New Berghof Research Report: Militias – a curse or a cure?


The public and the academic debates about the pros and cons of militias are beset with controversy. While academic research on militias made significant progress in recent years, the conditions under which militias perform better or worse (from the perspective of the civilian population) remain unclear.

The new Berghof Research Report Militias: a curse or a cure? sets out to explore the factors that contribute to a better or worse performance of militias with regard to civilian security. Building on the results of the DFG-funded Forms of Informal Governance in North and North-East Afghanistan project the paper investigates how characteristics of community level governance influence the behaviour of local militias and of insurgents.  For their research, the team of authors used three waves of quantitative and qualitative survey data gathered by the C9 Research Project of the Collaborative Research Center 700 (“Governance in Areas of Limited Statehood”). Key findings of the research include:

  • The inclusion of local elders into the vetting procedure of militias (be they informal or formal) has a positive effect on militia performance.
  • Community cohesion and the quality of communal leadership also shows strong correlations with the behaviour of local armed groups (including the Taliban) restraining them and making them less threatening to civilians.
  • Lastly, the integration of informal local militias into the Afghan Local Police (ALP) was associated with a less threatening behaviour of the militias and a more positive contribution by them to (local) security.

The report concludes with a set of practical recommendations for states and international organisations interested in protecting civilian populations from abuses by militias.

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