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Rule of Law Experts in Afghanistan: A Socio-Legal History of the First Afghan Constitution and the Indo-Ottoman Nexus in Kabul, 1860-1923


This dissertation provides the first transnational genealogy of the individuals, ideas, and institutions that culminated in the adoption of Afghanistan's first constitution in 1923. Based on archival research in Afghanistan, Turkey, India, and Britain, the study uncovers the longue durée history behind the text, including the genesis of its drafting commission, its multinational contributors from Constantinople to Qandahar, and the challenges they overcame in producing the pioneering charter. Drawing on records and manuscripts in Ottoman Turkish, Persian, Arabic, and Urdu, the study first traces the burgeoning tripartite ties between Ottomans, Afghans, and Indians from the aftermath of the 1857 Sepoy Rebellion to World War I. While historians of Pan-Islamism have tended to focus on radical ideologues and militant jihads, the emphasis on confrontation with the west has overlooked more subtle internal processes, such as the surge in students and scholars--as well as texts and ideas--traversing between the Ottoman and British empires at this time. Challenging conventional tropes of warring tribes and barren frontiers, I locate Afghanistan as a crucial juncture for such transnational social networks, and a center of debates about law, citizenship, and what it meant to be a modern Muslim. The dissertation culminates with the convergence of three simultaneous developments of profound historical impact in the greater Middle East: the collapse of the Ottoman empire, Afghanistan's independence from Britain in 1919, and the Indian Khilāfat Movement of 1919-1924. Amidst this dramatic backdrop of revolutionary politics and Pan-Islamic activism, I draw attention to an untold juridical history: the ensuing competition between Ottoman lawyers, Afghan administrators, and Indian jurists who converged in Kabul to market their expertise to the world's only fully-sovereign "Islamic state." It was the synthesis of these legal actors and the diverse juridical histories they represented, I conclude, that ultimately produced Afghanistan's first constitution between 1919 and 1923.

In unearthing the social and cultural origins of Afghanistan's first constitution, the dissertation contributes a long overdue corrective to the scarce scholarly literature on Afghan legal history. The study also problematizes literature on the modern Middle East that silences the non-Ottoman "periphery" as passive objects caught between the colonial rivalry of Britain and Russia. Such works, I show, ignore the contributions of other independent rulers in the region such as the Bārakzai dynasty in Kabul, including the Afghan monarchs Amir ʿAbd al-Raḥmān (1880-1901), Amir Ḥabīb-Allāh (1901-1919), and Amir Amān-Allāh (1919-1929) in particular. By examining the Afghan court's patronage of scholarly networks from Damascus to Delhi, I argue that this unique constitutional project cannot be reduced to European mimicry and obeisance, nor an identity politics of Pan-Islam triggered at the behest of the Ottomans. In this manner, the dissertation enriches Afghanistan studies beyond the confines of the Great Game, Cold War, or recent literature on "failed states." Instead, the study persuades us to rediscover Afghanistan with a different past--when Kabul represented a center of debates, cosmopolitanism, and contested visions of reform in the region.

The dissertation's focus on emergent transnational Islamic legal cultures--or juridical Pan-Islamism--between the late Ottoman empire, British India, and Afghanistan illustrates how modern notions of law, administration, and statecraft transcended politically-bounded territories. More specifically, the study sharpens our understanding of how urban centers within the vast socio-cultural zone stretching from the Balkans to Bengal came to be increasingly linked through specific networks, institutions, and processes of expertise associated with Islamic legal modernism. In tracing the social and institutional genealogy of the first Afghan constitution (1923), the dissertation examines how modern Muslim legal practices developing in Istanbul, Kabul, and greater Delhi in the long nineteenth century could simultaneously overlap, intersect, and co-evolve into distinct Ottoman, Afghan, and Indian juridical fields. Finally, as a socio-legal history it shows how a diverse cast of actors--Turks and Arabs, Indians and Persians, but most of all, Afghans--shaped the fields of constitutional law and politics in the greater Islamic world.

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