Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

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AAN Dossier XXIX: Living with the Taleban

AAN Team 13 min

With the Taleban rapidly gaining ground in Afghanistan, it seemed useful to turn to AAN’s past research on what life under the Taleban has looked like for those living in insurgency-affected areas over the last few years. From December 2018 to January 2021, AAN conducted research first into how public services were delivered in a number of insurgency-affected districts and second what it was like to live in areas that were completely under Taleban control. In a new dossier bringing this research together, we have also included two case studies exploring why the incidence of polio varies: they showed how Taleban bans and restrictions on polio vaccinations were one part of a complex picture that is leaving some Afghan children vulnerable to this terrible disease. Although the details of life under Taleban rule vary per district and sector, overall, our research shows how deeply involved the Taleban have become in the lives of many Afghans at the district level. It also shows how Afghan civilians try to navigate Taleban rule, despite having very little room for manoeuvre when it comes to either demanding accountability or changes in policy.

Dr Wahidullah Habibi, head of the paediatrics department at a hospital in Nangarhar province, examines a child with symptoms of paralysis/weakness in limbs which could be an indication of polio, 26 August 2016. Photo: J.Jalali/ WHO Afghanistan.

The series “One Land, Two Rules” looking at service delivery in insurgency-affected districts and “Living with the Taleban” which explored local experiences of Taleban-rule were funded by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP). The two case studies, “Why Does the Incidence of Polio Vary?” were funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

In vast swathes of Afghanistan’s territory, it is often very complicated to determine who exactly governs how services are delivered. These insurgency-affected areas may be ruled by the government or by a shadow Taleban administration, or as usually happens – due to the failure to completely dislodge the other warring side, as well as bitter pragmatic necessity – a combination of both.

This reality of blended governance was the topic of the major AAN research series, “One Land, Two Rules”, that ran from December 2018 to April 2020. The series, which focused on seven district-level case studies, took an in-depth look at whether there were schools for children to attend, clinics for residents to take their sick to, electricity and telecommunication access for locals to light their houses and use their phones, or any other services such as small-scale development projects – and how and by whom these services were being governed and administered.

The series consisted of (1) an introduction laying out existing literature; (2) seven detailed district-level case studies that described the locals’ experiences of the available services, as well as an analysis of the local conflict backgrounds, in a range of diverse insurgency-affected areas across the country – seven Taleban and one Islamic State in Khorasan Province( ISKP); (3) two thematic case studies focusing on polio vaccination, and the Taleban’s sale of state land and (4) a synthesis report boiled down all the research into one report, authored by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP).

One of the main overall findings of this study was that, although service delivery at the district level was generally still financed through and administered by the Kabul government, it was often controlled and supervised by the Taleban in the areas under their influence or control. The exact characteristics of such arrangements varied both by service and district and are described in granular detail in the case studies.

A follow-up three-part mini-series, running from October 2020 to January 2021, explored what it was like to live with the Taleban deep in the areas under their domination. The research explored the interactions between locals and the Taleban, looked into local governance structures and probed whether local people had the means to affect policy or hold the Taleban to account at all. The three district-level case studies indicated how in these areas the Taleban had increasingly morphed into a fairly sophisticated local administration, that on the one hand, touched almost all aspects of public life, most notably justice and taxation, but on the other hand lacked fixed offices and a clear military-civilian distinction. The studies also showed that for residents, it was impossible not to be in contact with the Taleban administration and that the balance of power was firmly with the Taleban who used implicit pressure, if not outright coercion.

The research found that military priorities remained at the top of the Taleban agenda and that local populations had often learned to adopt a non-confrontational approach to push for their interests (for example, through successful requests to halt the fighting during harvest seasons temporarily). At the same time, the Taleban remained generally unaccountable to the people they governed and it was on the whole impossible to openly protest against their decisions and actions. The research did not find instances of forced conscription by Taleban, mainly because they did not appear to need it. However, demands for food were still made. As to demands for shelter, residents in two of the three districts said these ceased after the United States-Taleban agreement of February 2020. That deal bound the two parties not to target each other, leading to a dramatic reduction in airstrikes and night raids and making it safe for fighters to live at home or stay in village mosques.

