The system of shadow Taliban governance and the experiences of civilians subject to it are well documented. The policies that guide this governance and the factors that contribute to them, however, are not. This report examines how the Taliban make and implement policy. Based on more than a hundred interviews and previously unreleased Taliban documents, this report offers rare insight into Taliban decision-making processes and the factors that influence them.

Members of a Taliban delegation, led by chief negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, after peace talks with senior Afghan politicians in Moscow on May 30, 2019. (Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters)
Members of a Taliban delegation, led by chief negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, after peace talks with senior Afghan politicians in Moscow on May 30, 2019. (Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters)

Summary

Multiple actors—from the Taliban leadership to local commanders—have played a key role in creating and shaping the movement’s policy in Afghanistan. Taliban policymaking has been top-down as much as it has been bottom-up, with the leadership shaping the rules as much as fighters and commanders on the ground. The result is a patchwork of practices that leadership has increasingly sought to exert control over and make more consistent. This became possible as the Taliban put structures and mechanisms in place, particularly after 2014, to enforce compliance among its ranks. However, although the rules may be set at the top, local variance, negotiation, and adaptation is still considerable.

Policymaking has been driven by military and political necessity: the Taliban needed to control the civilian population and compel its support. Beyond this, a mix of ideology, local preferences, and the practical exigencies of waging an insurgency have guided policymaking and implementation. The Taliban’s desire for international recognition, seen as key to achieving their political goals, has increasingly influenced their rhetoric and, to varying degrees, their policy. This is not true up and down the movement, however. Although international recognition is now a priority for the leadership, commanders on the ground often see immediate military concerns, ideology, and local preferences as more important.

The Taliban today control more territory than at any point since 2001, and it is increasingly clear that they will play a critical role in any future political settlement. Because the Taliban rely on aid agencies and use their relationships with them to enhance their international image, the aid and donor community needs to understand how to better engage with and influence Taliban policy.

About the Report

This report examines how the Taliban makes and implements policy in Afghanistan. Based on more than a hundred interviews as well as unique access to Taliban documents, it offers rare insight into Taliban decision-making processes and the factors that influence them. Funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the research was facilitated by the Conflict, Security and Development Research Group at King’s College London.

About the Authors

Ashley Jackson is an associate researcher with the Conflict, Security and Development Research Group at King’s College London whose work focuses on mediation with insurgencies. Rahmatullah Amiri, a senior researcher and analyst with The Liaison Office, focuses on social-political issues, security, armed nonstate actors, peace and reconciliation, countering violent extremism, and humanitarian issues.

Latest Publications

Vice-Presidential Candidates Lay Out Visions for Colombia’s Future

Vice-Presidential Candidates Lay Out Visions for Colombia’s Future

Thursday, May 19, 2022

By: Anthony Navone

Colombia is on the precipice of historic presidential elections amid a backdrop of significant social unrest, deepening polarization and the escalation of the country’s six-decade old armed conflict. Last year’s nationwide mass protests sprung up over worsening racial and socioeconomic inequality in most of the country’s major urban metropolitan centers, and a heavy-handed police response only served to worsen the crisis.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Democracy & GovernancePeace Processes

Lebanon’s Vote and the Prospect of Long-awaited Political Reform

Lebanon’s Vote and the Prospect of Long-awaited Political Reform

Thursday, May 19, 2022

By: Osama Gharizi

On May 15, Lebanon held its first election since mass protests swept the country in October 2019. Trigged by economic crisis and profound frustration with an inept, detached ruling establishment, the protest movement sparked hope that real change to the country’s anachronistic, corrupt political system was in the offing. Fast forward nearly three years, and such promise seems to have been extinguished by the calamitous August 2020 Beirut port explosion, traditional party supporters’ efforts to stifle new opposition movements, and an historic economic collapse.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Democracy & Governance

South Korea and Japan Need to Reset Relations. Can the United States Help?

South Korea and Japan Need to Reset Relations. Can the United States Help?

Thursday, May 19, 2022

By: Frank Aum;  Sang-ok Park;  Ambassador Joseph Yun

In April 2022, a South Korean delegation representing President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol met with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo to help reset bilateral ties that have frayed in recent years over unresolved issues like wartime forced labor and sexual slavery. The delegation head told reporters that the trip’s goal was to fasten “the first button of a new Korea-Japan relationship,” referring to the proverb that incorrectly fastening the first button on a jacket will cause subsequent ones to go astray.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Global Policy

Our Next ‘Unthinkable’ Crisis: Nuclear War in Asia?

Our Next ‘Unthinkable’ Crisis: Nuclear War in Asia?

Thursday, May 19, 2022

By: James Rupert

Our world’s spate of disasters so recently unimaginable — European cities pulverized by war, Earth’s decaying climate or 6 million dead from pandemic disease — evokes a national security question: What other “unthinkable” crises must American citizens and policymakers anticipate? A singular threat is warfare around our planet’s one spot where three nuclear-armed states stubbornly contest long-unresolved border conflicts. Largely unnoted in national security news coverage, the conflicts embroiling China, India and Pakistan are growing more complex and dangerous. A USIP study shows the urgency for U.S. policymakers of working to reduce the risks.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Global PolicyConflict Analysis & Prevention

View All Publications