The Logic and Impacts of Rebel Public Services Provision: Evidence from Taliban Courts in Afghanistan | 2022 | Events
Rebel organizations regularly provide public services to citizens, even as they primarily focus on fighting. Existing scholarship documents many predictors of insurgent service provision, but the downstream effects of these activities and theoretical mechanisms for why they might change behavior remain unclear. This study examines Taliban judicial activity in Afghanistan, using a difference-in-differences design to find that Taliban courts significantly reduced the frequency of major interpersonal disputes between civilians, especially around property, in districts where they operated. We find a corresponding reduction in survey-reported citizen willingness to use government courts, and a major increase in approval for Taliban rule. Finally, we find that the Taliban were able to increase bombings and other attacks against government and foreign troops. Together, the results indicate that rebel courts, if competent, can significantly sway public opinion and enhance the fighting capacity of rebels. These findings also help to explain the Taliban's rapid takeover of Afghanistan in the wake of US and NATO withdrawal from the country.
Renard Sexton studies conflict and development with a focus on local level violence and interventions intended to curb violence. His research covers insurgency, terrorism, social conflict around natural resources, and police crackdowns; he has regional expertise in Afghanistan, Southeast Asia and Andean Latin America. His research has been published in top scholarly journals, including The American Political Science Review and American Journal of Political Science. His policy pieces and commentary have been published by The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Guardian, International Crisis Group, Foreign Policy and other outlets. Before joining Emory, he was a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University and Economics of Conflict fellow at the International Crisis Group.