forces have played a direct or indirect role in shaping most major developments in Afghan history, a colonial administrative superstructure has never been erected in the country. Whether the Soviet intervention of December, 1979, will bring about such a development remains to be seen.

The Sadōzay dynasty (1160-1235/1747-1818). Prior to the emergence of an Afghan state in 1160/1747, the present territory of Afghanistan had been part of successive empires; the inhabitants of the major centers of population were fully accustomed to dealing with administrative institutions. Since ruling states underwent rapid shifts of fortune, the local administrative staff was willing to serve whoever wielded political power. Thus, when the Dorrānī Paṣ̌tūn clan founded an Afghan state, it took over an existing administrative apparatus. Having served in the army of Nāder Shah, the new Afghan monarch and most of his nobles were fully conversant with the Persian language and administrative practices. The continuity in the administrative structure can be demonstrated by comparing the lists of titles and offices under the new Dorrānī empire (ʿA. W. Fōfalzāy, Tīmūr Šāh Dorrānī II, pp. 313-407) with those employed in the Safavid empire in the 10th-11th/16th-17th centuries (Taḏkerat al-molūk, ed. and tr. V. Minorsky, London, 1943).

Despite formal similarity between the Dorrānī and Safavid empires, fundamental differences existed. In contrast to the situation among the Safavids, the power of the Dorrānī monarchs was effectively balanced by a strong class of khans. The key to an understanding of the rapid expansion and the equally quick demise of the Dorrānī empire is to be sought in the changing relations between kings and khans. Aḥmad Shah managed to channel the energies of the Paṣ̌tūn khans towards territorial conquest; continuing to command their own clansmen in battles, they constituted the bulk of the armed forces. Simultaneously he recruited a Persian-speaking civil administration and a military force, called ḡolāms (slaves) of the shah, from among the Qizilbāš and other non-Paṣ̌tūns. Towards the end of his reign, tension between the Paṣ̌tūn and non-Paṣ̌tūn factions forced him to dismiss briefly his powerful Paṣ̌tūn vizier and replace him with one of the non-Paṣ̌tūn ʿolamāʾ (Maḥmūd Ḥosaynī, Tārīḵ-eAḥmadšāhī II, p. 1148).

Aḥmad Shah’s death coincided with the expansion of European imperialism and the rise of new regional powers; the Dorrānī empire no longer had the option of territorial conquest. To consolidate their hold over the regions under their control, the successors of Aḥmad Shah tried to curb the power of the khans. This new orientation was given symbolic expression in 1189/1775 when Tīmūr Shah moved the capital from the predominantly Paṣ̌tūn city of Qandahār to the Persian-speaking city of Kabul. The balance of forces between kings and khans was such that neither side could successfully subordinate the other. Their antagonism, expressed through a series of wars among Tīmūr Shah’s numerous sons, brought about the dismemberment of the empire in 1235/1818.

The potential for conflict was inherent in all four types of relationship that can be distinguished between the central government and the provinces. First, the former rulers were allowed to remain in power in return for yearly tribute and pledges of allegiance. Second, Afghan military commanders acted as the overlords of the local power-holders. Third, the local khans undertook to supply the government with military contingents but otherwise remained autonomous. Fourth, governors directly appointed by the crown exercised power. In the first three categories, local leaders retained their power. In the fourth, the administrative organization duplicated that of the central government; the authority of a governor, especially if he was a member of the royal family or a prominent Paṣ̌tūn khan, resembled that of the king. Moreover, his access to the military and financial resources of the province allowed him to resist dismissal by the king and translate his resistance into acts of revolt and armed conflict.

The ecological and economic structures of the country made it difficult for the central government to exercise political power. Under the prevailing mode of transportation, i.e., pack animals, at least one month was required to move between any two major urban centers. Excessive costs hampered the transportation of bulk goods, thereby preventing the formation of a national market. The rulers had no choice to delegate considerable powers to the provincial governors and local notables. The limitations of the state administrative apparatus are indicated by the fact that the government had to assign the collection of revenue to tax-farmers throughout this period and during the rest of the 19th century.

In the juridical sphere the state’s role was also limited. The major line of cleavage here was between the Šarīʿa and customary tribal codes. Mountstuart Elphinstone, the first British envoy to the Dorrānī court, noted that the qożāt or Shariʿite judges existed “in all considerable towns in the Caubul dominions, and they have deputies over the whole country,” but he immediately added that they “nowhere interpose unless an application is made to them” (An Account of the Kingdom of Caubul II, 263). Some qożāt were paid by the state, but the majority were supported by the local inhabitants. Available evidence suggests that they had a large degree of latitude in their interpretation of the Šarīʿa and that state made no attempts to impose a uniform interpretation or to undertake a systematic review of their decisions.

