Scholars in Context: Ramin Mansoori
Jadaliyya's Scholars in Context series consists of Q&As in which scholars of the Middle East describe their research and the paths they took to arrive at it. The series provides a platform for these scholars to highlight the significance of their work, identify the audiences they seek to reach, and outline their future research trajectories, giving readers an in-depth look at the latest research in a given field.
Jadaliyya (J): What is the main focus of your current research, and how does it connect to or depart from your previous work?
Ramin Mansoori (RM): From March 2012 until September 2013, I was teaching the Chinese language at the Chinese Department of Kabul University. Subsequently, I pursued my MA in "Chinese as a Second Language and Education" (2016) followed by a PhD in Comparative Politics (2022) at Peking University. My current research centers on China’s policy towards Afghanistan and nation-building issues in Afghanistan.
With over eleven years of experience living in China and proficiency in the Chinese language, I am equipped to analyze Chinese literature and primary sources in the realm of foreign policy. My research extends to Afghanistan-China and US-China diplomatic relations. Given China's growing influence as a global superpower, understanding its policies towards Afghanistan and even the broader Middle East is crucial. This knowledge will guide Afghan policymakers, ensuring they have a comprehensive understanding of China's role and aspirations in Afghanistan.
In comparative politics, my research emphasizes on nation-building in Afghanistan, exploring the challenges of fostering a cohesive Afghan national identity among the country's major ethnic groups such as Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, and Uzbek. The nation-building process, initiated by Abdul Rahman Khan in 1880, has repeatedly faced disruptions due to internal and external factors. My PhD dissertation examines these challenges and proposes solutions.
J: What specific themes, issues and literature does it address?
RM: Concerning nation-building in Afghanistan, I am using theories of political development and nationalism to explain the problem of nation-building in Afghanistan. With regards to nationalism, among other literatures, I focus on the theories of Anthony Smith, Michael Hechter, and Eric J Hobsbawm. In political development, I refer to the theories of Lucian Pye and Stein Rokkan. Among the aforementioned scholars, Rokkan posited a nuanced perspective on the processes of state-building and nation-building within European contexts. He differentiated between the two concepts that state-building pertains to the establishment and solidification of political institutions and centralized power structures, while nation-building is focused on fostering a collective national identity, encompassing cultural, linguistic, and historical ties among the populace. Rokkan’s political development perspectives underscored that in Europe, state-building often predated nation-building, with many European states cementing governance structures prior to the emergence of a unified national consciousness. His view helped me to theorize and understand the Afghanistan nation-building issue.
My central questions are: Why are the ethnic identities of Afghans so strong? And what are the main factors that hinder the nation-building of Afghanistan? These questions form the foundation of my PhD dissertation. My research holds that nation-building in Afghanistan should be inclusive, meaning that it should equally include all the ethnic groups—Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, and Uzbek. In order to successfully build the Afghan nation, cooperation between the Pashtun and the Tajiks in this matter is essential. These two ethnic groups have a high degree of similarity and share a common historical background, a common religion, and even a traditional culture. In addition, the two have complementary roles. The Pashtuns have strong military power and dominate Afghan politics. The Tajiks have a strong cultural impact and dominate the cultural and social development of Afghanistan in terms of language and culture. The biggest difference between the two is language, which could be solved through applying a bilingualism policy. Nation-building in Afghanistan should be led by Pashtuns and Tajiks, with Hazara and Uzbeks as secondary, and other ethnic minorities in Afghanistan should be included.
In the domain of international studies, I am exploring the core considerations shaping China's policy towards Afghanistan. Specifically, I am investigating China's potential role in filling the power vacuum left by the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan.
J: What brought you to this work? What were the sources of inspiration?
RM: Growing up in Afghanistan, I was surrounded by war, conflict, and political upheaval. From a young age, I pondered the root causes of these conflicts and the potential pathways to peace. My early inquiries led to a burgeoning interest in politics.
During my undergraduate studies from 2008 to 2011, recognizing the importance of major powers in Afghan geopolitics, I delved into learning Chinese. After completing my undergraduate degree in December 2011, I taught the Chinese language at Kabul University. My academic journey then took me to China in September 2013 for postgraduate studies.
The US military's withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014, coupled with China's increasing engagement in Afghanistan, inspired my pursuit of a PhD in International Relations at Peking University. I envisioned serving as a bridge between the two nations, facilitating mutual understanding and cooperation. The rapid geopolitical shifts following the fall of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan on 15 August 2021 further intensified my dedication to this research.
J: What audiences do you want to reach? What impact do you want your research and writing to have?
RM: In examining nation-building in Afghanistan and China's foreign policies, I aspire for my research to influence and offer valuable insights for scholars, the general public, and decision-makers. My goal is to provide Afghan policymakers with insights that could promote harmony among Afghanistan's major ethnic groups, fostering a unified national identity encompassing the Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, and Uzbek communities.
Regarding China's approach towards Afghanistan, my research aims to enhance mutual understanding between the two nations, preventing miscalculations and ensuring policies that benefit both sides.
J: What other projects are you working on now?
RM: I am collaborating with The Afghanistan Project at the Center for Governance and Markets (CGM) at the Graduate School for Public and International Affairs (GSPIA), University of Pittsburgh.
Additionally, I am affiliated with Global Academy Scholars at the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA).