The Limits of ‘Hybrid Governance’ in Afghanistan

Posted: August 15, 2014 in Afghanistan

Srinjoy Bose & Nishank Motwani
Strategic Analysis | Volume 38, Issue 4, 2014


The following commentary argues that the strategic and structural solutions proffered by advocates of ‘hybrid’ governance—encompassing elements from distinctly different ideological backgrounds or schools of thought—ignore or fail to address certain inherent shortcomings in their approach that are counter-productive to the ongoing and long-term statebuilding and peacebuilding projects in Afghanistan. The following study elucidates some of these shortcomings.

Some of the strategies adopted by the Afghan government arise from hybrid approaches to governance, where the state has sought to draw its legitimacy from informal social structures by allowing them to perpetuate as competing institutions in matters concerning provision of individual security and important bodies to vet and validate state action.1

Such strategies can be counter-productive, particularly in view of the ongoing transition process in Afghanistan. While hybridism has had apparent ‘successes’ in Tanzania, Mozambique, Bostwana and Somaliland2 —where the inclusion of customary, non-liberal rule systems in the formal statebuilding/peacebuilding processes and the reliance on indigenous sources of state capability provide informal and/or domestic legitimacy—in the case of Afghanistan, reliance on/preservation of pre-existing political, economic and social conditions that fuel conflict are seen to be interfering with locally engrained approaches to/mechanisms for peacemaking. Moreover, empirical investigation also reveals that in countries with corrupt and abusive systems, such as Mexico and Uganda, those responsible for delivering security and justice are often the very perpetrators of insecurity.3

Too often, proponents of hybridism are over-eager to champion the advantages of a hybrid approach, even without paying sufficient attention to its possible ramifications, including that hybridism may, under certain circumstances, (1) negatively impact the working of formal (democratic) institutions, leading to elites once again taking refuge in patron–client networks, (2) dominate or undermine state institutions by violent methods and means, and (3) result in ‘spoiler’ behaviour and activity. The following study serves to identify challenges posed to the statebuilding/peacebuilding project in Afghanistan by a hybrid governance model and cautions against its overzealous and uncritical acceptance. As one scholar has argued, hybridism is not a phenomenon to be either universally condemned or venerated; rather the implications of hybridism need to be appraised in specific contexts.4

1. A hybrid political order is one that combines elements from different—seemingly incompatible and unharmonious—ideological worldviews and attempts to evolve a mixed structure often comprising informal and formal institutions of power, often clashing with each other. In the process, the ‘state’ becomes ‘only one actor among others, and “state order” is only one of a number of orders claiming to provide security, frameworks for conflict regulation and social services’ (V. Boege et al., ‘States Emerging from Hybrid Political Orders: Pacific Experiences’, Occasional Papers Series No. 11, Australian Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, Brisbane, September 2008, p. 6). Martina Fischer and Beatrix Schmelzle (eds.), Building Peace in the Absence of States: Challenging the Discourse on State Failure, Berghof Handbook for Conflict Transformation Dialogue Series No. 8, Berlin, 2009; K.P. Clements et al., ‘State Building Reconsidered: The Role of Hybridity in the Formation of Political Order’, Political Science, 59(1), 2007, pp. 45–56; Oliver P. Richmond, A Post-liberal Peace: The Infrapolitics of Peacebuilding, Routledge, London, 2011; David Chandler, International Statebuilding: The Rise of Post-liberal Governance, Routledge, London, 2011; Timothy Donais, Peacebuilding and Local Ownership: Post-conflict Consensus-building, Routledge, London, 2012.

2. K. Menkhaus, ‘Governance in the Hinterland of Africa’s Weak States: Toward a Theory of the Mediated State’, Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Pennsylvania Convention Center, Philadelphia, 2006; A. de Waal, ‘Fixing the Political Marketplace: How Can We Make Peace without Functioning State Institutions?’, Fifteenth Christen Michelsen Lecture, Bergen, October 2009.

3. Monica Serrano et al., Mexico’s Security Failure, Routledge, London, 2011; B. Baker, ‘Linking State and Non-State Security and Justice’, Development Policy, 28(5), 2010, pp. 597–616.

4. W. Maley, ‘Statebuilding in Afghanistan: Challenges and Pathologies’, Central Asian Survey, 32(3), 2013, pp. 255–270.

View full article @


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s