Based on first-hand interviews with more than 160 Taliban fighters and officials, as well as civilians, this paper examines how the Taliban govern the lives of Afghans living under their rule. Taliban governance is more coherent than ever before; high-level commissions govern sectors such as finance, health, education, justice and taxation, with clear chains of command and policies from the leadership based in Pakistan down to villages in Afghanistan.
Where the government and aid agencies provide public goods and services, the Taliban coopt and control them. Health and education in Taliban areas are a hybrid of NGO and state-provided services, operating according to Taliban rules. The Taliban also regulate utilities and communications, collecting on the bills of the state electricity company in at least eight of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces and controlling around a quarter of the country’s mobile phone coverage.
Justice provision has also become increasingly far-reaching. Taliban taxes either coopt Islamic finance concepts or mimic official state systems.
The reach of Taliban governance demonstrates that they do not have to formally occupy territory to control what happens within it. Governance does not come after the capture of territory, but precedes it. The Taliban’s influence on services and everyday life extends far beyond areas they can be said to control or contest. That the Taliban set the rules in vast swathes of the country is a reality with which few in the international community are willing to engage. While this research has significant implications for any future peace deal, the most urgent question is what can or should be done now to shape the rules for Afghans living under the Taliban.