Disputes in rural areas were usually resolved through customary law, which varied greatly from one group to another as well as from region to region. Even among Paṣ̌tūn clans, who adhered to the common code of paṣ̌tūnwalī, there were considerable differences in practice. Among the Dorrānī clans, khans took an active interest in the “adjustment of disputes between individuals” (Elphinstone, Account II, p. 105). But among the Ḡilzay clans, “no Khaun of a tribe or Mullik of a village ever interferes as a magistrate to settle a dispute, or at least a serious one” (ibid., p. 151). Individual conflicts could and did evolve into feuds among clans, lasting over generations. Only when the parties concerned were mutually exhausted would they submit their disputes to a tribal council composed of members of a neutral group or experienced arbitrators. In short, while the Dorrānī empire displayed vigor in its military expansion, its domestic institutions were weak.

Dōst Moḥammad and Šēr ʿAlī (1235-96/1818-79). Under Shah Maḥmūd, the last Dorrānī monarch, control of the affairs of the state passed to the vizier Fatḥ Khan of the Moḥammadzay tribe, who had appointed his numerous brothers to govern the most important provinces. When Fatḥ Khan was killed by Shah Maḥmūd’s son, his brothers rose to avenge his death and the country was plunged into a civil war that lasted until 1241/1826. The empire was replaced by a number of independent centers of power; Paṣ̌tūn hegemony in Badaḵšān and the rest of northern Afghanistan came to an end, at least until the 1840s, a number of independent local rulers competed for supremacy. Qandahār, Kabul, Peshawar, and other smaller provinces remained under the control of Fatḥ Khan’s brothers, who could not agree to the ascendancy of one of their number over the others. Herat was the province which remained under Dorrānī control. With the smaller territory governed by each new ruler, the style of administration became more personalized. Thus the ruler of Kabul ordered the administrative buildings torn down; his ministers conducted their work from their homes (C. Masson, Narrative of Various Journeys III, p. 256).

But the reductions in the formal administration did not imply a lessening of the powers of the government. On the contrary, financial needs dictated an increase in central power. In the preceding period, the central government had derived its revenue chiefly from its Indian provinces. As a member of the Elphinstone mission stated in a memoir on Dorrānī revenue and trade, “many provinces yield no revenue to the government” (R. Starchy, “Memoir,” p. 4). Inhabitants of Afghanistan proper were either exempted or assessed lightly, while large tracts of land were also held as grants (toyūl) by khans or Paṣ̌tūn clans. All this changed fundamentally after 1235/1818. In the absence of tribute from abroad, the new states had to secure their financial needs from resources at home. The most dramatic illustration was the case of the Dorrānī clans of Qandahār, who had been the military backbone of the Dorrānī expansion. Until the end of the empire, their lands had been exempted from taxation. Between 1235/1818 and 1255/1839 with the advent of the Moḥammadzay brothers, they were turned into a subjugated tax-paying peasantry. According to Henry Rawlinson, the British political agent for Qandahār during the first Anglo-Afghan war (1839-42), the Dorrānī clans were subdued by the systematic use of violence against their leaders, the appointment of hostile Persian-speaking tax agents, and the raising of a military force composed of non-Dorrānīs (“Report on the Duranis,” pp. xxff.).

The major administrative innovation of the period occurred in the military sphere. In 1245/1829 Dōst Moḥammad, who ruled Kabul and eventually was to unify Afghanistan, appointed an ex-Qajar military officer, ʿAbd-al-Ṣamad Tabrīzī, to organize a division of infantry and drill it on the European pattern (Fayż Moḥammad, Serāǰ al-tawārīḵ I, p. 113). In 1254/1838 Dōst Moḥammad successfully resisted the advance of a Sikh army that had wrested Peshawar from his brothers; the next year he faced a more formidable enemy as British troops invaded Afghanistan and dislodged him from Kabul and his brothers from Qandahār. But the British forces were unable to suppress popular revolts and they soon withdrew.

