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.

Students take an exam outdoors because their school had suffered extensive damage in fighting between Taliban and government forces. (Jim Huylebroek/New York Times)
Students take an exam outdoors because their school had suffered extensive damage in fighting between Taliban and government forces. (Jim Huylebroek/New York Times)

Summary

  • As the Taliban gained and consolidated their hold over territory, they were forced to become responsible for the well-being of local communities.
  • Even as the Taliban leadership remained focused on military objectives, in recent years they began to develop policies to deliver education and health services in particular, in some cases reversing earlier policies that denied these services.
  • A study of several diverse districts across Afghanistan reveals that the Taliban leadership has attempted to establish a certain uniformity in its governance of territory largely or partly under its control.
  • For example, while the Taliban have always allowed health officials to work in their areas, in part because they too need these services, they have taken increasing ownership of how these services are provided.
  • The Taliban initially opposed government schools, but they later developed policies that allowed schools to function, as well as permitting girls to attend school to age twelve.
  • Should there be a peace process, the Taliban and government will need to reconcile their differences on service delivery in the areas falling under their control.

About the Report

This report synthesizes eight district-level studies on how the Taliban deliver services in areas of Afghanistan where they have control or dominance. Funded by the United States Institute of Peace, the studies were carried out in 2018 and 2019 by the Afghanistan Analysts Network, an independent policy research organization based in Kabul.

About the Author

Scott S. Smith is a senior expert on Afghanistan at the United States Institute of Peace. Between 2017 and 2019 he was the political director at the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), and between 2012 and 2016 he was the director of USIP’s Afghanistan Program. He is the author of numerous articles on Afghanistan as well as the book Afghanistan’s Troubled Transition: Politics, Peacekeeping, and the 2004 Presidential Election (2011), and co-editor of Getting it Right in Afghanistan (2013).

Related Publications

Five Things to Know About the Afghan Peace Talks

Five Things to Know About the Afghan Peace Talks

Monday, September 14, 2020

By: Vikram J. Singh; Scott Smith; Scott Worden; Belquis Ahmadi; Johnny Walsh

The intra-Afghan negotiations that began on Saturday represent a watershed moment in the war: the first direct, official talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government. These historic talks commenced 19 years and one day after al-Qaida's 9/11 terrorist attacks drew the United States into Afghanistan's civil war. Just getting the Afghan government and the Afghan Taliban to the table is an accomplishment. The main reason the talks materialized is the U.S.-Taliban agreement signed in February of this year; that agreement delivered a timetable for the eventual withdrawal of foreign troops, which met the Taliban’s years-long precondition for opening talks with the Afghan government.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Peace Processes

Afghan Government: ‘Optimistic’ on Opening Talks with Taliban

Afghan Government: ‘Optimistic’ on Opening Talks with Taliban

Friday, August 28, 2020

By: USIP Staff

Afghanistan’s government is optimistic that the delayed peace talks with the Taliban can start soon, acting Foreign Minister Mohammed Haneef Atmar told an online audience. Atmar’s comments are the latest sign that one reason for the five-month delay, disputes over the two sides’ release of prisoners they have been holding, may be nearly resolved. Taliban attacks on government forces have continued, and civilian casualties have remained high, as the two sides have wrestled over conditions for starting the talks as envisioned in a February agreement between the United States and the Taliban.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Peace Processes

Assessing Afghanistan’s 2019 Presidential Election

Assessing Afghanistan’s 2019 Presidential Election

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

By: Colin Cookman

Afghanistan’s current electoral system structures Afghan political dynamics, shapes election-day outcomes, and influences competition between organized interest groups in Afghanistan. Drawing on a unique set of results data from the September 2019 presidential election and past elections, this report analyzes where and how prospective Afghan voters were able to participate in the 2019 polls, the decision making behind and adjudication of disputes over which votes would be counted as valid, and how the available results compare with political trends evident in prior elections.

Type: Peaceworks

Democracy & Governance

Afghan Peace Talks: Prisoner Release Paves Way for Direct Negotiations

Afghan Peace Talks: Prisoner Release Paves Way for Direct Negotiations

Thursday, August 13, 2020

By: Dipali Mukhopadhyay; Johnny Walsh; Scott Smith

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Sunday said that his government would release the last batch of Taliban prisoners, ostensibly removing the final hurdle to direct negotiations with the insurgent group. Intra-Afghan negotiations were originally slated for March 10 as part of the U.S.-Taliban deal signed in late February, but were delayed due to disagreements over prisoner releases. The Afghan government and Taliban had committed to releasing 5,000 and 1,000 prisoners respectively, but the final 400 Taliban prisoners had been accused or convicted of major crimes, including murder. Ghani only made the decision to release those prisoners after he called for a consultative assembly, or loya jirga, to advise on the decision. USIP’s Afghanistan experts explain why Ghani convened the loya jirga, what to expect in the early stages of talks, and what role the United States can play.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Peace Processes

View All Publications