War on its Head
: An Oral History of the Helmandi Conflict 1978-2012

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


War on its Head demonstrates that the public understandings of the last thirty-four years of conflict in Helmand province, Afghanistan, have been poor descriptors and predictors of the conflict’s dynamics. Examples of these public understandings include the holy mujahidin defeating the atheist Soviets, or the United States and Britain attempting to support a transition to democracy whilst being resisted by a fundamentalist insurgency: the Taliban. Drawing on extensive experience in Helmand province, one hundred and fifty anonymous interviews with Helmandi notables and Taliban commanders, and detailed secondary research in English and Pushtu, this thesis explores the Helmandi view of the last thirty-four years of their conflict, through three eras of external influence: Soviet, Pakistani and Western. It clearly shows that the same Helmandi private actors, feuds and narratives are driving the conflict, rather than the changing era-specific public narratives. The evidence presented here shows that this is because external actors have failed to understand the local, interpersonal nature of conflict in Helmand. The consequences for policymakers and scholars are discussed in the conclusion.
Date of Award2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorTheo Farrell (Supervisor)

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