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The Rise of Afghanistan's Insurgency:
State Failure and Jihad

Original Article By: Seth G. Jones
International Security Fall 2008 vol 32 no 4
Major Topic: Politics
Minor Topic: Security


         In 2001 the US easily defeated the Taliban and conquered Afghanistan. In 2002 insurgency attacks began and continued to increase. Today the result is a weakened government and an unsecured environment for the people.

         Why did an insurgency develop in Afghanistan? The correct answer has significant ramifications for theory and policy. The theory that the insurgent's greed or a grievance is the cause does not fit reality.

         The insurgency developed because when the relatively strong Taliban government was over thrown it was replaced by a weak government that could not provide security for the people. The internal situation in Afghanistan was closer to the anarchic international system rather than a law and order domestic state of affairs. Consequently many players vied for territorial control. Furthermore thological ideology is a accurate explanation than greed or grievance for the actions of the insurgents.

         To outline: six sections are needed in order to explain the Afghan insurgency. Part 1 covers definitions and other theoretical explanations. Part 2 presents a structural explanation. Part 3 presents some problems the government faces. Part 4 describes idealogical factors. Part 5 summarizes the development of the insurgency in Afghanistan. Part 6 gives advise to policy makers.


         Part 1: Grievance or Greed


         According to the CIA and the dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, an insurgency is “a political-military campaign by non-state actors who seek to overthrow a government or secede from a county through the use of unconventional – and sometimes conventional – military strategies and tactics”.

         Two theories have tried to explain why insurgencies begin: grievance and greed.

         Ethnic grievances in a population is the first theory. This theory claims ethnic bonds are the highest social priority generating the highest levels of commitment and intolerance in the population. Societies with few ethnic groups (as opposed to many or one) seem to have a greater chance of inter-ethnic armed conflict. War has a tendency to re-enforce ethnic ties visa-vis other ties and diminish the prospect of cooperation.

         The ethnic composition in Afghanistan is about 50% Pashtun. The other half is made up of Hazaras, Tajiks and others. Competition among these groups extends even within the Northern Alliance (which is made up of Hazara, Tajik and Uzbek groups). Each group considers the accumulation of power and special government positions as a zero sum game. Therefore political conflict will continue until one group controls all of the government: more civil war.

         There are three points against this argument. First, support for and against the Taliban crossed ethnic lines. Second, Hamid Karzai received electoral support from many ethnically diverse territories. Third, opinion polls do not show grievances rather government failure as primary concerns.

         One reason for the lack of ethnic grievances was the Afghan government's fair distribution of government posts at all levels. Fair in terms of political faction, ethnicity and gender.

         Greed is the second theory that attempts to explain the Afghan insurgency. If violence can generate profit (from the extortion of natural resources) then the decision to start an insurgency could be more easily rationalized. This argument is convincing in some resource rich cases. However Afghanistan has little in the way of natural resources.

         Poppy cultivation for the production of drugs seems to be an objection until the timing is considered – it blossomed after the insurgency began. The Taliban had banned the cultivation of poppies when they were in power, furthermore their revenue came from other sources.

         Additionally it was warlords and government officials, after the fall of the Taliban, that were most involved in growing poppies.

         It was not a grievance or greed that caused the Afghan insurgency rather it was structral colapse of the state and ideology.


         Part 2: Governance Collapse


         There is evidence hinting at the importance of strong and effective government in the ending of civil wars and its corollary: civil war is more likely in cases with weak and ineffective governance.

         Governance, defined by the world bank, is the set of institutions by which authority in a county is exercised. Max Weber defined the state as the human community that successfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.

         Therefore enforcement and public services are key to successful governance.

         Structural changes in time of war or revolution can create an anarchic situation within the state that looks and behaves similar to the international system. Healthy states tend to be centralized and hierarchic. Two governance problems develop with anarchic states.

         First is the failure to provide services. Corruption makes it worse – similar to a positive feed back loop. Second, the lack of legitimacy leads to a dearth of authority followed by the loss of control.