During his exile in India, Dōst Moḥammad became intensely aware of the power of Great Britain and the weakness of the Afghan state. Throughout his second reign, he resisted the temptation—even during the Indian revolts of 1857—to confront Britain militarily in order to regain Peshawar. Instead, he concentrated on enhancing his own position and establishing a single authority over all of Afghanistan. Financially, he entrusted the tax-farming of the provinces only to his sons, who in turn sublet the districts to individuals of their choice. In 1259/1843, he raised five 800-man infantry divisions and placed them under the command of his sons, who had to provide for their maintenance from the revenue of the territories assigned to them (ibid., II, p. 200). The next two decades witnessed the steady expansion of the area under Dōst Moḥammad’s direct control. By his death in 1279/1863, only days after the conquest of the province of Herat, the present territory of Afghanistan had become a single state.

The system devised by Dōst Moḥammad invested the prince-governors with maximum military, financial, and administrative powers, but it was kept functioning only by the ties between a father and his sons; with Dōst Moḥammad’s death, it collapsed. Civil war raged from 1279/1863 to 1285/1868, when one of his sons, Šēr ʿAlī, imposed his authority over the whole country. He embarked on a number of basic administrative reforms. In Ḏu’l-ḥeǰǰa, 1286/March, 1870, he established a thirteen-member council to advise him on affairs of state (India Office Library, L/P & S [Letters, Political and Secret]/20/B9, p. 21); subsequently, the council became a cabinet. The office of ṣadr-e aʿẓam (prime minister) was created and ministerial positions were filled with a cross-section of society. Šēr ʿAlī took a close interest in the expenditure of state resources (ibid., pp. 84ff.) and refused to entrust his sons with administrative positions, relying instead “on dependents who owed all to himself” (ibid., p. 121). But his major preoccupation was to reorganize the army. Not only did he increase the size of the standing army, but he also embarked on an ambitious program of constructing workshops for the local manufacture of military needs. To pay for these undertakings, he increased existing taxes and imposed new ones (India Office, L/P & S/71, pp. 511ff.). In short, the size and functions of the administration expanded rapidly during this period. But Šēr ʿAlī’s reign came to an abrupt end in 1296/1878 with the second unsuccessful British invasion.

ʿAbd al-Raḥmān, Ḥabīballāh, and Amānallāh (1297/1880-1307 Š./1929). The impact of the second British invasion on Afghan institutions was summarized by the viceroy of India in a communication to the secretary of state for India: The British military operations and occupation “have left the Civil government and the military resources of the Afghans in a state of dilapidation which will require a long time to repair” (FO [Foreign Office] 539/19, 8 May 1881, p. 258). From 1297/1880 to 1313/1896, Afghanistan was the scene of unprecedented conflicts. The new ruler, ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān, was elevated to the throne because he accepted British control over Afghanistan’s foreign relations. In consolidating his hold over the country, he defeated his opponents in four civil wars and one hundred major and minor rebellions. At his death his designated successor ascended the throne peacefully, a testimony to the success of his administrative changes.

Like his predecessors, ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān paid special attention to the expansion and reorganization of the army. Out of an estimated population of six million people (Great Britain, Military Report on Afghanistan, Calcutta, 1906, III), the army recruited 79,000 men. The pay of the regular, quasi-regular and irregular troops amounted to 7,262,670 rupees, or 58.6 percent of the total cost of the state (ruler of Afghanistan to the viceroy of India, FO 539/27, 18 July 1885, pp. 216-22). The army was not used as a mere deterrent. It physically conquered the whole country—parts of it several times—in order to restructure the relationship of the local power holders with the central government. ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān acquired his means of destruction through British grants as well as purchases on the open market. Between 1880 and 1895, he was presented with 80 guns, 17,342 shots and shells, 33,302 rifles, 3,200 carbines and 21,308,800 cartridges (India Office, European mss., F III/287, viceroy to ruler, 1899, p. 5). In 1899, purchases of the Afghan government going through India were so large that they became the subject of a special correspondence between the viceroy and the secretary of state for India. In that year, ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān had bought “2,000,000 cordite 33 bore cartridges, 2 3/4 tons Nordenfeldt and 9 tons Hotchkiss cartridges . . . 10 tons Martini-Henry and 9 tons Hotchkiss cases, besides several hundred thousand Lee-Metford and Mauser ball cartridges” (ibid., 11 May 1899, p. 1 ).

