The Paradox of the Heavy Handed Insurgent: Public Support for the Taliban among Afghan Pashtuns

Document Type


Journal/Book Title/Conference

Studies in Conflict and Terrorism


Taylor & Francis Inc.

Publication Date


First Page


Last Page



Afghanistan is a profoundly insecure country, with a very high rate of insurgent violence affecting large swathes of the population. Despite contributing to physical and economic insecurity across the country, Taliban insurgents have succeeded in creating what we call the “paradox of the heavy-handed insurgent.” Insurgents use attacks on government-controlled areas to generate public support by fostering a reputation for effective security provision for the civilian population under its control. For civilians who have a strong unmet need for physical security–especially those in rural and contested communities–heavy-handed insurgents are preferable to government forces who are perceived as either incompetent or unwilling to provide governance. We test this argument using data from the 2018 Asia Society Survey of the Afghan People. We find that the most important factor driving sympathy for the Taliban among Afghan Pashtuns is their sense of insecurity where they live. This indicates that an insurgent group that wears down government forces and weakens their ability to provide public goods and services can actually benefit by appearing as the more viable alternative for governance despite their heavy-handed tactics.

This document is currently not available here.