When Terrorists Outgovern the State

How It Works
June 19 2014 2:41 PM

When Terrorists Outgovern the State

Jon Boone of the Guardian reports on a Taliban-run court in Pakistan's North Waziristan region. Intriguingly, it’s not just locals using the court’s services:

Such "shadow justice" systems have been established by the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban in areas of both countries they have sought to control. But the mufti's jurisdiction is not North Waziristan, or the many other parts of Pakistan's troubled north-west where the state's writ is limited or non-existent.
Instead he deals exclusively with settling the business, property and family disputes of people living 600 miles away in Karachi – Pakistan's commercial and industrial capital, which hosts the country's stock exchange, bank headquarters and the country's most important port. …
On any given day plaintiffs and defendants make the two-day journey from the teeming megacity to Miran Shah, inventing excuses to get past army checkpoints. No one dares ignore a summons but many are happy to make the effort, reflecting a widespread belief that Taliban justice is superior to the slow and corrupt courts – something counter-insurgency theorists describe as the "out-governing" of the state by illegal groups trying to usurp it.
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A lot of the discussion around counterterrorism policy focuses on how “ungoverned” spaces outside the control of the central government in places like Pakistan or Syria create safe havens where terrorist groups have room to operate. But often these groups aren’t just operating in a vacuum, they’re competing with the state in providing governance.

When it comes to current events in Syria and Iraq, as terrorism scholar Aaron Zelin points out, ISIS’s governing strategy in the areas it controls may be best known internationally for the brutality of the punishments it metes out—including floggings and amputations—but it also deals with such mundane issues as consumer protection and operating dams. It’s also been more willing to work with local existing authorities, perhaps a result of the lessons it learned last decade in Anbar when it was known as al-Qaida in Iraq.

Outgoverning extremist groups may frequently turn out to be a tougher challenge than outfighting them.

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog.