Exchanging Laws: The Interplay of State and Nonstate Legal Systems in Afghanistan’s Premier Money Bazaar

Exchanging Laws: The Interplay of State and Nonstate Legal Systems in Afghanistan’s Premier Money Bazaar
This dissertation examines the state of normative ordering that emerges from the interactions of the state legal system and the legal system of a close-knit community in an unstable setting. I argue that interdependence is one instance of ordering where legal systems interpenetrate one another, resulting in mutual dependencies that bind them together though simultaneously allowing them to maintain their normative and operational autonomy.

This dissertation tracks the microdynamics of interdependence through a 14-month ethnographic study of Afghanistan’s central money exchange bazaar, Sarai Shahzada, a market of some 400 shops in the heart of Kabul where millions of dollars exchange hands each day. I demonstrate interdependence in three particular instances. First, elements of the state have supported the formalization of the legal system of the bazaar even while the latter remains autonomous of the former. Second, the bazaar facilitates business transactions vital for the running of the entire economy and relies on the state to achieve that end. Third, the country’s central bank works with money exchangers – each being regulated by their respective legal systems – to implement a double-auctioning mechanism that controls the money supply. While these ongoing interpenetrations mutually reinforce each legal system, they are also a continual source of tension and conflict, thereby rendering the relationship in a perennial state of impermanence.

Studying normative ordering in an environment like Afghanistan, characterized by continued instability and fragility, shows how interdependence may arise even in extreme circumstances. My dissertation shows that in pursuing their interests, bazaar and state actors rely on both legal systems. These actors promote the authorities of their respective legal systems not by extending their jurisdictional boundaries but by delineating their limits and forging linkages across those limits. Interdependence entails legal systems legitimating each other, which, importantly, implies that the bazaar depends on the state, fragile as it may be, to maintain its normative authority. Through this study of ordering within a close-knit community, I hope to demonstrate that in Afghanistan, like elsewhere, normative order may be contingent on the ongoing interactions of different legal regimes.


Nafay Choudhury

Defended in

1 Jan 2021 – 31 Dec 2021

PhD defended at

King's College London, Dickson Poon School of Law


Social Sciences


South Asia


War / Peace