Even with a drastically reduced international presence after this year, the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan will continue to exist. As long as enough aid money comes in, with arguably somewhere around 350,000 in the security forces, if the government can continue to pay and equip its security forces (granted, not a sure thing), no insurgent force will be able to dislodge the government in Kabul anytime soon. But in the rural areas, among the four-fifths of Afghans who depend on the land for their daily bread, changes are already taking place as security dynamics shift from ISAF control to Afghan government control, or to militia control, or to insurgent control. This creates uncertainty in power, ownership, and law, formal or otherwise.
Our colleague Matthew Dearing recently published a paper called “Robber Barons Rising: The Potential for Resource Conflict in Ghazni, Afghanistan,” with Cynthia Braden, that outlines developing scenarios in one part of Afghanistan as the ISAF campaign there winds down. Already, they report, the flow of money from ISAF is decreasing, forcing powerbrokers and would-be powerbrokers in the area to seek new and revitalize old revenue streams. They present three hypotheses: that groups will adjust their own ideological and strategic approaches based on new resource realities, that conflict over resources will increase, and that claims to ownership based on the provincial or national government will become increasingly fragile as does those governments’ legitimacy in the hinterlands. This is occurring across Afghanistan, and is well worth studying. “Robber Barons…” gives some good suggestions on how to mitigate some of the worst abuses of resource management and development, although I do take issue with the suggestion to develop artisanal mining (which, if not tightly controlled in a way I’m not sure the Afghan government can do, will really mess things up). The paper’s well worth the read to understand what comes next in Afghanistan.