The indispensable key to India? The British Empire and the ‘scripting’ of Afghanistan

Leonhardt Van Efferink

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


Since 2001, British troops have been stationed in Afghanistan, as part of the International Security Assistance Force. However, they were also present there during the three Afghan Wars in the previous two centuries. The paper investigates the (de)legitimisation discourses on this presence in two British newspapers in 1842. It focuses on the scripting of Afghanistan and the geopolitical culture of Great Britain. The paper draws on earlier work within Critical Geopolitics and applies Theo van Leeuwen’s framework for Critical Discourse Analysis.
The ‘conservative’ Morning Post article ‘naturalises’ the imperial policies of the British Empire by not mentioning them. Moreover, it praises the rule of law in Great Britain and the country’s high level of civilisation, and stresses the strength of British army and its importance in foreign policy. The article scripts Afghanistan as a country where rule of law is absent, violence is paramount, and where peace needs to be bought. It does not mention that the newspaper considered Afghanistan a stepping stone for Russia for an invasion of India, likely seen as common sense. Moreover, British soldiers are often represented as ‘patient’, leaving the ‘agent’ role for Afghan people. The moral evaluations however legitimise the presence of British troops in Afghanistan.
The ‘radical’ Examiner considers Great Britain a civilised and civilising country, with a strong army that helps to accomplish its foreign policy objectives such as increasing national wealth. The newspaper scripts Afghanistan as a country that is not valuable in terms of economic potential and strategic position. Moreover, the costs of a foreign military occupation of Afghanistan are prohibitive and will always remain so. In other words, such scripting serves to delegitimise the presence of the British troops in Afghanistan. However, the Examiner concurrently helps in sustaining global power inequalities by treating British rule over India as common sense.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages32
Publication statusUnpublished - 18 Aug 2011
EventRGS-IBG Annual International Conference - London, United Kingdom
Duration: 31 Aug 20112 Sept 2011


ConferenceRGS-IBG Annual International Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • Great Britain
  • Afghanistan
  • critical geopolitics
  • geopolitical script
  • critical discourse analysis
  • Theo van Leeuwen
  • newspapers

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