Insurgency in Afghanistan: Legitimacy as a Motivation

Gary, Trisha, Department of Politics, University of Virginia
Echeverri-Gent, John, Department of Politics, University of Virginia

Many theories have attempted to explain insurgent motivations, but these theories have not examined insurgent quests to gain legitimacy. As the number of insurgencies has grown exponentially in the past several decades, it is important to develop a more nuanced understanding of these complex non-state actors. I compare greed, grievance and state capacity arguments in Afghanistan to the legitimacy argument, finding that the Taliban is best explained as being motivated to gain legitimacy. First, I apply the prominent theories of insurgent motivations – greed, grievance, rational choice, and state capacity – to the current insurgency and find that they cannot adequately explain the current motivations of the insurgency in Afghanistan. Second, define legitimacy. Then I apply the legitimacy case to the Afghanistan insurgency. I find that the Taliban is more responsive than the government to the needs of the Afghan population, providing security where the government cannot. Additionally, and in contrast to the government, the Taliban prevents its members from engaging in large-scale corruption. These two actions – provision of security and lack of corruption – help the Taliban convince the population that they are the best option among all alternatives. Counterintuitively, I find that while looting provides some necessary funding for building the legitimacy of the insurgents, it substantially diminishes the legitimacy of the government. In contrast, when the government loots, it reduces its own legitimacy and facilitates an increased insurgency of the insurgents.

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MA (Master of Arts)
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