Non-State Security Providers and Political Formation in Afghanistan

As part of the Centre for Security Governance Papers series, this paper examines how diverse non-state security providers – warlords, tribal leaders and local strongmen – affect the process of state formation and statebuilding in Afghanistan. Its analysis of the nature and scope of international engagement of informal security actors in northeast and southwest Afghanistan suggests that external donors have not primarily promoted liberal peace, but rather a hybrid political order.

The support of international actors has allowed non-state security actors to operate without the consent of communities, a situation in stark contrast, for instance, to Afghan tribal leadership in the past, whose authority and survival was predicated on the support of community constituencies. This practice of international state builders has thus impeded the development of a social contract and prevented non-state actors from winning the legitimacy that could potentially make their governance a viable alternative to the centralized state. Considering the adverse effects that international donor support for non-state security providers has had in Afghanistan, the paper argues that a hands-off, “do no harm” approach from international actors with regard to non-state security providers would increase stability more than its current form of engagement.

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