Why is the Taliban So Awesome?

(dod photo)

(dod photo)

Admiral Mike Mullen points out that one reason the Taliban is doing well in Afghanistan is that they seem to do a better job of providing governance. This is clearly something the US military thinks is important, and there’s now lots of talk about the need to improve Afghan government capabilities, but as Spencer Ackerman points out there’s very little analytic work being done about why this is:

Now, that’s something that the Obama administration and its allies often discuss as a problem to be solved. But rarely have I observed discussions about why it is that the Taliban govern relatively effectively, compared with the Afghan government, outside of generic statements that the U.S.-led coalition hasn’t sufficiently challenged the Taliban in select areas. But can that really be the whole story? The Taliban had a reputation for incorruptibility in the 1990s that helped them come to power; and as much as the Taliban remain unpopular in opinion surveys, the incapacity and corruption on the part of the Afghan government probably reinforces that reputation.

This is similar to what I’ve been saying about the Afghan National Army. The Taliban don’t have Provincial Reconstruction Teams telling them how to do governance. They’re not benefiting from a “civilian surge” of outside experts. It seems to me that either our Afghan allies are either remarkably inept, or else our interventions are counterproductive, or else we’re trying to get them to do things that are not suited to the actual social conditions that prevail in Afghanistan. Not really knowing about the situation in detail, hypothesis three seems most likely.