Divide and Broadcast: The Politics of Information in post-Taliban Afghanistan

Asker, David [Browse]
Senior thesis
141 pages


Shapiro, Jacob [Browse]
Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs [Browse]
Class year
Restrictions note
Walk-in Access. This thesis can only be viewed on computer terminals at the Mudd Manuscript Library.
Summary note
The development of information and communication infrastructure has been one of the greatest success stories of the post-2001 reconstruction of Afghanistan. This has caused a great differentiation of information environments between different areas of the country. Simultaneously, Afghan society remains fractured and deeply politically polarized: some areas have enthusiastically embraced democracy even as the insurgency has spread in others. In this thesis, I theorize three stylized types of information environments in post-Taliban Afghanistan: the traditional, the broadcast, and the peer-to-peer environment. I argue that these environments determine differences in the political culture of Afghan communities. More specifically, I argue that exposure to electronic broadcast mass media such as radio and television has made Afghans more likely to identify with a nation-wide polity, to feel solidarity with social groups beyond their own, and to believe in the merits of representative, democratic government. By contrast, I argue that access to peer-to-peer information channels has empowered individuals to reject the democratic, state-building narrative and embrace alternative, insurgent forms of politics that challenge the institutionalized power of the state. I argue that since 2001, broadcast mass media has contributed to consolidating the new democratic regime, but that the spread of peer-to-peer technologies has problematized this consolidation by empowering its challengers. I use Afghanistan as a case study to make the theoretical argument that in transitional states in general, political values and behaviors are conditioned by the available information channels. I support this claim using a mixed-methods approach which employs statistical analysis of survey micro-data, macro-level analysis of Afghan provinces and districts, geospatial information systems (GIS) analysis and a large body of supporting qualitative evidence, including a province case study. I rely on the quasi-experimental spread of media broadcasting and ICT networks into the traditional information environment of Afghanistan after 2001, arising mainly from international development projects, to treat information environments as random assignments, within certain control groups. This allows for inferences of causality between information channels and political outcomes. I conclude that broadcast mass media has contributed to electoral participation and to the acceptance of democracy, while peer-to-peer technologies have fostered support for insurgent political actors. I relate these results both to policy initiatives and to the literature on political communication.

Supplementary Information