To pay for such purchases, ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān brought every part of the country under tight military, administrative, and juridical control. The hallmark of his reign was the bureaucratization of all spheres of administration, involving the clear demarcation of spheres of responsibility based on principles of accountability, hierarchy, and record-keeping. His administration was basically conducted through the written medium. To formalize these changes he issued a whole series of edicts, called qānūn or dastūr-al-ʿamal. Every officer of the army received a published set of rules that defined his functions and responsibilities—e.g., Ketāb-e neẓām-e Afḡānestān (the military laws of Afghanistan) for mīrzāyān (clerks), kōtḥawāla-dārhā (corporals), meyǰarhā (majors), etc. These efforts at reorganization also included the civil administration and the judiciary. In 1885, ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān instructed Mawlawī Aḥmadǰān Khan, a court official, to compile two handbooks defining the duties of the governors and judges, called qānūn-e kārgozārī dar moʿāmalāt-e ḥokūmatī (law of conduct in the affairs of the state) and asās al-qożāt (foundation of judges). Under the latter regulations, the qāżī became a salaried official of the state whose conduct was strictly regulated and whose decisions were subject to regular review by his superiors. He could only give judgments in a court, not in his house or a mosque, and all the proceedings had to be recorded in writing. An examination of the court records of a district in the Konar valley, eastern Afghanistan, for the years 1885 to 1890, reveals that these measures were in fact implemented (A. Ghani, IJMES, forthcoming).

Administratively, the country was divided into six large provinces and these, in turn, arranged in a number of districts. ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān made all the major appointments himself, attending to enormous amounts of detail (Afghan Archives, correspondence between ruler and prince and ruler and governor of eastern district). He appointed no cabinet or formal council of advisors, but he did institute a department of auditing to oversee the activities of his officials and to increase the income of the state. His attempts to institute a budget were unsuccessful; like the preceding rulers he had to rely on tax-farming (Fayż Moḥammad, Serāǰ al-tawārīḵ III, passim).

Ḥabīballāh’s reign (1901-1919) can be viewed as a period of the steady expansion of the policies instituted by his father. In terms of the administration’s long-term development, the most significant changes were the founding in 1907 of two schools—one civilian and one military—and the granting of permission in 1908 for the publication of a bi-weekly newspaper, Serāǰ al-aḵbār, to Maḥmūd Ṭarzī, who addressed himself to the students of these schools and other literate Afghans. One of Ṭarzī’s supporters was Amānallāh, who entered into war with Great Britain after his father’s assassination to regain Afghanistan’s full independence, which was recognized in 1921 after diplomatic negotiations. Having achieved the national goal, Amānallāh initiated a series of domestic reforms touching on every aspect of the administration. Financially, he was able eliminate tax-farming, institute regular budgeting and accounting procedures, and make it possible for the taxpayers to pay the treasury directly (Lāyeḥa-ye taraqqīyāt, p. 15). The administrative structure of the country was reorganized; a seven-member cabinet, a director-general, and a president of the council of state represented the top of the pyramid. Territorially, the administrative hierarchy encompassed qarya (village), ʿalāqa (sub-district), ḥokūmatī (district), and ḥokūmat-e aʿla or welāyat (province). Depending on their importance, ḥokūmatīs were ranked one, two, or three. The country was divided into five welāyats, and four ḥokūmat-e aʿlās (Neẓām-nāma-ye taqsīmāt, pp. 1-28). Under Amānallāh, Afghanistan acquired its first constitution in 1301 Š./1922. Article 8 stated that all the inhabitants of Afghanistan, regardless of religion, were considered citizens, while article 10 declared that every citizen’s personal freedoms under due process of law would be guaranteed (Asāsī neẓām-nāma, 1301 Š./1922, pp. 5-6). The council of state, composed of elected and appointed officials while its president was a member of the cabinet (ibid., pp. 14ff.), did not in fact constitute a parliament. The power elite of the country was given a voice in the determination of state policies through the convening of lōya ǰergas or grand assemblies. Such an assembly had elected Aḥmad Shah Dorrānī king of Afghanistan, and subsequent rulers had occasionally convened it. Amānallāh turned to it for the approval of all major reforms, convening it three times during his reign—1301 Š./1922, 1303 Š./1924, 1307 Š./1928.

Amānallāh’s most enduring contribution was perhaps in the field of education. The budget for the ministry of education had been six thousand rupees under Ḥabīballāh, but it was raised to more than five million rupees by 1928 (Lāyeḥa-ye taraqqīyāt, p. 14). Between 1924 and 1928, 322 primary schools—at least one in every administrative district—were established. During the same period, 4,823 students finished primary school, 158 graduated from high-school, and 151 were sent for training abroad (ibid., pp. 17-18). These students provided the staff of the bureaucracy in subsequent decades.

