Afghanistan has struggled to build the strong, merit-based institutions that provide the good governance and access to essential services envisioned in the Afghan constitution. In practice, governance and access to services in the country rest on a set of elite bargains among a small number of disproportionately wealthy and influential groups. These elite bargains are part of the post-Taliban ‘political settlement’ (i.e. the explicit, or implicit agreement ‘among powerful groups about the rules of the political game, the organisation of power and who benefits therefrom’ (Kelsall, 2018: 4). Afghanistan’s post-Taliban political settlement, heavily shaped by the US-led intervention and the international presence in Afghanistan since 2001, has divided the resources of the state and its constituent parts among a select set of elite factions and informal networks, while other factions have been largely excluded or marginalised (Jalali, 2003: 174–185).
This background paper explores how these informal networks intersect with formal power structures in the country, and what the implications are for development.