Skip to content →

Book – Waiting for Dignity: Legitimacy and Authority in Afghanistan
2022, Columbia University Press


Why Did the Taliban Win (Again) in Afghanistan? 
2022, LSE Public Policy Review

The paper explores the long-term developments and dynamics in Afghanistan, which enabled the Taliban to capture the state in August 2021. It suggests that the Taliban’s success was enabled by the failure of the international intervention to build legitimate authority in Afghanistan. Three factors contributed to this failure: First, different actors that were part of the intervention in the country pursued competing agendas, especially with the ‘War on Terror’ undermining human rights and state-building. Second, a gap between the Afghan internationally supported state and its citizens evolved and grew larger over time, especially due to the risk mitigation measures applied. Third, day-to-day interactions that ordinary people in Afghanistan had with the state were often perceived as corrupt and extractive, making it difficult for the state to convey that it was working in the interest of its citizens.


Kabul: Bridging the Gap between the State and the People; in: Kaldor, Mary and Sassen, Saskia (eds): Cities at War Global Insecurity and Urban Resistance
2020, Columbia University Press


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.


Investigating the role of legitimacy in the political order of conflict-torn spaces
2015; Working papers, SiT/WP/04/15. Security in Transition, LSE, London, UK

Conflict-affected spaces that are far from exhibiting a Weberian monopoly of the legitimate use of force have been categorised as ‘fragile’ and ‘failed’ states for years. However, there is a growing tendency to understand conflicts as a form of order and to adapt the definition of statehood accordingly. But while the post-Weberian approaches indeed help to overcome some of the flaws of the dominant understanding of statehood, they do not substantively consider the role of legitimacy. The statebuilding discourse illustrates the problematic implications of the limited understanding of legitimacy on the policy level. In response, this paper suggests in line with post-Weberian scholars to understand political order as a field with multiple authorities but to consider both force and legitimacy as sources underpinning obedience to social control. An analytical framework is developed that acknowledges multiple dimensions of legitimacy as well as its dynamics. This framework may help to analyse legitimacy in empirical cases to inductively advance the theoretical understanding of legitimacy and to enable statebuilding which strengthens those authorities and institutions that are actually considered to be legitimate.