Finally, a two-part series explores the reasons for variations in polio incidence in Helmand and Kandahar illustrates how the delivery of such a vital public health service is affected by a complex mix of local attitudes and conflict dynamics, how the government and NGOs administer the programme and Taleban policies.

The series are presented in chronological order, starting with the 11 publication “One Land, Two Rules”, followed by three publications under the smaller series “Living with the Taleban” and ending with the two reports on polio.

1. Publications under the series “One Land, Two Rules”

One Land, Two Rules (1): Service delivery in insurgent-affected areas, an introduction 

Authors: Jelena Bjelica and Kate Clark

6 December 2018

The Taleban today control or influence whole swathes of Afghanistan. Estimates of exactly how much vary, but in the vast majority of Afghanistan’s provinces, control is split between government and insurgency. What that means for local people in terms of services usually provided by a state is the subject of a new research project by AAN. It looks at the delivery of education, health, electricity and telecommunications in six insurgency-affected districts. In this first dispatch, Jelena Bjelica and Kate Clark introduce the series, reviewing previous research, explaining our research methodology and discussing what AAN expects the six case studies will reveal about life under the Taleban.

One Land, Two Rules (1): Service delivery in insurgent-affected areas, an introduction

One Land, Two Rules (1): Service delivery in insurgent-affected areas, an introduction

One Land, Two Rules (2): Delivering public services in insurgency-affected Obeh district of Herat province

Author: S Reza Kazemi

9 December 2018

The matter of who governs the district of Obeh in the east of Herat province is complicated: control of the district is divided between the Afghan government and the Taleban, and shifts in unpredictable ways. The inhabitants of the district, usually via the mediation of elders, have had to learn how to deal with both sides. The dual nature of authority in Obeh is exemplified by public service delivery; it is always financed through and administered by the Afghan state but, in areas under Taleban control, it is the insurgents who supervise and monitor delivery. In this, the first of a series of case studies looking at the delivery of services in districts over which the Taleban have control or influence, AAN researcher Said Reza Kazemi investigates the provision of governance and security, education, health, electricity, telecommunications and development projects, and unpacks a dual form of governance.

One Land, Two Rules (2): Delivering public services in insurgency-affected Obeh district of Herat province

One Land, Two Rules (2): Delivering public services in insurgency-affected Obeh district of Herat province

One Land, Two Rules (3): Delivering public services in insurgency-affected Dasht-e Archi district in Kunduz province

Author: Obaid Ali

26 February 2019

Dasht-e Archi, a district in the northeastern corner of Kunduz province is almost entirely controlled by the Taleban. They have established shadow sub-national governance structures in the district, while most local government officials are absent and work remotely from the provincial capital. Although the Taleban do not provide any services themselves, they have co-opted government and non-governmental organisation (NGOs) services in the district. AAN researcher Obaid Ali (with input from Thomas Ruttig and Jelena Bjelica) offers an in-depth account and analysis of how the local Taleban supervise basic service delivery, such as education and health in Dasht-e Archi. He explores how the two parallel forms of government operate in the district and how this affects the lives of ordinary people.

One Land, Two Rules (3): Delivering public services in insurgency-affected Dasht-e Archi district in Kunduz province

One Land, Two Rules (3): Delivering public services in insurgency-affected Dasht-e Archi district in Kunduz province

One Land, Two Rules (4): Delivering public services in embattled Achin district in Nangrahar province

Authors: S Reza Kazemi and Rohullah Sorush

25 March 2019

Achin district in the south of Afghanistan’s key eastern province of Nangrahar has been heavily fought over by the Taleban, ISKP and government and United States forces. The delivery of public services has been hampered, helped or abolished depending on who has been in charge at any given time; ISKP banned almost all public services and the Taleban allowed most, supervising and monitoring them, although they were funded and administered by the Afghan state. Now, with the bulk of the district back under government control, public services have begun getting back to normal. However, with many schools and clinics destroyed, professionals scarce and services never that good in the first place, many residents, especially women and girls, still struggle to access public services. In this, the third of a series of case studies looking at the delivery of services in districts over which insurgents have control or influence, AAN researchers Said Reza Kazemi and Rohullah Sorush look at governance and security, education, health, electricity and telecommunications, and development projects in this insecure and often neglected district.