Amānallāh’s policies generated strong resentment and he was forced into exile in 1929. Eventually he was replaced by Nāder Shah, a member of the ruling Moḥammadzay family.

Nāder Shah, Moḥammad Żāher Shah, and Dāʾūd Khan (1929-78). Except for minor modifications, the administration under Nāder Shah closely resembled that under Amānallāh, but the relation between the central government and the periphery, i.e., the concept of representation, had changed fundamentally. According to the constitution of 1921, the council of state had a membership composed of both elected and appointed officials. The new constitution of 1931 envisaged a bicameral parliament composed of an elected šawrā (assembly), invested with the important powers, and an appointed maǰles-e aʿyān (council of notables; Oṣul-e asāsī, Kabul, 1311 Š./1932, pp. 7-15). But in practice, the provisions of the constitution had little relevance to the affairs of state; until 1964 all parliaments but one were mere rubber stamps for the government.

The fundamental changes in administration are best illustrated in financial affairs. From 1880 to 1929 most of the revenue of the state was derived from taxes on land. In 1952, the total revenue of the government amounted to $16.59 million; taxes from land accounted for merely $2.08 million, whereas those on foreign trade totaled $6.59 million. In 1973 out of a total of $88.62 million, the government’s income from taxes on foreign trade reached $38.31 million and income from the sale of natural gas $10.66 million (M. Fry, The Afghan Economy, Leiden, 1974, pp. 170-71). Clearly, the revolts of 1929 had made the rulers wary of threatening the interests of rural landowners and peasants. As a result the central government adopted a policy of gradualism. Foreign trade’s large contribution to the revenue of the state was initially gained through the cooperation of the merchant class, which was given a wide range of privileges, including permission to form the first bank in the country in 1932; in fact, this was the first modern bureaucratic organization.

Three substages (1929-63, 1964-72, 1973-78) can be discerned in the organizational and functional changes undergone by the bureaucracy. Major qualitative changes in the role of the administration took place in 1955. Between 1929 and 1963, members of the royal family—Nāder Shah, his four brothers, and their descendants—exercised power both formally and effectively. After the assassination of Nāder Shah in 1933, his son Żāher Shah succeeded him to the throne, but real power was held by his two uncles and his cousin, who served as consecutive prime ministers (1929-46, 1946-53, 1953-63). In 1964, a new constitution was adopted. Article 24 barred members of the royal family from holding cabinet posts and serving in parliament. The king, however, did not sign into law the bill that would have legalized political parties and effectively allowed them to exercise power. In 1973, he was overthrown by Moḥammad Dāʾūd, who ruled from July, 1973, to March, 1977, through a revolutionary council. He then convened a lōya ǰerga and promulgated a new constitution, under which he became the first president of the country. His cabinet members were essentially his creatures and there was little substantive change in the organization of the state. He was overthrown in April, 1978.

A qualitative change in bureaucratic organization took place in 1955 because of the effect of foreign aid on the financial basis of the state. In 1953, the ordinary expenditure of the state was Afs 825 million ($22.23 million), while its expenditure for development was Afs 172 million ($4.63 million). In 1963, the figures were Afs 2,416 million ($47.09 million) and Afs 4,663 million ($10.58 million; Fry, Afghan Economy, pp. 158-59), while the civil service increased from around 10,000 in 1955 to nearly 60,000 in 1963. What brought about this transformation was a credit of $100 million in economic aid extended by the Soviet Union to the government of Afghanistan in 1955, followed by “some $350 million in American economic aid” (J. C. Hurewitz, Middle East Politics: The Military Dimension, New York, 1969, p. 303).

Despite changes in the financial basis of the state and the economic structure of society—in particular the emergence of a domestic market in the 1960s—the country’s rulers failed to come forward with needed administrative reforms, and a wide gulf remained between formal structure and administrative practice. The constitution of 1964 gave expression to the separation of powers and created a supreme court, but the actual process of decision-making by the qożāt, most of whom were products of the pre-modern system of education, had almost no relation to the written laws of the land, and individual judges offered widely divergent interpretations. The situation was such that no one really knew what laws were on the books until an American legal advisor to the ministry of justice made the relevant compilation in the early 1970s. This administrative structure was inherited by the new regime.

