This aside in Peter Bergen’s latest AfPakChannel post stopped me dead in my tracks:

Under the Taliban — whose fantasies about establishing a 7th century utopia here on earth did not extend to the simplest acts of real governance… 

OK, now remember Adm. Mullen’s recent concession:

Got a governance problem? The Taliban is getting pretty effective at it. They’ve set up functional courts in some locations, assess and collect taxes, and even allow people to file formal complaints against local Talib leaders. Part of the Taliban plan to win over the people in Swat was to help the poor or displaced own land.

Maybe Foust can help me out here. How’d Taliban governance get from Point A to Point B?  At what point did the Taliban develop the competence in governance that Bergen — whose Afghanistan reporting, particularly from the 1990s, I have no reason to doubt — describes? Some options come to mind:

(1) The Taliban were never as bad at governing as commonly believed;

(2) The Taliban aren’t actually good at governing, but the Karzai government and its local proxies are worse;

(3)  The Taliban realized they had an opportunity to expand its base of support by filling a critical void and meeting a real popular demand, even if the people remembered its harsh and unjust rule

If I was an editor, I’d put a reporter/platoon of reporters on figuring out what happened. But I’m not, so I suppose I’ll have to do as best I can from D.C. to answer that question. Hopefully there’s a think-tank report or something I’ve missed. Answering this will probably go a long way to explaining how the Taliban, with relatively minimal foreign sponsorship, can outgovern government receiving billions from the international community.

At the risk of saying something controversial, the U.S. could do worse than to convince Kabul to study whatever it is that the Taliban is doing right. (No, not the fanatical and austere religious shit, but the mechanics of what it actually means to say the Taliban is out-governing Karzai.)