The two-decade effort by the United States and its NATO allies to build a modern liberal state in Afghanistan envisioned electoral democracy replacing village councils and other forms of customary authority. But citizens still rely on these community-based bodies to resolve disputes, provide small-scale public goods and services, and broker relations with local government. Customary institutions may also provide protection against predatory government officials. Although the international community has largely overlooked customary authority, US and NATO military forces eventually recognized their importance. Throughout history, Afghan rulers have regarded customary authorities as threats to their power, and they have been largely excluded from ongoing peace talks among the United States, the Afghan government, and the Taliban.

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