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

Keith Mines on the Latest from Haiti

Keith Mines on the Latest from Haiti

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

While Haiti’s Transitional Council has appointed a prime minister to lead a temporary government and the Kenyan-led international security mission is expected to deploy soon, “[Haiti’s] gangs are still pretty strong,” says USIP’s Keith Mines. “There’s really going to be a fight for power … over the coming months.”

Type: Podcast

Three Troubling Takeaways on U.S.-China Relations from the Shangri La Dialogue

Three Troubling Takeaways on U.S.-China Relations from the Shangri La Dialogue

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

The recently concluded 2024 Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore provided another useful opportunity for senior U.S. and Chinese national security officials to engage in face-to-face bilateral discussions and interact with officials and experts from other states. While these engagements have value in theory, they highlight three persistent problems in the practice of U.S.-China relations. First, the United States and China tend to talk past each other. Second, the United States and China have dissimilar systems, which makes identifying and engaging with appropriate counterpart officials very difficult. Third, the United States and China possess fundamentally different understandings about the role of third countries in managing confrontation and mitigating conflict.

Type: Analysis

Global Policy

After India’s Surprising Elections, What’s Next for Modi’s Foreign Policy?

After India’s Surprising Elections, What’s Next for Modi’s Foreign Policy?

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Widely expected to cruise to a third-straight majority in India’s parliamentary elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) instead lost ground and must now rely on its National Democratic Alliance partners, especially the Janata Dal (United) party and the Telugu Desam Party, to form a coalition government. While the stunning results will have immediate consequences for Modi’s domestic agenda, foreign and national security policies are not top priorities for India’s new parliament. Still, the political changes associated with coalition rule and the BJP’s unanticipated electoral setback could affect India’s international relationships in important ways.

Type: Analysis

Global Elections & ConflictGlobal Policy

Moldova: As Russia Fuels Conflict, Could Churches Build Peace?

Moldova: As Russia Fuels Conflict, Could Churches Build Peace?

Thursday, June 6, 2024

Russia’s escalating campaign to block Moldova from joining the European Union reflects a weakening in Eastern Europe of a longstanding Russian lever of regional influence: its Orthodox church. A number of Moldovan Orthodox priests and parishes are campaigning to withdraw their nation’s churches from two centuries of formal subordination to Russia’s church, and Moldova’s senior prelate has bluntly condemned his superior, the Russian Orthodox Church patriarch, for supporting Moscow’s war on Ukraine. As conflict escalates this year over Moldova’s future, advocates of European democracy and stability might strengthen both by supporting dialogue to reduce conflict between Moldova’s historically Russia-linked church and its smaller rival, subordinate to the Orthodox hierarchy in neighboring Romania.

Type: Analysis

Religion

Taiwan’s New President Faces Tensions with China and Domestic Division

Taiwan’s New President Faces Tensions with China and Domestic Division

Thursday, June 6, 2024

Over four months after winning Taiwan’s presidential election, William Lai Ching-te from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) officially took office on May 20. Beijing fiercely criticized Lai’s inaugural address and conducted military drills and patrols around Taiwan in a bid to “punish” Lai for failing to heed China’s preferred positions. In the days following the speech, Lai also faced challenges at home, as opposition parties in Taiwan’s legislature passed a set of reform bills that critics warn could increase China’s ability to interfere in Taiwan’s domestic affairs.

Global Policy

View All Publications