One Land, Two Rules (4): Delivering public services in embattled Achin district in Nangrahar province

One Land, Two Rules (4): Delivering public services in embattled Achin district in Nangrahar province

One Land, Two Rules (5): The polio vaccination gap

Author: Jelena Bjelica

9 May 2019

While researching the delivery of health, education and other services in districts affected by the insurgency, we found that three of our featured districts, in Helmand, Nangrahar and Kunduz provinces, had seen cases of polio leading to paralysis in the last five years. There is no cure for polio, but there is an effective vaccination, so why, more than forty years since polio vaccination began in Afghanistan, are some children still not being protected? AAN’s Jelena Bjelica (with input from the AAN team*) finds some answers in the impact of the conflict, a mobile population, patchy and scarce health care, women being unable to take decisions on health care, and vaccination strategies that might need to be re-thought.

One Land, Two Rules (5): The polio vaccination gap

One Land, Two Rules (5): The polio vaccination gap

One Land, Two Rules (6): Delivering public services in insurgency-affected Nad Ali district of Helmand province

Author: Ali Mohammad Sabawoon

2 June 2019

In opium-rich Nad Ali district, public service provision is poor. The district is roughly divided between the government and the Taleban and they continue to clash over control of population, territory and roads. Although only the government and NGOs fund public services, the Taleban exert considerable control over what is delivered in their areas, determining what is taught in schools, prioritising Taleban patients in health facilities, banning mobile phone companies and collecting taxes from development projects. Local residents, as disaffected from the government as they are from the Taleban, have no choice but to learn to navigate this dual rule, cooperating with or tolerating whoever has power. In this case study, AAN researcher Ali Mohammad Sabawoon (with input from Said Reza Kazemi and Christian Bleuer) unpacks the provision of governance and security, education, health, electricity, telecommunications and development projects in Nad Ali.

One Land, Two Rules (6): Delivering public services in insurgency-affected Nad Ali district of Helmand province

One Land, Two Rules (6): Delivering public services in insurgency-affected Nad Ali district of Helmand province

One Land, Two Rules (7): Delivering public services in insurgency-affected Andar district in Ghazni province

Author: Fazal Muzhary

13 June 2019

Andar district in southern Ghazni province, which has had a shadow Taleban administration since 2007, has been under virtually complete Taleban control since October 2018. The Afghan government continues to provide education and health services despite the fact that all of Andar’s government offices have relocated to Ghazni city, while the Taleban supervise their work. AAN researcher Fazal Muzhary offers an in-depth account of how the two parallel forms of government have operated over the years, how this has affected the lives of ordinary people and how, in the main, they are reasonably happy with the arrangement.

One Land, Two Rules (7): Delivering public services in insurgency-affected Andar district in Ghazni province

One Land, Two Rules (7): Delivering public services in insurgency-affected Andar district in Ghazni province

One Land, Two Rules (8): Delivering public services in insurgency-affected insurgent-controlled Zurmat district

Authors: Obaid Ali, Sayed Asadullah Sadat and Christian Bleuer

4 September 2019

The Taleban’s military dominance in Zurmat district of Paktia province has allowed them to assert their will over how government and NGO-provided public services are delivered. Their motivation varies from ideological control (education and media) to revenue generation (taxes on telecommunications and public infrastructure projects). In this district, the Taleban have expanded into tax collection to fund minor roads and irrigation canals in rural areas. Despite these Taleban advances into governance and public service delivery, they have left the hardest and most expensive work – health and medicine – to the Afghan government and NGOs. Here, AAN’s Obaid Ali, Sayed Asadullah Sadat and Christian Bleuer have conducted ten interviews with individuals and groups in Zurmat district to provide an up-to-date analysis of this specific form of Taleban governance (with input from Thomas Ruttig).

One Land, Two Rules (8): Delivering public services in insurgency-affected insurgent-controlled Zurmat district

One Land, Two Rules (8): Delivering public services in insurgency-affected insurgent-controlled Zurmat district

One Land, Two Rules (9): Delivering public services in insurgency-affected Jalrez district of Wardak province

Author: Ehsan Qaane

16 December 2019

Ethnically-mixed Jalrez district has seen increased Taleban activity since 2014, with approximately half of it now under their control. The district centre is the most contested sub-district, having been surrounded and repeatedly attacked by the Taleban. Twenty kilometres of the secondary Kabul-Bamyan highway, which connects the Hazarajat to the Afghan capital, is under Taleban control. The Taleban directly intervene in several areas of service delivery, with government provision being very limited in many areas, particularly for women and girls. AAN’s Ehsan Qaane provides an in-depth analysis of how public services like education and health care delivered in this fragile district and considers whether its ethnic diversity may be what prevents it from falling entirely to the Taleban.

One Land, Two Rules (9): Delivering public services in insurgency-affected Jalrez district of Wardak province

One Land, Two Rules (9): Delivering public services in insurgency-affected Jalrez district of Wardak province

One Land, Two Rules (10): Three case studies on Taleban sales of state land

Author: Fazl Rahman Muzhary 

15 April 2020

As the Taleban have expanded their areas of control around the country, anecdotal reports have been popping up of Taleban commissions and commanders in several provinces selling state land. However, a closer look into the three most prominent examples – Helmand, Uruzgan and Takhar – reveals a murkier picture than media reports and claims by government officials have suggested. Although it is clear that the Taleban have been involved in ‘land management’ – including redistribution, leasing and taxation of land, as well as the establishment of new bazaars and townships – there is no clear evidence that they have been systematically selling off state land. This does not mean their interventions are not problematic, not least because of the absence of a proper system of documentation or even clarity as to whether the land was given away, sold, leased or rented out. AAN’s Fazal Muzhary (with input from Christian Bleuer) notes that if the Taleban ever become part of a new government, they will need to deal with the confusion and disputes they are currently sowing.

One Land, Two Rules (10): Three case studies on Taleban sales of state land

One Land, Two Rules (10): Three case studies on Taleban sales of state land

Synthesis report: Service Delivery in Taliban-Influenced Areas of Afghanistan 

Author: Scott S Smith

30 April 2020, USIP

In 2018 and 2019, USIP partnered with the Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN), a Kabul-based research and policy organization, in an effort to understand how the Taliban provide education, health, and other services to people who live in areas where they are the dominant power. Based on a series of studies conducted by AAN in five districts across the country, the report also examines the Taliban’s motivations as a governing entity and their implications for a potential peace settlement.

https://www.usip.org/publications/2020/04/service-delivery-taliban-influenced-areas-afghanistan

Synthesis report: Service Delivery in Taliban-Influenced Areas of Afghanistan 

2. Publications under the mini-series “Living with the Taleban”

Living with the Taleban (1): Local experiences in Andar district, Ghazni province

Author: Sahil Afghan

19 October 2020

Today, we publish the first of three studies exploring how the Taleban rule, and the impact of that rule on residents. Given that the talks in Doha may presage an Afghan state with key positions held by the Taleban or that, at the very least, the pattern of the Taleban controlling particular localities will continue, understanding what it is like to live under Taleban rule is important. Our research explores the local dynamics of citizens/Taleban interactions, lays out how the Taleban structure their government and asks whether local people can affect policy or indeed are able to hold the Taleban to account at all. Our first case study is Andar, in Ghazni province, which has been under partial Taleban rule since 2006/07 and complete rule since 2018. Guest author Sahil Afghan* has visited the district numerous times and followed events there closely since 2001 and finds a Taleban administration which is well-structured, where military men have civilian roles and protest is unimaginable.

Living with the Taleban (1): Local experiences in Andar district, Ghazni province

Living with the Taleban (1): Local experiences in Andar district, Ghazni province

Living with the Taleban (2): Local experiences in Nad Ali district, Helmand province

Author: Fairuz Khan Alikhel

18 January 2021

What is it like to live in an area controlled by the Taleban? How does their rule affect your life and can you influence what they do? To answer these questions, we embarked on a research project scrutinising three districts in depth, looking at the local dynamics of citizen/Taleban interactions, the structure of Taleban government and whether local people can affect policy or hold the Taleban to account in any way at all. This study is of Nad Ali, a district of Helmand which has been almost entirely overrun by the Taleban three times since 2011, most recently in October 2020. This resulted – until very recently – in the closure of all schools in the district due to the fighting. Guest author* Fairuz Khan Alikhel has spoken to residents of Nad Ali and found a district with a rudimentary governance system, including courts and taxation, indications of corruption – although still less than in the government institutions – and extremely limited means for the population to affect Taleban policy and decision-making. 

