UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

We're not counterinsurgents : development and security in Afghanistan, 1946-2014. Attewell, Wesley Llewellyn


It is not possible to understand international development in isolation from the geographies of military, political, and capitalist violence. In particular, it is necessary to analyze the interconnections between development and security: the development-security nexus. In order to illuminate the role that development plays in the West’s historical and ongoing efforts to pacify insurgent populations, it is important to interrogate the assemblages of actors, knowledge, and power that enliven diagnostic moments of counterinsurgency warfare. More specifically, the dissertation explores the ways in which the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has, from the Cold War onwards, practiced development as an ostensibly humanitarian form of counterinsurgency warfare in Afghanistan. It shows how USAID, for most of its institutional history, has been forced to grapple with Afghanistan as an ongoing – and seemingly insurmountable – problem of development-security. Three case studies – the Helmand Valley Project (1946-1978), the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (1980-1992), and the ongoing assault on the Afghan narco-economy (2001-present) – reveal the shifting contours of development-as-counterinsurgency praxis in relation to broader institutional, political-economic, and geo-strategic contexts. These allow three substantive claims to be advanced. First, USAID has historically championed increasingly “total” forms of rural development as the key to transforming populations of potential insurgents into “governable subjects”. Second, these “total” forms of development practice are fundamentally geographical in the sense that they strive to pacify insurgent populations through the production of spaces that are meant to “model” new forms of modern and liberal life. These new spaces served as laboratories in which development professionals forged new counterinsurgency techniques, put them to the test, and subsequently, evaluated their utility. Third, while these development practices are represented by USAID as productive, humanitarian, and therapeutic, they are nonetheless undergirded by – and provide a legitimating armature for – techniques of population management that are destructive of life, such as kill-capture operations and crop eradication schemes.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International