Afghanistan Research Network

PeaceRep’s Afghanistan programme brings together a network of diverse Afghan experts and activists in exile with select non-Afghan experts and academics in order to develop policy-relevant research and reflections that can respond to the complex and interlocking crises emerging in Afghanistan today.  The aim of this programme is threefold: to support the work and expertise of Afghan researchers who recently fled Afghanistan; to ensure that they are able to provide their expertise and analysis to inform contextually-appropriate international policies and practices on Afghanistan; and to deepen understanding of evolving political, security and economic dynamics.  A key element of this project is to also gain insights on how to conduct research in fragmented and politically-constrained environments, such as Afghanistan.

The Taliban military takeover in August 2021 created unprecedented humanitarian and human rights challenges for the Afghan people with profound implications for the security, economic, and (geo-) political landscape in the region and beyond. Today, Afghanistan is the only country in the world which has banned women and girls from accessing education and employment, with significant consequences for human rights, security and the effective delivery of humanitarian assistance. International decisions, actions, and policies in the short- and medium-term to address these interlocking crises will also shape future pathways for promoting a stable and pluralistic Afghanistan. How humanitarian, security and political policies interact needs to be considered. This network aims to respond to the high-risk of a protracted political, security, human rights and economics crisis facing Afghanistan today.

The Conflict and Civicness unit at LSE IDEAS, in collaboration with the Civic Engagement Project (CEP) is establishing an Afghanistan Research Network that brings together Afghan experts and activists from a diverse range of backgrounds. A key element of this project is to centre the academic and expert capability of Afghans who have been on the frontlines of the complex challenges Afghanistan is grappling with today.

This project was launched in September 2022.

The Programme 

The network brings together Afghan experts and activists from a range of backgrounds to establish an agile research network where different types of research and expertise can speak to each other and  feed into UK and international policy making. This research network will review and assess comparative learning on Afghanistan with a focus on producing policy-relevant research while also preserving expertise, strengthening civicness, and identifying constructive steps for supporting the Afghan people and future pathways for stability.  Some of the key issue areas being explored include: the effectiveness of humanitarian aid, gender apartheid and human rights documentation, peace process design and dialogues, narratives and conflict, civil society and diaspora engagement, and navigating aid and development in a  politically-constrained environment.

The Project 

Afghanistan will remain a politically complex and repressive context for the foreseeable future, in which regular international cooperation cannot take place in the absence of a legitimate government and increasing gender crimes. This project responds to the following factors – which taken together create a high risk for a protracted political, security, human rights crisis and economic crisis -, including:

  •  The exodus of Afghan activists, researchers, civil servants and experts (with many others in hiding or seeking to leave Afghanistan) has created a huge loss of knowledge and expertise as deepening security and humanitarian crisis has forced many Afghans to flee;
  • A political crisis in which an exclusionary de facto Taliban government is focused on maintaining internal cohesion of the Taliban movement and consolidating authoritarian power rather than responding to the needs of the Afghan people;
  • Accelerating humanitarian crises compounded by extreme drought, an economic crisis, pauses on aid, COVID-19, severe gender discrimination and large-scale displacement;
  • Repression, serious human rights violations, and gender-based violence, including the severe restriction of women’s rights (with girls being banned from secondary school and women barred from most employment), freedom of assembly, and freedom of information. There are verified reports of grave human rights abuses, disappearances, seizures of property, raids on the homes of journalists, activists, and human rights defenders, and extra-judicial killings of former government and security officials by members of the Taliban.
  • Deteriorating security environment, with reports of an increase in terrorist activity and border attacks combined with tensions within the Taliban's internal dynamics, factionalism and shifts in power structures;
  • Significant challenges in gathering credible data in fragmented and politically difficult environments like Afghanistan where information is siloed, partial, and politically biased.

The Afghanistan Research Network brings together nearly 20 Afghan and several non-Afghan researchers with diverse expertise and backgrounds investigating a range of issues including humanitarian practices and the effective delivery of aid in politically-constrained environment, gender apartheid and human rights documentation, political dialogue, and community-based development, and humanitarian plus approaches.


Our Publications

Research Papers


Key Concepts 


The term ‘civicness’ has been developed by the LSE Conflict and Civicness Research Group based on an analysis of the ‘logics of public authority’ in sites of intractable conflict. By public authority we mean a legitimacy structure beyond the immediate family that commands voluntary compliance (e.g., municipalities). Civicness has been identified as a logic based on an implicit social contract in which revenue and votes may be exchanged for rights and the provision of public services (rather than, for example, on the basis of distributional rents linked to ethnic identity). It is a form of collective action that takes place at the mediation point between society and institutions and establishes some form of stability in societal relations. Civicness as an empirical phenomenon is ubiquitous in conflict zones, which exists alongside (and may be intermingled with) the dominant (violent) logics.

The convergence of the rapid collapse of the Republic, exodus of tens of thousands of Afghans, and the Taliban military takeover combined with their extreme and repressive policies has severely restricted civic space while also deepening fragmentation and polarisation within the broader Afghan community, inside and outside the country. Our argument is that it is critical to support Afghan expertise and civic capacities in order to respond to a multi-dimensional crisis, contribute to peacebuilding, and inform effective policies and approaches. Our approach creates spaces for informed dialogue and joint analysis on critical issues and lessons learned.


Politics of Knowledge Production 

The political nature of knowledge production and how it shapes narratives, understandings, processes, and outcomes remains a key dynamic in shaping the political context in Afghanistan. Whose voices count and whose expertise is centered can shape policies and practices, structure whose ideas and voices count, and can even disrupt or determine resource flows for elites and communities. This makes it imperative that we recognize how research and policy analysis involves making ethical and political choices about whose knowledge counts and whose voices are heard.

It is important to better understand and consider the Afghan context which, like any other country experiencing protracted conflict, has multiple realities. Yet, the Afghan conflict is often framed as a contest between two sides.  This dyadic framing overlooks the multiple realities that may be contradictory but do exist at the same time. Central to the work of the Afghanistan Research Network is how can different research speak to each other so it can better understand the multiple realities that exist on the ground. Critically, this approach brings together diverse Afghan perspectives and actors engaged on Afghanistan in order to develop a shared understanding of the challenges and opportunities ahead, explore different scenarios, and the tensions and synergies between interactions in different policy arenas (humanitarian, human rights, and political), and identify recommendations for the way forward.


Meet the Team

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Marika Theros

Marika Theros is a policy fellow at the Conflict and Civicness Research Group at LSE IDEAS and the PI and co-Director of PeaceRep’s Afghanistan Research Network. 


Sahar Halaimzai

Sahar Halaimzai is an associate fellow at the Conflict and Civicness Research Group at LSE IDEAS and co-Director of PeaceRep’s Afghanistan Research Network. 



 Partner Orgnaisations 


The Civic Engagement Project (CEP) takes an ecosystem approach to civic engagement and social change. For over a decade, CEP has connected individuals, networks, and institutions across sectors, offering tools and strategies to amplify voices and drive change. By strengthening collective alliances, CEP influences decision-makers, expands civic space, and amplifies voices of the communities they serve.