Political Governance and Strategy in Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s de facto system of governance is a politically driven “hybrid” order made up of shifting links among many different formal, informal, and illicit actors, networks, and institutions. Because its central government does not have the capacity to govern through its extremely centralized system and will not have that capacity for at least a generation, it will need to share the burden of stabilizing and governing the country with other governance and political actors. Alone, those other actors will not have the capacity to keep Afghanistan together either.

To use Afghanistan’s hybrid system as a resource for stabilization, the United States should work with its international and Afghan partners to develop a “political governance” strategy. The requirements for such an approach are detailed in this report. The governance component would encourage and enable formal and informal actors to share the burden of governing. To make sure power brokers do not contribute to instability, the politics component would give some a stake in the political and economic system while giving the most malign a set of targeted incentives to behave in ways conducive to stability.

Most Afghans are tired of foreign intervention and want their government to function well on its own. Foreign donors and military forces can and should play a constructive role in helping it to do so. But given that the Afghan government does not currently have a monopoly on either violence or governance and will not for the foreseeable future, any effort to improve stability or governance in the short term must account for the necessity that some nonstate actors—power brokers and benign civil society members alike—should play a constructive role.

Robert D. Lamb and Brooke Shawn