For over 50 years, Afghanistan has seen conflict ranging from wars to dysfunctional governments. The region’s instability can be partially attributed to the structure of the Afghan government. Shortly after Soviet occupation in Afghanistan ended, the Taliban, an extremist Muslim group, seized control. In the early 2000s, a series of corrupt elected leaders intensified tensions. Hamid Karzai wasted billions of dollars in aid while earning money for himself through illegal businesses, solidifying the precedent for corruption in Afghanistan. The Afghan government tries to steal as much money and gain as much power as possible for the top leaders while many citizens live in extreme poverty and unsafe conditions. The Taliban’s presence in most of Afghanistan further undermines the influence of the government. The Afghan government structure, foreign policy, and governing methods closely resemble that of an institutional gang bent on enriching its members at the expense of Afghan society.
The Afghan government is directly involved with powerful families, the private sector, and terrorist groups, making positive change difficult or impossible. The goal of the Afghan government is not to govern, but to use the people for their own benefit. Corrupt governments, including Afghanistan, send the majority of their money and resources outside the country, which benefits the top leaders, but increases poverty. This structure is very similar to that of an institutional gang. Furthermore, similar to a gang, the Afghan government does not have a clear separation of powers, which would otherwise limit the power of individuals. In addition, kleptocracies, such as Afghanistan, are more susceptible to corruption. Citizens who travel within Afghanistan must pay bribes to the Afghan police at every checkpoint in order to pass. The lack of real police presence may force citizens to turn to the Taliban for protection, increasing their power. In fact, many people see the Taliban as a favorable alternative to the government. The Taliban provides loans, protection, and collects taxes more reliably than the actual government. Even though this appears to be a viable solution, both the Taliban and the Afghan government treat their citizens poorly, which is similar to how gangs treat their people. Relations between the Taliban and the Afghan government resemble wars between gangs for territory, resources, and power. Therefore, 80% of the Afghan people support neither the Taliban or the government. Support for the Taliban would shrink significantly if the undecided 80% trusted the government. This would decrease the Taliban’s influence and stabilize the state without military intervention.
The Afghan government closely resembles gangs in their domestic governing method. This correlation is clearly shown in the government’s control over the opium industry. The government first accommodates the opium farmers, then cooperates with them, and finally becomes a predator, eventually taking complete control of the business. This cycle shows how the Afghan government slowly transitions from a government to a gang when interacting with the opium farmers. In addition, the farmers must pay “taxes” to the government in order to grow opium even though its cultivation is technically illegal. The Taliban also instituted a similar taxation system for their land. The government seems to be very effective at taxing the opium farmers. The tax rates, which are dependent on the number of acres, rain, and crop yield, seem more reasonable than many US tax laws. Afghan officials are becoming more involved with the opium trade. They are competing with the Taliban for money and their competition can resemble that of drug gangs. Everyone in government, including the president, is involved with the opium trade. Using illegal businesses and sending money upward are two main determinants of institutional gangs. Opium cultivation benefits both the farmers and the government in the short term, preventing corruption from ending.
The Afghan government structure, foreign policy, and governing methods closely resemble that of an institutional gang. The Taliban and the Afghan government resemble two competing gangs with similar motives. This situation could be improved by directly supporting the people rather than giving aid money to the government.