In many parts of Afghanistan, the issue of who is in control is not straightforward: it may be the government or the Taleban or a mixture of both. Yet despite this – and the ongoing conflict – many public services continue, including health and education. How that works in practice is a question we wanted to look into more deeply, and conducted research in different districts across the country which are controlled or influenced by insurgents. We wanted to know how – or indeed whether – people could get their children to school and sick patients to a clinic, use mobile phones and get electricity. The result was a series of district case studies which our research partners at the United States Institute for Peace (USIP) have now synthesised into a new report by Scott S Smith. Boys at the government school in Shin Kelay village. Younger girls also attend the school, but not beyond primary classes. Photo: Andrew Quilty, 2018.
AAN’s study of how public services – education, health, electricity and telecommunications – are delivered in districts controlled or influenced by insurgents produced granular and detailed case studies, combining information from interviewees living in very different districts across Afghanistan. An additional report looked at the delivery of polio vaccinations.
These were fascinating insights into people’s daily lives often in under-reported parts of Afghanistan.
USIP’s synthesis report draws out the variations and commonalities in these case studies. Author Scott Smith describes the “attempt by the Taliban leadership to establish a certain uniformity of governance,” with common policies usually those agreed upon by the leadership operating from Quetta in Pakistan. He also notes the significant differences between districts, reflecting, he says, “that the movement itself remains a geographically fragmented insurgency, with battlefield objectives that require it to retain some pragmatic flexibility where the local Taliban front meets the individual community.”
To take one example: if girls schools were not open already when the Taleban took over an area, they have not opened since. If they were open, interviewees reported a general ban on girls over 12 years going to school, with one exception the district of Obeh in Herat. There, the community felt strongly about getting all their girls educated and negotiated with the Taleban to continue with the highest grades by agreeing for there only to be women teachers, and in their absence, girls who had finished twelfth grade.
The USIP study also considers the historical evolution of Taleban policy on service delivery. “The mere fact of controlling territory in which civilians live,” writes Smith “created a problem that needed to be solved. No insurgency can survive if the local population actively opposes it.” Yet two factors, he suggests, point to the Taleban enabling service provision not just because it is a “military necessity.” This is also about “the gradual consolidation of the movement,” he writes, “increasingly guided by a central authority and consistent in the way policies issued from the center are implemented” and to do with its “claim to be the real legitimate government in Afghanistan.”
The Taleban actually themselves provide barely any services, apart from law courts. Instead, they ‘piggy-back’ on those funded or run by the government and NGOs. In this, there is a surprising degree of cooperation between government and Taleban officials. There is also a measure of pragmatism when it comes to community needs and priorities, so long as they do not undercut military objectives. In assessing what is happening on the ground now, Smith also considers what this indicates for the future, especially if a peace deal between the Afghan government and the Taleban is worked out. He is aware, he says that there are “far more pessimistic and perhaps more likely scenarios,” but nonetheless the “variety of local-level models of cooperation” seen in the AAN studies, “in theory could be extended into a post-agreement future.”
Service Delivery in Taliban-Influenced Areas of Afghanistan
Scott S Smith
April 2020, USIP
One Land, Two Rules (1): Service delivery in insurgent-affected areas, an introduction
Jelena Bjelica and Kate Clark
6 December 2018
One Land, Two Rules (2): Delivering public services in insurgency-affected Obeh district of Herat province
S Reza Kazemi
9 December 2018
One Land, Two Rules (3): Delivering public services in insurgency-affected Dasht-e Archi district in Kunduz province
26 February 2019
One Land, Two Rules (4): Delivering public services in embattled Achin district in Nangrahar province
S Reza Kazemi and Rohullah Sorush
25 March 2019
One Land, Two Rules (5): The polio vaccination gap
9 May 2019
One Land, Two Rules (6): Delivering public services in insurgency-affected Nad Ali district of Helmand province
Ali Mohammad Sabawoon
2 June 2019
One Land, Two Rules (7): Delivering public services in insurgency-affected Andar district in Ghazni province
13 June 2019
AAN then carried on with two more case studies, as we found them fascinating. These were outside the USIP research project, but used the same methodology .
One Land, Two Rules (8): Delivering public services in insurgency-affected insurgent-controlled Zurmat district
Obaid Ali, Sayed Asadullah Sadat and Christian Bleuer
4 September 2019
One Land, Two Rules (9): Delivering public services in insurgency-affected Jalrez district of Wardak province
16 December 2019
Our look at life in areas controlled or influenced by the Taleban influence looks set to continue. Last month, we published this latest addition to the series.
One Land, Two Rules (10): Three case studies on Taleban sales of state land
Fazl Rahman Muzhary
15 April 2020
This article was last updated on 18 Nov 2020