The revolution to the present (1978-82). The rule of the two wings of the Democratic Party of Afghanistan has brought changes in personnel and organizational structure. The party’s seizure of power brought an almost total and immediate purge of high-ranking civil officials and army officers. The toll in its own ranks has also been high, its first two presidents having lost their lives during their terms of office. The twenty-eight provinces into which the country was divided in 1963 still form the basic framework of administrative organization, although at times individuals have been given charge of areas larger than single provinces; the actual degree of control of the regime over the country is uncertain. The number of posts in the cabinet has fluctuated. During the first days of the regime, three new ministries—social affairs, radio and television, and transportation—were created, but within months, the former two were abolished. More recently, the ministry of planning was changed into a planning commission under the prime minister. The number of regular ministries in the cabinet has ranged from seventeen to twenty. An important structural change has been the creation of a party that runs parallel to the civil administration. Although the same individuals may hold posts in both organizations, theoretically the two structures are distinct. On 20 July 1980 Radio Afghanistan broadcast a document called the “basic principles of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan,” which is to serve as the basic law of the land until the convening of a lōya ǰerga. In the meantime, the revolutionary council of the Democratic Party of Afghanistan is its “highest organ of state power” (article 36; Foreign Broadcast Information Service, 23 July 1980, p. C.7). The revolutionary council is to meet twice a year (ibid., p. C.8), while daily tasks are to be supervised by its presidium.

Bibliography: 1. The Sadōzay Dynasty. The most important source in the English language on the social and administrative organization of the Dorrānī empire remains M. Elphinstone, An Account of the Kingdom of Caubul and its Dependencies in Persia, Tartary, and India, London, 1815, repr. Graz, 1969; 3rd ed. with minor corrections, London 1839, repr. Karachi, 1972. The published account presents only a small part of the data collected by the Elphinstone mission, the original records of which are preserved in the India Office Library, Elphinstone Collection, European manuscripts, F 87-89. Of these Box 13G containing Elphinstone’s official report, written in Calcutta in December, 1810, and Box 13H containing R. Starchy’s “Memoir Chiefly Relating to the Revenue and Trade of Caubul” are especially relevant to the administrative history of the period. A. W. Fōfalzāy, Dorrat al-zamān fī tārīḵ-e Šāh Zamān, Kabul, 1337 Š./1958. Idem, Tīmūr Šāh Dorrānī, 2 vols., Kabul, 1346 Š./1967. These two works reproduce documents from private collections in the possession of various prominent families, including the author’s; they are particularly important in revealing the changes in the social composition of the administration, though the author’s pronouncements on the period should be approached with caution. H. Rawlinson, “Report on the Duranis,” Imperial Gazetteer of Afghanistan, Kandahar, Calcutta, 1908, Appendix B, pp. vii-xlv; repr. in L. Adamec, ed., Historical and Political Gazetteer of Afghanistan. V. Kandahar, Graz, 1980, pp. 509-77. Based on an examination of Afghan records that were subsequently lost, this report is invaluable in understanding the military and financial aspects of the administration of the Dorrānī empire as well as the changes introduced in the following period. Maḥmūd Ḥosaynī, Tārīḵ-eAḥmadšāhī, ed. D. Saidmuradov, 2 vols., Moscow, 1974. Commissioned by Aḥmad Shah to describe his reign in the style of Jahāngošā-ye Nāderī, the author provides a firsthand account that is particularly useful in revealing the extent of the king’s power and the early origin of the conflict between the Dorrānī monarchs and their chief ministers.

2. Dōst Moḥammad and Šēr ʿAlī. In Serāǰ al-tawārīḵ, 2 vols., Kabul, 1331-33/1912-14, Fayż Moḥammad Kāteb provides a succinct narrative on Afghan history from the election of Aḥmad Shah to the accession of ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān. The Imperial Gazetteer of Afghanistan, 6 vols., Calcutta, 1908-14; repr. L. Adamec, Historical and Political Gazetteer of Afghanistan, Graz, 1973 onward. Summarizing data gathered from areas of Afghanistan occupied during the first and second Anglo-Afghan wars and from reports of official missions and travelers, these volumes are the single most important source in English. However, they must be used with great caution; data from different periods is mixed indiscriminately. L/P & S/20-B-9 Narrative of Events in Kabul from the Death of Dost Mohammad . . . . This précis, based on the reports of British Muslim officials stationed in Kabul, provides important information not covered in any other source on the reorganization of the army and the administration during Šēr ʿAlī’s second reign. C. Masson, Narrative of Various Journeys in Balochistan, Afghanistan, and the Punjab, 3 vols., London, 1842; repr. Karachi, 1974. This account and the author’s unpublished notes in the India Office Library contain some unsystematic information on administrative organization.

3. ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān. The correspondence between Amir ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān and prince Ḥabīballāh, preserved in the National Archives (Āršīf-e Mellī) of Afghanistan in four volumes (covering the period 1305-17/1887-1900), reveals the genesis of the changes in the administrative procedure and organization during the reign of ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān. Whenever any official faced a problem on which he could not find clear instructions, he was supposed to seek guidance from the amir, who would not only send a prompt reply to the official concerned but also order the prince to duplicate the instructions and send them to other officials; subsequently, these were compiled into handbooks called dastūr-al-ʿamal (see below). Correspondence (1305-09/1887-91) between Amir ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān and the governor of the eastern district of Kabul province, also preserved in the National Archives, bears impressive testimony to the centralization of power and the amir’s attention to the institutionalization of administrative practices. Dīwān-e qażā-ye Konar (1303-07/1885-90), records of the complete proceedings of the Shariʿite courts in the district of Konar, Kabul province, demonstrating the bureaucratization of the courts; four volumes exist in the collection of the present author and a number of other volumes in the National Archives. Asās al-qożāt, ed. Mawlawī Aḥmadǰān Khan Alekōzay, Kabul, 1303/1885. Composed of 136 articles, this handbook regulated the public and private conduct of the qożāt as salaried officials of the state. It leaves no doubt that the proceedings of the courts were to be recorded in writing and passed for review to the qāżī al-qożāt (the chief qāżī). The two preceding works are employed to analyze the bureaucratization of the Šarīʿa by A. Ghani, “Disputes in a Court of Sharia, Kunar Valley, Afghanistan, 1885-1890,” IJMES 15, 1983. Qānūn-e kārgozārī dar moʿāmalāt-e ḥokūmatī va taʿyīn-e ǰarāyem va sīāsāt (Rules for proceedings in affairs of the government and determination of crimes and punishments). First issued in 1303/1885 and reprinted with a number of additional articles in 1328/1910, this handbook resulted from the correspondence between the amir and the prince referred to above. By the end of ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān’s reign it contained sixty-three articles, and governors were supposed to act according to its provisions; Ḥabīballāh added three new rules to it. Ketāb-e neẓām-e Afḡānestān (Military laws of Afghanistan), three works ed. by G. M. Moḥammadzay and emphasizing record-keeping, hierarchy, and the division of labor: Dastūr-al-ʿamal-e kōtḥawāla-dārhā (Instructions to corporals), Kabul, n.d.; Qawāʿed-e kār-e meyǰarhā (Fundamentals of duties of majors), Kabul, n.d.; Qawāʿed-e kār-e mīrzāyān (Fundamentals of duties of clerks), Kabul, 1317/1899. Dastūr al-ʿamal-e kalāntarhā-ye goḏarhā-ye dār-al-salṭanat-e Kābol va ḡayroh welāyāt-e Afḡānestān (Guidelines to the headmen of the streets of the capital Kabul and other provinces of Afghanistan), Kabul, 1336/1917. Issued during the reign of ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān and reissued with some modifications by Ḥabīballāh, these regulations attempted to bring the movements of the population in the urban areas under strict government control and turned the office of the kalāntar into a functionary of the state. Eḥtesāb al-dīn (Overseeing of religious morals), Kabul, 1306/1888. Through these regulations ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān defined the duties of the moḥtasebs, overseers of morals) and made use of them as spies to report on political and economic matters of interest. Fayż Moḥammad Kāteb, who was the court historian of Ḥabīballāh and had access to the official records of the reign of ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān, devoted volume III of his Serāǰ al-tawārīḵ entirely to the reign of ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān, making it the single most important source for the internal developments of the period. Although the printed edition adopts a chronological narrative, the original manuscript discusses the events of each of the major administrative regions of the country separately, thus providing ample scope for an analysis of the ruler’s intentions as well as the implementation of his policies in practice. H. Kakar, Government and Society in Afghanistan. The Reign of Amir Abd al-Rahman Khan, Austin, 1979. The major descriptive history of the period in English, this work is based on a thorough survey of the available archival material.

