Governance and Militancy in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Project Executive Summary

The CSIS Program on Crisis, Conflict, and Cooperation (C3), formerly the PCR Project, has studied the link between the rise of nonstate armed groups (or militants, for the sake of simplicity) and the quality of local governance in Afghanistan and Pakistan: whether a link exists and, if so, what the United States can do about it, if anything. This research, based on more than 250 field interviews and an extensive review of published literature, found that most militant groups do not rely on governance and service provision to gain access to areas or populations that are operationally or strategically useful to them; instead, they use intimidation or personal connections such as tribal or kinship networks. Some groups do exploit grievances related to weak or corrupt governance (e.g., recruiting victims of police extortion), and a subset of those groups offer security, justice, education, disaster assistance, or (very rarely) health care in an effort to win the support and protection of a community.

Within that subset, service provision has given some militants certain tactical and operational advantages, such as access to potential recruits (e.g., in free religious schools) or sources of funding (e.g., through front charities). But with a few important exceptions, that has not generally translated into significant strategic advantages, such as broad public support or lasting territorial control. Militants, it seems, are no better at service provision than the Pakistani or Afghan governments. They often squander their gains by turning too heavy-handed against local populations or becoming as corrupt as the government officials they were trying to displace, alienating their former beneficiaries. To the degree they win popular support, it is due less to the appeal of their ideology than to the fact that people who live in desperate or humiliating circumstances generally accept help when it is offered, regardless of the source.

Robert D. Lamb