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Parallel Governance and Modern Insurgencies
by Patrick Devenny, Small Wars Journal
The ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have energized a vibrant discussion of counterinsurgency (COIN) that will influence American military doctrine and strategy for years to come. A substantial portion of this dialogue has focused on the conduct of stability operations encompassing the provision of security to local populations, the facilitation of political development, resource allocation, and the training of indigenous forces. Given its self-inflicted absence from America's post-Vietnam strategic discussion, the revitalization of this particular strain of COIN theory is long-overdue. However, recent efforts designed to refine COIN practices within the American military have not been complimented by a commensurate initiative that seeks to better describe our "competition" -- namely, the methods, strategies, and structures the enemy utilizes to attract or transform local populations in the furtherance of their political and military goals. This is a critical oversight. Absent a comprehensive and precise understanding of insurgent efforts to garner influence within the population, American counterinsurgency strategy will remain incomplete, regardless of the talent and experience of its authors.
This article will not attempt to thoroughly describe parallel governance systems, frequently referred to as "shadow governments" operating today. Instead, it is simply intended to galvanize interest in the study of the population control measures of our current enemies, primarily Islamic extremists operating in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although some suggest these groups have failed to realize the importance of building the shadow government structures that attracted extensive American attention during the Cold War, this article casts some doubt on that proposition. Unfortunately, given the often covert nature of these activities and the surprising lack of institutional interest in them, my data points will raise more questions than answers. Rather than dissuading study, however, the "hard-target" nature of research into parallel governance should serve as a challenge to irregular warfare analysts. Additionally, the key role that shadow governments have historically played, as well as the critical roles they assume in our current battles with irregular actors, should further motivate research. We cannot claim lack of precedent as an excuse: throughout the Cold War, American military analysts as well as academics were directly engaged in the study of insurgent population control, giving rise to a fascinating body of research that aided the era's COIN practitioners.