This article views Afghanistan less as a war, and more as a contest of criminalized justice systems. The Taliban came to power because they were able to restore order to spaces terrorized by armed gangs and Mujahideen factions. After the Taliban’s ‘defeat’ in 2001, their resurgence was invited by the failure of state justice and security institutions. The Taliban returned with a parallel court system that most Afghans viewed as more effective and fair than the state system. Polls suggest judges were perceived as among the most corrupt elements of a corrupt state. Police were widely perceived as thieves of ordinary people’s property, not protectors of it. While the US diagnosis of anomie in Afghanistan up to 2009 was aptly Hobbesian, its remedy of supporting President Hamid Karzai as a Leviathan was hardly apt. The West failed to ask in 2001 ‘What is working around here to provide people security?’. One answer to that question was jirga/shura. A more Jeffersonian rural republicanism that learnt from local traditions of dispute resolution defines a path not taken.