The New York Times reported today here that Taliban justice is becoming more popular with Afghans as they see the formal justice system as corrupt and inefficient. This is the system that the international community, including the United States has invested large amounts of money and effort in building. When it became clear that just building courts and spending money wasn’t making a functioning court system, the United States shifted to include aid to informal customary dispute resolution processes. One problem is those informal processes did nothing to support the formal justice system and, as the NY Times reported, “the effort mostly reinforced the primacy of the informal courts—of which Taliban justice could be considered a radical extension…”

The NY Times piece does a nice job of explaining with a few stories the complexity of Afghan culture and how ineffectual the aid effort to the formal justice system has been.

Unfortunately, it is not a surprise. Since we began our aid effort in Afghanistan over a decade ago, it has been clear that it is a complicated place with extreme needs. Simply building court houses, or passing laws, or training lawyers, can’t overcome these problems. I remain convinced that our aid dollars would be better spent in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future on basic health care, education, and infrastructure (such as water and roads).

Cyntha Alkon is an Associate Professor of Law at Texas A&M University School of Law. Prior to joining academia, she was a criminal defense lawyer and worked in rule of law development in Eastern Europe and Central Asia focusing on criminal justice reform issues. She is a contributor of ADR Prof Blog.