This article in the Army Times tells the story of a section of Afghanistan populated by relatively few people where not a single government service works. The last sitting judge was slain some time ago and has not been replaced. The civilian government is nearly completely absent, existing only in the form of civilian police – viewed as corrupt thugs who steal from the populace, largely because this is something they actually do; a small presence by the Afghan army; and the presence of American troops, without which the Afghan army would likely not even attempt to be in this area at all. In fact, the only reason the area has strategic importance is its closeness to the main highway that is the economic lifeline of the entire country, leading from Kabul to Kandahar, the city near the Pakistani border.

The article is entitled, “The government does nothing for me.” The story told is of a populace that cannot obtain little things like justice in a court of law for actual, blatant, real wrongs committed against them. Faced with a complete lack of alternatives, civilians who must provide the Taliban with food or face their weapons, while having none (or too few) themselves, turn to the Taliban for adjucation of legal disputes, which of course must be under the Taliban’s strict interpretation of Sharia law. Turnaround in legal cases is swift, and punishments dished out are stern and severe; the legitimate government’s alternatives are “never” and “none.”

In this sense, the Taliban is offering the Don Corleone solution. In fact, the Italian and Sicilian mafia emerged precisely due to such legal vacuums created during the time of the decline of the Vatican and prior to the rise of modern Italy, with the quasi-feudal government system having substantial holes in it that led to inconsistent, and sometimes no, rule of law. Of course, in such a system, there is only rule of men anyway, but at least there could be an interested party with what was viewed as legitimate authority; where such authority was weak or in name only but non-existent in practice, the Mafia provided a kind of order and justice for those willing to play by its rules.

This article does not mention whether the Taliban itself slew the judge. However, such an occurrence would be unsurprising. To create a governmental vacuum, and to then fill that vacuum with Sharia law, effectively makes the area ruled by the “shadow government” of the Taliban, regardless of the military situation.

In theory, a surge of U.S. troops that leads to killing enough Taliban could break that grip, but a) finding them, b) identifying them as Taliban and not civilians, and c) hunting them down and killing enough of them to make a difference, is difficult to do with a foreign troop presence with very little, at best, understanding of local traditions, language, and personalities, and the precise interaction of members of such tribal societies. In fact, the Taliban need not actually engage in military operations at all to maintain its grip on governance; it need merely avoid any catastrophic battlefield losses, avoid unnecessary engagements, pitch in with the broader goal of making the main highway difficult for U.S. supply convoys and government assets, and rely on the government’s inefficiency, corruption, and remoteness to maintain its grip on local power.

There’s no magic bullet for solving such a difficult situation.

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