Afghanistan is one of the least researched countries in the world. A dearth of pre-war data, the inherent difficulties of conducting research in a war zone and the low priority accorded to Afghanistan before 11 September have all contributed to this problem. Consequently, international interventions have rarely been based upon sound analytical foundations. While this applies to both diplomatic and humanitarian actors, this study focuses on the latter. It examines both the context of humanitarian action – in particular the political economy of the conflict and its effects on livelihoods – and the humanitarian actors themselves – specifically how they conceptualise and interact with these conflict dynamics and support (or undermine) livelihood strategies. The ultimate purpose is to enable aid agencies to better analyse situations of chronic political instability, and thus develop practical strategies and programmes.