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.

Related Publications

Gridlocked Afghan Peace Talks Overcome Another Hurdle

Gridlocked Afghan Peace Talks Overcome Another Hurdle

Thursday, December 10, 2020

By: Scott Worden

Afghan peace negotiations began in mid-September, bringing together the Afghan government and Taliban for the first time to negotiate an end to four decades of war. But, since then, the talks have been mired in squabbles over basic procedures. Last week the sides made a breakthrough and agreed on the rules that will govern future talks, opening the door to the more substantive issue of the agenda for talks—including how and when to talk about a reduction in violence and future political arrangements. Senior U.S. officials praised the agreement and urged the parties to move quickly to a discussion about ways to reduce record-high violence levels.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Peace Processes

Afghanistan Aid Conference Yields Mixed Results

Afghanistan Aid Conference Yields Mixed Results

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

By: William Byrd

The quadrennial international donor conference for Afghanistan, held virtually late last month from Geneva, was largely shaped by the pitfalls and roadblocks forecast months ago when the event was publicly announced. Delays in the peace process, worsening violence, and unveiling of plans for further U.S. troop reductions left the meeting’s potential unmet. Yet amid the unsatisfying results, some hopeful rays broke through. In particular, the size and duration of aid pledges provided at least something to build on.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Economics & Environment; Peace Processes

Afghanistan Withdrawal Should Be Based on Conditions, Not Timelines

Afghanistan Withdrawal Should Be Based on Conditions, Not Timelines

Thursday, November 19, 2020

By: Scott Worden

The Taliban’s tactic of running out the clock on the U.S. troop presence may bear fruit after the announcement on Tuesday that U.S. forces will reduce to 2,500 by January 15. The Trump administration successfully created leverage by engaging directly with the Taliban to meet their paramount goal of a U.S. withdrawal in exchange for genuine peace talks and counterterrorism guarantees. This strategy brought about unprecedented negotiations between Afghan government representatives and the Taliban in Doha. A walk down a conditions-based path to peace, long and winding as it may be, had begun.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Peace Processes

View All Publications