Incentives in Afghanistan


Spencer Ackerman wonders how it is the Taliban got better than the Afghan government at governance. I’ve asked the same thing about the Taliban’s combat effectiveness.

One thing that occurs to me is that the incentives for our allies seem off. If you’re a US-aligned Afghan leader, you’re looking at two main revenue streams. One is western aid money and one is drug smuggling. If you really get your ass kicked, you’re going to lose both. But if you’re too successful, and Afghanistan becomes a Taliban-free and reasonably well-governed place, then suddenly the aid money might dry up and the international community’s priorities are going to shift in favor of cracking down on the drug trade. Sure, the Americans will say that the aid won’t vanish the day after the war ends, but do you really believe them? Perpetuation of the war, rather than victory, seems to be your dominant strategy.

For the Taliban, things look different. Actually winning the war is your best path toward becoming a de jure recognized government of Afghanistan with the various benefits that might convey.