Image Source: United States Institute of Peace
January 2020
REGION: South Asia

Displacement and the Vulnerability to Mobilize for Violence: Evidence from Afghanistan,” by Sadaf Lakhani and Rahmatullah Amiri, evaluates whether displaced persons in Afghanistan are more vulnerable to radicalization and mobilization to violence than groups that have not experienced displacement. Through analysis of an observational study conducted in 2018 by The Liaison Office (TLO), a research and peacebuilding organization based in Kabul, the authors report evidence suggesting internally displaced persons (IDPs) and returnees are not necessarily at greater risk for recruitment to violent extremism or more vulnerable to radicalization than nondisplaced persons.

The report analyzes a TLO study that implemented a mixed methods approach to gain insight from IDPs. The study surveyed 1,405 people from eight provinces in Afghanistan. The eight provinces selected for the study have relatively high numbers of displaced people as well as differing ethnic composition and are located in different parts of the country. Of the survey respondents, 104 were given qualitative interview questions concerning their experience of hardship and attitudes toward violent extremist groups. Questions related to each individual’s perceived source of hardship, attitudes toward the Taliban and other armed nonstate groups, and the use of violence more generally.

The analysis of the survey responses and interviews provides greater insight into factors that influence an individual’s opinion of the Taliban. While nearly 35 percent of the survey participants responded that the Taliban were “very good” or “somewhat good,” the findings are strongly correlated with the participants’ provincial locations;[1] displaced and nondisplaced participants responded similarly to the survey in the aggregate. Additionally, the report finds no association between the length of time IDPs had spent in displacement and sympathy for the Taliban. The factors that most strongly correlated with a favorable opinion of the Taliban included being a resident of Kandahar (Kandahar has historically had a significant Taliban presence), having little or no schooling, and frequent exposure to violent extremist messaging. Furthermore, respondents who noted that they felt availability of government services such as schooling or healthcare was important were less likely to indicate having interest in joining armed nonstate groups. The most common reason that individuals reported for sympathy toward the Taliban was that “the Taliban provide justice and resolve conflicts.”[2]

One notable exception to these findings is that returnees who reentered Afghanistan more than five years before the time of the study were much more likely than recent returnees to express sympathy toward the Taliban. The report suggests this exception reinforces interview data and anecdotal observations from the study about the radicalization of older returnee groups that had spent time in Pakistan. It remains unclear whether those returnees’ sympathy for the Taliban developed before they left the country, during their displacement as refugees, or upon their return to Afghanistan; and whether it is correlated with any other variables.

The study also evaluated attitudes toward the use of violence against civilians. The report notes that a respondent’s provincial location was correlated more strongly with his or her responses than was his or her status as a returnee, IDP, or nondisplaced person. Furthermore, respondents generally did not accept the use of retaliatory violence. Individuals who favored retaliatory violence were primarily those who had grievances with the government and those who received frequent violent extremist messaging.

The report concludes that factors such as social support networks, moderate religious instruction, and stable employment are correlated with less mobilization to violence. Based on the study results, the report recommends government, international donors supporting stability operations, and agencies that work with both IDPs and returnees do the following:

  • Address underlying issues of material need;
  • Create local issue-specific programs;
  • Strengthen government functions as they relate to conflict and dispute resolution;
  • Address displaced persons exposure to messaging by violent extremist groups; and
  • Provide greater assistance in the return of Afghan refugees.


[1] See pages 15-16 of the report for a breakdown of responses by village or site.

[2] A similar point is reflected in the JUSTRAC white paper, “Final Report: Exploring the Relationship between the Rule of Law and Violent Extremism in the Middle East,” from a symposium held in June 2016.

NOTE: This summary is produced by the Rule of Law Collaborative, not by the original author(s).

Displacement and the Vulnerability to Mobilize for Violence: Evidence from Afghanistan

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