Skip to content →

Climate Adaptation in No-Man’s Land: Bridging the Conflict-Climate Gap
with Ashley Jackson, Leigh Mayhew and Pascal Bongard; 2023, Centre on Armed Groups / ODI / CCDP

The current climate adaptation paradigm focuses overwhelmingly on states, neglecting conflict areas, which are among the worst impacted by climate change and the least prepared to adapt. This paper examines the failure the address climate adaptation in conflict areas and areas beyond state control. While there is increasingly rhetorical and policy attention to the need for climate adaptation work in conflict areas, this has not (yet) been matched by meaningful change. In the meanwhile, armed groups are taking advantage of this neglect, and stepping in to address (and exploit) climate impacts. This paper explores what is driving the conflict-climate gap, and what we know about armed group behaviour and potential forms of engagement. It examines the opportunities and challenges for climate adaptation in conflict-affected and non-state controlled-areas. It concludes by outlining a multi-pronged approach to developing ways of working on climate adaptation in these settings.

Crime and communities: Life under criminal group control
with Ashley Jackson and Theo Tindall; 2023, ODI / Centre on Armed Groups

Academics and policy-makers tend to categorise and analyse so-called ‘criminal’ groups, which are primarily motivated by profit, separately from ‘political’ groups – ignoring critical commonalities between the two. This paper argues that we should not see them as separate categories. Instead, we should envision a spectrum of motives and practices across all armed groups, regardless of how they are labelled. This paper specifically examines practices that armed groups use to influence civilian behaviour. Even beyond direct violence, we find that criminal and political groups use similar techniques to control communities. Understanding these tactics is essential to helping people affected by violence. With growing recognition of the blurred lines between conflict and crime, more integrated and comparative study is required to improve our understanding of and engagement with armed groups.

How the Taliban are losing the peace in Afghanistan
with Ashley Jackson; 2023, Current History

Taliban Arms Management Practices
with Ashley Jackson and Maiwand; 2023, Small Arms Survey / Centre on Armed Groups

Since taking control of Afghanistan in August 2021, the Taliban have attempted to monitor and control small arms at the national level. They have not, however, developed any major new policies on these areas. Instead, the Taliban have continued to use the existing policies and procedures implemented under the previous Government of the Republic of Afghanistan, making modifications as needed. The Taliban’s capacity to control and manage stockpiles has increased over time, with weapons in the major bases largely kept secure. Personal connections, however, trump rules and procedures: influential commanders can often obtain weapons without following formal approval procedures. An additional challenge for the Taliban is that many commanders refuse to register weapons they possessed before August 2021. Commanders and fighters generally view such weapons as personal property, rather than that of the Taliban or the state. Power dynamics within the Taliban at the subnational level shape the management of weapons, which varies considerably from province to province. While the Taliban can act in a unified manner in certain circumstances, its central authorities tend to leave much of the day-to-day running of affairs to the local officials— both for political reasons and due to capacity issues.

Understanding agency in civilian-armed group interactions
with Ashley Jackson and Theo Tindall; 2022, ODI / Centre on Armed Groups

Within both the academic and policy literature, civilians are rarely seen as having significant influence over armed actors, or over conflict dynamics more broadly – but that is starting to change. This paper explores what we know about civilian–armed group relations, and raises new questions for investigation. It urges us to think of ‘civilians’ and ‘armed groups’ as diverse, fluid and overlapping categories, and refocus our attention on how civilians exercise agency.

Rethinking armed group control: Towards a new conceptual framework
with Ibraheem Bahiss, Ashley Jackson, and Leigh Mayhew; 2022, Centre for the Study of Armed Groups

Prevailing understandings of control – which focus on territorial dividing lines and violent incident monitoring – miss important indicators of armed group control. We argue that armed group control should instead be broken down according to the ways in which armed groups seek to influence populations. To exercise influence and control, armed groups apply a variety of practices, including different types of violence, dispute resolution, taxation, regulation of movement, access to aid and services, and social strictures. Territorial markers of control tend to be misleading, as many armed groups exercise control over populations beyond areas where they are physically present, shaping and influencing civilian life in the economic, social and political spheres deep into areas thought of as ‘government controlled’. This paper proposes several alternate ways of monitoring shifts in armed group control, by focusing on practices and the development of underlying capacities required to influence civilian behaviour. The hope is that more contextualised and specific indicators can improve conflict early warning.

