Béatrice Boyer, Editions Karthala, Paris

Afghanistan is better known for its mythical steppes, its arid mountains and its proud people than for its urban centres. And yet, for a number of decades now, Afghan cities have been affected by chaotic and mostly illegal large-scale urbanisation. Exhausted by several decades of conflict, forced displacement and exile, the urban population of Afghanistan has returned full of hope and has tried to survive in this context of anarchic development. In 2001, when the research which forms the basis of this book began, expectations were high that things would improve with the arrival of international aid.

Since then, Kabul has become a flagship city, with the sights of the international community focused on the reconstruction process there. The majority of organisations involved in post-crisis operations are present. Almost ten years on, and in spite of the political uncertainties and contested military operations which obscure the chances of the crisis resolution that local people desperately want, an enormous effort is still needed to help the country and Afghan society rebuild itself.

In the current « grey » period, with its instability and insecurity, the Afghan authorities and the international actors responsible for the reconstruction have been very slow to recognise that the reconstruction process can not overlook cities, whether in the capital, Jalalabad, Mazar-i-Sharif or elsewhere.

By analysing the country’s considerable needs in terms of urban development, this book shows how important the “urban question” is for Afghanistan and for international aid in general, a subject which appears to be new for the Afghans and little known by aid actors. Including in situ observation, interviews and analysis of different urban development phenomena and the perception that different parties have of these, it offers food for thought about aid strategies which can be adopted in urban contexts affected by crises.