07 June 2010

It really is the tribes, stupid...

Dexter Filkins had a good article in the New York Times over the weekend regarding Afghan warlord Matiullah Khan of Oruzgan province. While Matiullah's model of civil administration seems to clash with NATO's vision for stability in Afghanistan, I think it's time we accept the fact that Afghanistan will never be governed as a Western-style democracy--with its headquarters in Kabul--any time soon.

In little more than two years, Mr. Matiullah, an illiterate former highway patrol commander, has grown stronger than the government of Oruzgan Province, not only supplanting its role in providing security but usurping its other functions, his rivals say, like appointing public employees and doling out government largess. His fighters run missions with American Special Forces officers, and when Afghan officials have confronted him, he has either rebuffed them or had them removed.

“Oruzgan used to be the worst place in Afghanistan, and now it’s the safest,” Mr. Matiullah said in an interview in his compound here, where supplicants gather each day to pay homage and seek money and help. “What should we do? The officials are cowards and thieves.”

Mr. Matiullah is one of several semiofficial warlords who have emerged across Afghanistan in recent months, as American and NATO officers try to bolster — and sometimes even supplant — ineffective regular Afghan forces in their battle against the Taliban insurgency.

In some cases, these strongmen have restored order, though at the price of undermining the very institutions Americans are seeking to build: government structures like police forces and provincial administrations that one day are supposed to be strong enough to allow the Americans and other troops to leave.
I guess it really is the tribes, stupid.


Anonymous said...

Except that, as the piece clearly recounts, Matiullah is not a tribal leader, and his power stems directly from U.S. security spending practices, not local tribal kinship groups.

It's the warlords, stupid.

Starbuck said...

You know what, I got pwnt. You are correct.

Madhu said...

Came across the following (from August 2009) during one of my blog rambles....which needs to stop. I've gotta go!

"There is only one vital U.S. interest in Afghanistan: prevent terrorist elements from basing there. A feudal society is perfectly compatible with this objective. Instead of hopelessly campaigning to expand Kabul’s writ across the country, allow the local warlords and tribal leaders to exercise the power accorded them by the tradition and religion that has governed Afghan society for millennia. The U.S. merely needs to set down a simple list of conditions for these political entrepreneurs: (1) Do not allow Taliban or Al Qaeda to base in the regions they control; (2) acknowledge a symbol of Afghan national unity, perhaps the president and the ANA; (3) rule well. Let it be known that the U.S. will support those that meet these conditions, and it will remove those that don’t. The Afghan National Army could serve as the one national institution that binds the many local power centers together and dampens the centrifugal forces that decentralization would create."


Also, the above seems to be the way regional actors look at the situation. Well, it's a theory. What say you?


Juris Doctor Program said...

Matiullah Khan of ORuzgan is a force to be reckoned with. His people worship him and the pull he has in Afghanistan in unmeasurable.