Negotiating Survival

Civilian–Insurgent Relations in Afghanistan

August 2021 9781787384859 328pp
Available as an eBook


Two decades on from 9/11, the Taliban now control more than half of Afghanistan. Few would have foreseen such an outcome, and there is little understanding of how Afghans living in Taliban territory have navigated life under insurgent rule.

Based on over 400 interviews with Taliban and civilians, this book tells the story of how civilians have not only bargained with the Taliban for their survival, but also ultimately influenced the course of the war in Afghanistan. While the Taliban have the power of violence on their side, they nonetheless need civilians to comply with their authority. Both strategically and by necessity, civilians have leveraged this reliance on their obedience in order to influence Taliban behaviour.

Challenging prevailing beliefs about civilians in wartime, Negotiating Survival presents a new model for understanding how civilian agency can shape the conduct of insurgencies. It also provides timely insights into Taliban strategy and objectives, explaining how the organisation has so nearly triumphed on the battlefield and in peace talks. While Afghanistan’s future is deeply unpredictable, there is one certainty: it is as critical as ever to understand the Taliban—and how civilians survive their rule.


Negotiating Survival is the first text to cover the topic of how civilians have been bargaining with insurgents in Afghanistan. Rich in empirical material and comprehensively sourced, it is original, ambitious, and convincing.’ — Antonio Giustozzi, Visiting Professor, King’s College London, and author of The Taliban at War: 2001–2018

‘This is a work of outstanding scholarship. The first-hand data collected rigorously by the author makes this book an original contribution to the literature on the politics and operation of armed non-state actors. Vivid and compelling.’ — Barnett Rubin, Senior Fellow, Center on International Cooperation, and author of Afghanistan from the Cold War through the War on Terror

‘An exploration of the political landscape in Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan, led by an intrepid scholar with an eye for details and their analytical implications. Essential reading at a critical juncture in the country’s history.’ — Astri Suhrke, Researcher Emeritas, Chr. Michelsen Institute, and author of When More is Less. The International Project in Afghanistan

‘In this sensitive, bottom-up account, Jackson reveals the everyday tightrope walk that the civilian population and their leadership in Afghanistan have to undertake with the dreaded Taliban in order to stay relevant. A masterly study of the art of negotiation.’ — Amalendu Misra, Senior Lecturer, Lancaster University, and author of Afghanistan: The Labyrinth of Violence


Ashley Jackson is the co-director of the Centre for the Study of Armed Groups at the Overseas Development Institute. She has worked on Afghanistan for more than a decade and has published extensively on the Taliban.

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