Living with the Taleban (2): Local experiences in Nad Ali district, Helmand province

Living with the Taleban (2): Local experiences in Nad Ali district, Helmand province

Living with the Taleban (3): Local experiences in Dasht-e Archi district, Kunduz province

Author: Bilal Sediqi

25 January 2021

In our third study exploring Taleban rule in territories under their control, AAN looks at Dasht-e Archi district in Kunduz province. The intra-Afghan talks in Doha may presage an Afghan state with key positions held by the Taleban. At the very least, the pattern of the Taleban controlling particular localities is likely to continue. In this light, understanding what it is like to live under Taleban rule is important. AAN guest author Bilal Sediqi examines how their shadow ‘governance’ is structured and exercised. He finds that the district serves as a key organisational centre for the Taleban, with a busy primary court and a functioning committee structure tasked to run day-to-day governance functions. Encounters between residents and the Taleban are wide-ranging, including ‘taxation’ and at least implicit pressure to provide fighters with food, although not shelter and conscription. Generally, the Taleban are not accountable to the population. It is impossible to protest against them, although they sometimes address local concerns. Given the breadth and depth of the Taleban’s control over territory and population in the district, Dasht-e Archi offers important indications about what it is like to live under the Taleban.

Living with the Taleban (3): Local experiences in Dasht-e Archi district, Kunduz province

Living with the Taleban (3): Local experiences in Dasht-e Archi district, Kunduz province

3. Publications under the mini-series “Why Does the Incidence of Polio Vary?”

Why does the Incidence of Polio Vary? A comparative study of two districts of Kandahar (Part 1)

Author: Ali Mohammad Sabawoon

16 May 2021

Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan are now the only two countries in the world still suffering from polio, an infectious viral disease that strikes children, causing temporary or permanent paralysis and, in some cases death. Despite the availability of a vaccine since the 1960s and national vaccination since 1978, polio remains a persistent challenge in Afghanistan. Last year, the number of polio cases in Afghanistan went up alarmingly: 56 positive cases countrywide in 2020, mostly in the southern provinces, compared to 29 cases in 2019. The major reason for that was Covid-19 which hampered the polio vaccination campaign. Beyond this, however, there is always variation between districts both in the success of vaccination and the number of polio cases. We wanted to try to understand this variation. In the first of two case studies, AAN’s Ali Mohammad Sabawoon presents a comparative study of two districts in Kandahar province, Arghandab, which has always had few polio cases, and Shah Wali Kot, which has always had more, with an introduction by Jelena Bjelica. The series editor is Kate Clark.

Why does the Incidence of Polio Vary? A comparative study of two districts of Kandahar (Part 1)

Why does the Incidence of Polio Vary? A comparative study of two districts of Kandahar (Part 1)

Why does the Incidence of Polio Vary? A comparative study of two districts in Helmand (Part 2)

Author: Fazl Rahman Muzhary

23 May 2021

In this second of two case studies exploring why polio vaccination varies between apparently quite similar districts in Afghanistan, we look at two neighbouring district in Helmand province, Nawa, with its rare incidences of polio since 2001, and Nad Ali, which has seen one of the highest numbers of polio cases in the country. A constellation of factors has made Nawa easier for vaccinators and Nad Ali more difficult. Nawa has been largely stable and government-controlled over many years, while Nad Ali has suffered waves of violence. People in Nawa have had better access to education and health services and are a more stable population, more tribally homogenous and more pro-government. The Taleban ban on door-to-door vaccinations in the province since 2018 has also affected Nad Ali severely and to a far greater extent, because the Taleban have controlled more territory there, that is, reports AAN’s Fazl Muzhary, until a major offensive in November 2020 brought most of Nawa’s population also under Taleban control and their children out of reach of vaccinators. The series editor is Kate Clark.

Why does the Incidence of Polio Vary? A comparative study of two districts in Helmand (Part 2)

Why does the Incidence of Polio Vary? A comparative study of two districts in Helmand (Part 2)

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