         The police are the most important institution for governance therefore they are often the most frequently targeted. This is because insurgents often compete to provide governance to the people. Insurgencies engage in state building and must be distinguished from banditry, mafias or social movements (which work within a state rather than by trying to replace the state). Lebanon, Mozambique, Georgia and Bosnia are evidence for this claim.


         Part 3: The Collapse of Afghan Governance


         The Taliban had, before the invasion, succeeded in establishing law and order. After their overthrow Afghanistan fell into anarchy. The new central government did not control anything but the capital. The new government did not provide governance or direction especial in the rural areas. It especial could not and did not provide police services.

         Some of the reasons for a lack of police effectiveness are: one: lack of field training officers. Two: illiterate recruits. Three: corruption. And four: lack of equipment. These reasons made the police unsuited to fight the Taliban and untrusted by the population.

         Additionally, there were not enough US soldiers in Afghanistan to secure the country. The US army, based on history, believed that a small force was better than a large force. The State Department believed otherwise. After planning for the Iraq war started troop levels had to stay low.

         One action that seriously weakened the Afghan government was the US decision to provide assistance to local warlords. Many believe that the growing strength of the warlords is a major cause of insecurity.


         Part 4: The Ideology of Jihad


         Although most people support (or did not oppose) the Taliban because of the government's failure to provide governance, the leaders of the insurgency were motivated by ideology. An ideology is an organized collection of ideas or the science of ideas.

         The three main insurgent groups in Afghanistan are the Taliban, al-Qaida and Hizb-i-Islami. The Taliban are a Sunni Islamic group centered on Deobandi philosophy. They seek to copy or recreate the life and times of the prophet Mohammed. Its political significance is that it promotes devotion and loyalty to Islam over all including family or country. They have practiced and extreme form of Islam.

         Al-Qaida is also an extremest Sunni Islamic group. It was influenced by Sayyid Qutb who argued that anything non-Islamic was evil and corrupt. They view almost all states as evil and corrupt.

         Hizb-i-Islami is a Sunni group also influenced by Sayyid Qutb and dedicated to establishing a well organized pure Islamic state.

         These three groups actually co-operate and seek to destroy the current Afghan government.

         The roots of these groups is international and therefore they have acquired support from abroad. After the war the Taliban moved to 3 cities in Pakistan: Quetta, Peshawar and Karachi. Quetta is the most strategic, due to numerous madrassas and a group calling itself Jamiat-ul-Ulama-i-Islam. Further it was close to many Afghan provinces and the political, military and religious committees of the Taliban were based there. Peshawar was home to the propaganda and media divisions. Pakistan has given sancruary and support to many jihadist groups..

         This Pakistani support has proved to be invaluable to the commencement of the insurgency as it allowed unfettered recruitment, funding and safety. Many insurgents actually received aid from the Pakistani government. The Pakistani ISI (inter-Service Intelligence) in particular provided direct and indeirct help. The ISI has had a major role in weakening the Afghan government.


         Part 5: The Result: Afghanistan's Spiraling Insurgency


         Consequently a government power vacuum and strong Sunni theology led to a resurgence of the Taliban in 2002. Government failure is seen as an important factor in the success of the insurgency. Lack of security and corruption are leading causes too.

         Most of the population may want to support the government but they are not free to do so. Absence of government services means the Taliban can offer a marginally better life.

         Another problem has been that Iraqi and Afghan insurgents have shared information and knowhow. Thereby strengthening each other. In this way the Taliban gained experience in IED's (improvised explosive devices) and in suicide tactics.

         From 2006 to 2007 violence has escalated and Taliban control over territory has increased.


         Part 6: Conclusion


         The US failed to stop the insurgency but it did not arise as a result of grievances or greed. There is no one motive but we can say that weak government will increase the likelihood of an insurgency.

         The solution may take up to ten years (since that is the length of most civil wars). First, governance must be extended beyond Kabul including especially security services and law and order. Secondly the Pakistani government must cooperate fully.

         These two points would hurt the Taliban's efforts and offer hope of a better Afghanistan.

Added on: 2009-04-16 22:10:57
Précis by: James Jeff McLaren
© 2008 - 2018, James Jeff McLaren