Afghanistan since before the time of Mohammed has never been a nation in the usual sense of that word — a state governed by some sort of central authority — democratic of otherwise. Rather it has consisted of a multitude of clans or tribes always shifting in their allegiances, conflicting or cooperating as their self interests and or ruling authorities dictate.
A Google check of Afghan clans will leave the general reader lost amidst the multitude of these clans and their sub-divisions. Karzai of the Populzai tribe is currently the head of the Pashtuns, but his main opposition candidate for the presidency claims Pashtun identity as well and the most rebellious section against central authority — the south — is also the heart of Pashtun origins and current roots — possibly a bit less fierce against Karzai than the foreign troops which are now generally despised for their killings and other abuses felt by the typical Afghan.
Karzai’s notorious governmental corruption is most likely little more than a manifestation of the various competing clans grabbing what they can.
It is not that this clan identity is unknown to U.S. political and military leaders. An excellent article was written on it in June, 2004:
Key to governing Afghans: the clans
By Scott Baldauf | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
The following excerpts from the article illustrate the general tribal chaos and confusion that defeats American efforts to produce a democratic Afghan nation:
“But in southern Afghanistan, where the tribal system has primacy, power is much less concentrated. Within the two larger tribes there are numerous sub-tribes, conflicting claims to leadership, and small scale militias. Each village has a tribal chief, and these chiefs choose from among their own ranks leaders who will represent the tribe in Kabul. Most tribes, however, have a number of factions claiming to represent the whole tribe, leading to rivalries and chaos. While the multilayered and fractious nature of tribal authority can be exploited by outsiders, those same traits make it a perilously complex game.”
“Yet American efforts to work with the tribal system have been spotty at best, US officials and academics say. The biggest hindrance is the practice of cycling American diplomats and soldiers in and out of Afghanistan on one-year assignments. Many US intelligence officers serve even less time. This makes it difficult for American diplomats – most of whom are already restricted to the heavily fortified US embassy – to establish the personal bonds of trust necessary in a tribal system.
“The British learned this lesson of tribal relations a long time ago,” says Thomas Barfield, a sociologist at Boston University with extensive experience in Afghanistan. “They also learned the importance of keeping people on the ground for long periods of time as political agents so they could learn the system and try to manipulate it.”
And so it seems most unlikely that the U.S. and its allies stand much chance of winning a ‘war’ in Afghanistan. Better to leave things to the clans who manifest not much in the way of support for the terrorists actually threatening us — Osama bin Laden, too, is an alien figure to the Afghans who are concerned with their own interests, not waging a religious war against the West.
“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)
Ed Kent 212-665-8535 (voice mail only) [blind copies]