Beyond Greed: Why Armed Groups Tax 
with Tanya Bandula-Irwin, Max Gallien, Ashley Jackson and Vanessa van den Boogaard; 2022, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism

Based on a review of the diverse practices of how armed groups tax, we highlight that a full account of why armed groups tax needs to go beyond revenue motivations, to also engage with explanations related to ideology, legitimacy, institution building, legibility and control of populations, and the performance of public authority. This article builds on two distinct literatures, on armed groups and on taxation, to provide the first systematic exploration of the motivations of armed group taxation. We problematize common approaches toward armed group taxation and state-building, and outline key questions of a new research agenda.

Beyond Greed: Why Armed Groups Tax 
with Tanya Bandula-Irwin, Max Gallien, Ashley Jackson and Vanessa van den Boogaard; 2021, ICTD Working Paper 131

Armed groups tax. Journalistic accounts often include a tone of surprise about this fact, while policy reports tend to strike a tone of alarm, highlighting the link between armed group taxation and ongoing conflict. Policymakers often focus on targeting the mechanisms of armed group taxation as part of their conflict strategy, often described as ‘following the money’. We argue that what is instead needed is a deeper understanding of the nuanced realities of armed group taxation, the motivations behind it, and the implications it has for an armed group’s relationship with civilian and diaspora populations, as well as the broader international community. This paper builds on two distinct literatures, on armed groups and on taxation, to provide the first systematic exploration into the motivation of armed group taxation. Based on a review of the diverse practices of how armed groups tax, we highlight that a full account of their motivation needs to go beyond revenue collection, and engage with key themes around legitimacy, population control, institution building, and the performance of public authority. We problematise common approaches towards armed group taxation and state-building, and outline key questions of a new research agenda.

Richter in eigener Sache: So regieren die Taliban (German)
2021, Zenith Magazin

Book – Conflict and Transnational Crime: Borders, Bullets & Business in Southeast Asia
2020, Edward Elgar

Rebel rule of law: Taliban courts in the west and north-west of Afghanistan
with Ashley Jackson; 2020, ODI Briefing note

Afghanistan’s Taliban have gradually uprooted and replaced customary and state systems of conflict resolution and justice with their own courts in the areas they influence and control. Taliban justice is the only justice system millions of Afghans are now able to access. This briefing note, based on more than 200 interviews with claimants and defendants in civil cases in Taliban courts, traces the evolution of the post-2001 Taliban justice system and explores civilian experiences in the courts. 

The Taliban’s War for Legitimacy in Afghanistan
with Ashley Jackson; 2019, Current History (April)

Afghanistan’s Taliban – Legitimate Jihadists or Coercive Extremists?
2017, Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding, 11(3), pp.359-381

The military intervention in Afghanistan in 2001 was portrayed as a fight to oust the extremist Taliban. But the Taliban have long been regaining influence, with the military victory of the Afghan government and its foreign allies now seeming less likely than ever. In light of these developments, this article investigates what the affected people – rather than the foreign interveners – think about the Taliban, and whether they perceive them as coercive or legitimate. Building on a conceptual understanding of legitimacy that has been adjusted to the dynamics of conflict-torn spaces, the article suggests that people judge the Taliban on the basis of how their day-to-day behaviour is perceived. While the Taliban are a coercive threat in urban centres and other areas where they launch attacks, they nonetheless manage to construct legitimacy in some of the places which they control or can access easily. A major source of their legitimacy in these areas is the way in which they provide services – such as conflict resolution – which some people consider to be faster and fairer than the state’s practices.