4. Ḥabīballāh. A complete collection of the legislation introduced in this period, during which the administrative practices introduced under ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān were consolidated, is not available; the following is a list of those publications that have been examined by the present author. Serāǰ al-aḥkām fī moʿāmalāt al-Eslām (Edicts of Serāǰ [Ḥabīballāh] on affairs of Islam), compiled by Mīr ʿAlīǰān Khan et al.: I. Adab al-qāżī (Vocation of the qāżī), Kabul, 1327/1909. II. Ketāb al-šahāda (Book of testimony or witnesses), Kabul, 1330/1912. III. Ketāb al-wakāla (Book of representation), Kabul, 1331/1913. IV. Ketāb al-daʿwā (Book of disputes), Kabul, n.d. V. Ketāb al-eqrār (Book of confessions), Kabul, 1335/1917. These volumes summarized the existing Šarīʿa scholarship and provided the qożāt with a readily available and authoritative guide. Neẓām-nāma-ye mālekān (Regulations for the headmen), Kabul, 1332/1914. Qawāʿed-e Serāǰ-al-mella wa’l-dīn fī dastūr-al-ʿamal-e momayyezīn (Regulations of the Lantern of the Nation and Religion [Ḥabīballāh] for the guidance of inspectors), Kabul, 1323/1905. Attempting to forge special links with the rural power elite, Ḥabīballāh appointed a number of them inspectors to report to him directly on the conduct of the officials of the government; this handbook defines their responsibilities. Qawāʿed Serāǰ-al-mella fī ṭarīq al-taʿzīa (Regulations of the Lantern of the Nation on the manner of holding funerals), Kabul, 1321/1903. This work was published with the aim of doing away with elaborate and expensive funeral ceremonies. Qawāʿed-e rebāṭhā-ye Serāǰīya (The Lantern’s regulations for caravansaries), Kabul, 1328/1910. Through these measures the movement of people in the country and the construction, maintenance, and use of caravansaries were subjected to bureaucratic control. Naẓām-nāma-ye maktab-e ebtedāʾī (Regulations for primary schools), Kabul, 1335/1917. These rules provide a glimpse of the program pursued by the students as well as the ideal image of the modern system of education held by Afghan officials of the period. Dastūr-al-ʿamal-e ahālī-e ḥaram (Regulations for the members of the [royal] household), Kabul, n.d. This handbook provides interesting details on the ceremonial aspects of the life in the court and rules of hygiene followed there.

5. Amānallāh. To institutionalize his many-sided reforms Amānallāh introduced a spate of legislation. L. B. Poullada has attempted to analyze these changes in his Reform and Rebellion in Afghanistan, 1919-1929, Ithaca, 1973, including an incomplete list of the neẓām-nāmas promulgated by Amānallāh (pp. 99-103). Asāsī neẓām-nāma (Fundamental law), Kabul, 1301 Š./1922, Afghanistan’s first constitution. The original text is in Paṣ̌tō, while a Persian translation is also provided. Poullada (Reform, pp. 277-89) provides an English translation of the Persian text of the 1302 Š./1923 edition. Subsequent changes are reflected in editions printed in later years. Neẓām-nāma-ye taqsīmāt-e molkīya-ye Afḡānestān, Kabul, 1303 Š./1924. This became the basis for all administrative changes in the territorial reorganizations of the country. Lāyeḥa-ye taraqqīyāt-e ʿomda-ye čahār-sāla-ye Afḡānestān, Kabul, 1307 Š./1928. This report to the lōya ǰerga summarized the progress achieved during the previous four years by the government.

6. Nāder Shah to the present. After the contemporary newspapers and the actual texts of the laws promulgated in this period, the most useful source of information on administrative changes is the Kabul almanac, published yearly from 1932 under the title Sāl-nāma-ye Kābol or Da Kābol Kālanay. L. Dupree’s pieces on constitutional developments in Afghanistan (American Universities Field Staff Reports, South Asia Series, 9/2-4) provide a useful summary by an observer on the scene. For laws on the books, see Afghanistan. Laws, Statutes, etc., with a foreword by R. Hagel, Kabul, 1354 Š./1975, and other items in the Library of Congress Accession List. Afghanistan I, Washington, 1978. The most useful sources of information in English on changes since the revolution are the daily Kabul Times (the Kabul New Times from December, 1979) and the translation of broadcasts from Radio Afghanistan in the Foreign Broadcast Information Service. In Paṣ̌tō and Persian the major newspapers and magazines of the country as well as the printed editions of laws and statutes can be consulted (see the Library of Congress Accession List. Afghanistan II, Washington, 1979).

(A. Ghani)

Originally Published: December 15, 1983

Last Updated: July 22, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 5-6, pp. 558-564

Cite this entry:

A. Ghani, “AFGHANISTAN xi. Administration,” Encyclopaedia Iranica, Online Edition, 1982, available at