This primer on subnational government in Afghanistan is meant to inform efforts to strengthen local government in recently cleared areas. Among the problems afflicting the Afghan state are the lack of effective service provision and representation, which together should constitute the base of the state's legitimacy. This paper identifies the various entities of local government and identifies opportunities for improvement. It is based on a review of the available academic and nongovernmental studies of subnational government in Afghanistan and interviews with civilian experts, including consultants attached to U.S. and allied government agencies. Opportunities to make the system more participatory and representative should be sought at lower levels to compensate for weak central institutions, and the court system must be strengthened where possible. Good intelligence about local politics must precede engagement. Governance metrics should gauge subjective perceptions of the legitimacy of the Afghan state, rather than objective outputs.
The research described in this report was prepared for the Marine Corps Intelligence Activity. The research was conducted within the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.
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