Exploiting Afghan Tribal Militias for an Optimal Counterinsurgency Campaign
Setting the above example in context, many tribes are susceptible to Taliban influence because they often feel weak relative to other tribal elements, and they feel totally helpless in the face of warlords. The Taliban provide instant justice and some social services in vast areas of lawlessness where traditional norms vary from village to village or tribe to tribe.
One must bear in mind that, the importance of understanding the strength and degree of tribe and clan-based loyalties and what happens when foreign occupiers interfere in the traditional order of balance and stability that took thousands of years to set in place; foreign displacement of Pashtun authority will always result in resentment exponentially within layers of tribal hierarchy.
Regarding the "Arbakai" system; despite many governments emerging and disintegrating, Arbakai has proven its invariable viability and indispensable reliability for centuries. However, the system is based on the normal Pashtun tribal code of "Pashtunwali", which governs a community policing system grounded in volunteer grassroots initiatives. Volunteers are unpaid, they are not hired by a government or individual person, or a company; and they carry responsibilities that are approved and recognized as fulfillment of the common and public good.
Moreover, the system is designed to be separate from political and economic objectives of influential individuals and government authorities. Per a Crisis States Research Centre’s study, "It must be controlled by a representative group that will make collective decisions on the basis of equal and inclusive participation."
Given the above conditions, our view suggests warnings that could severely derail the (CDI) initiative; first, the placement of U.S. Special Forces alongside locally armed tribal fighters inside Afghan villages and towns is very alarming; because the war is expected to escalate in inhabited areas, innocent lives could be lost; consequently greater resentment towards the West will follow.
Second, if (CDI) were to be discarded, and the Afghan government took control of "Arbakai" counterinsurgency operations, the differing management structures could pose problems. In Afghanistan, the police and other security sector institutions follow a bureaucratic hierarchical management structure. On the contrary, the "Arbakai", as mentioned, is directly controlled by the communities. It will be difficult to reconcile these structures. Consequently, the "Arbakai" would lose its integrity if it were incorporated into a bureaucratic structure.
Third, the prospect of re-empowering militias after billions of international dollars were spent, after the U.S. led invasion in 2001, to disarm illegally armed groups is also worrisome.
Given the complexity and intertwined nature on the ground, there is only one Afghan solution; as quoted above regarding "Arbakai", "It must be controlled by a representative group that will make collective decisions on the basis of equal and inclusive participation." But who can be the ostensible representative group that could preserve the (CDI) in the traditional form of Afghan tribal framework? Our native suggestion is the "National Coalition for Dialogues with the Tribes of Afghanistan" www.ncdta.org. This organization was established in 2004 under a core group of tribal elders for the sole purpose of uniting all the tribes of Afghanistan as one.
And finally, to offset the Pashtun theory of tribal ethics; "me against my brother, the two of us against our cousins, the four of us against our neighbors, all of us against the tribe across the ridge, all those tribes together against strangers…" we therefore, must give the NCDTA a chance to do what it was organized to do before risking further blind escalation towards total failure.
Khalil Nouri and Terry Green are the cofounders of New World Strategies Coalition Inc., a native think tank for nonmilitary solution studies for Afghanistan. It’s an ongoing effort of Veterans Toaday and Opinion Maker Study Group.