This case study reviews the relationship between agricultural rehabilitation in Afghanistan and the livelihoods of rural Afghans. It analyses how rehabilitation modalities have taken into account continuing violence, the weakness of formal and informal institutions, unclear political legitimacy, large-scale population displacement, and the insecurity of economic investments. In Afghanistan, success in re-establishing a viable and licit rural economy is seen as essential. Failed rehabilitation, it is feared, could lead to the collapse of fledgling governmental institutions and the dominance of economic and political structures by the opium trade. Reinforcing rural livelihoods is therefore seen by many as constituting a justification for proceeding with strong commitments despite uncertainty about the quality and legitimacy of local power structures. The agricultural economy is expected to be a cornerstone in the eventual emergence of the ‘alternative livelihoods’ that the government and the international community have committed themselves to achieve to replace the war and opium economy that has prevailed in rural Afghanistan for so many years. This paper asks whether current approaches to agricultural rehabilitation have effectively contributed to these aims, whether this has been done while upholding basic humanitarian principles, and whether the Afghanistan experience suggests alternative frameworks for increasing the relevance of such efforts in other conflict contexts.