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04/03/2013

Capitalizing on the tribes to end the Afghan war

Afghanistan

Afghan children play Ghursai, a traditional game played in the countryside of Jalalabad on April 1(. Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images)

Taliban peace talks are back on the agenda but even before the starting pistol could be fired they reached a deadlock.

Afghan president Hamid Karzai visited Doha, Qatar, last weekend where the emir of the state announced that an embassy in Kabul would be opened.

Not much else happened.

The Taliban, some of whom live there in anticipation of future negotiations, are still refusing to hold direct talks with Karzai because they dismiss him as a western stooge.

So what else can be done?

The best way to marginalize the Taliban and stabilize Afghanistan is to give the Pashtun tribes more responsibility for security and reduce the power of the central government, according to a trio of experts with long ties to the country.

“That the tribes was the way to go and remains the way to go was never a shadow of doubt in my mind,” said Ken Guest, a former Royal Marine with 32 years of experience in Afghanistan, in an email. “I lived among them well enough to know how enduring their system is.”

A small, professional army and police force supporting indigenous tribal security forces should be established and those tribal fighters should be drawn from communities to which they would be responsible, according to a paper, ‘The Tribal Path’ Guest co-wrote with scholar Lucy Morgan Edwards and fellow former Royal Marine Ram Seeger.

Shoring up the tribes and giving them more control would secure the land and pave the way for proper nation-building.

 “If these could be established and put into effect they would revolutionize the situation in Afghanistan,” the paper reads.

The current strategy for post-2014 -- a powerful central government commanding a large army -- goes against the grain of the country’s history. Most tribal leaders have historically viewed their rulers in Kabul with suspicion and the Taliban have capitalized on that.

The peace talks are going nowhere partly because the Taliban perceive themselves to be winning, as the 2014 deadline for withdrawing all western troops looms closer. They see talks as a discussion of surrender terms.

Those conducting the negotiations are jihadists who have been able to coerce or gain support of the tribes.

“This failure has been further aggravated by the support the west has given to warlords and to a government deemed by many Afghans to be corrupt and illegitimate,” the paper reads. 

Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, are playing a duplicitous role in the talks. The spies have their own regional agenda to install a malleable government in Kabul, Morgan Edwards said.  

“Ultimately the problem seems to be that the international community thinks this is about two sides in a war coming to the table to hammer out a deal,” she said in an interview.

“What it does not realize is that this is about Pakistan controlling the situation and wanting to control and manipulate the endgame.”

She added: “In Kabul people asked me why the British are 'appeasing' Pakistan and selling Afghanistan down the river over the talks and endgame.”   

Hamida Ghafour is a foreign affairs reporter at the Star. She has lived and worked in the Middle East and Asia for more than 10 years and is author of a book on Afghanistan. Follow her on Twitter @HamidaGhafour


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