The Logic and Impacts of Rebel Public Services Provision: Evidence from Taliban Courts in Afghanistan
Rebel organizations regularly provide public services, even as they primarily focus on fighting. Existing scholarship documents many predictors of insurgent services, but the theoretical mechanisms for, and downstream effects of, these activities remain unclear. This study examines Taliban courts in Afghanistan, theorizing that judicial services create a vested interest in Taliban rule and show governance capacity. Using a difference-in-differences design, we find that Taliban courts significantly reduced the frequency of major interpersonal disputes, especially around property, in districts where they operated. We find a corresponding reduction in citizen willingness to use government courts, and higher approval for Taliban rule. Lastly, the Taliban were able to conduct increased bombings and other attacks against government and foreign troops after they introduced local courts. The results indicate that competent rebel courts can significantly sway public opinion and enhance rebel fighting capacity. These findings also help to explain the Taliban's rapid takeover of Afghanistan in the wake of foreign withdrawal.
Renard Sexton is a political scientist who studies conflict and development. He is currently Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Emory University. His work focuses on anti-government insurgencies in Southeast Asia, Afghanistan and Latin America, as well as international competition in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait. His scholarly work has been published in top political science journals, such as the American Political Science Review, American Journal of Political Science and Journal of Politics. His policy work and commentary have been published by the Washington Post, New York Times, FiveThirtyEight, the Guardian, and Foreign Policy, as well as by the International Crisis Group and the UN. He completed his PhD in Politics at New York University, and did fellowships at Princeton, the International Crisis Group and the Council on Foreign Relations.