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Understanding Control and Influence: What Opium Poppy and Tax Reveal about the Writ of the Afghan State

There are a number of organisations that have sought to map government control in Afghanistan.1 However, given the frequency it is cited in the media and official reports, this paper offers a critique of the current way that North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) and US Forces in Afghanistan (USFOR-A) measure government influence and control in Afghanistan. It describes the limits of the current approach within the confines of what is currently known about the methodology. It shows that the concept of state or insurgent “control” over a population or area jars not only with historical understandings of the State in Afghanistan, but also contemporary events across large swathes of the country. It also illustrates how the categories adopted by USFOR-A – “state influence”, “insurgent influence” and “contested” – are not mutually exclusive, and argues that district wide assessments do not offer sufficient granular detail to understand how the insurgency gains influence in an area, strengthens its position in rural communities before consolidating its position and encircling a district or provincial center.

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