This short piece by Carlo Cristofori in Counter Punch looks at the Afghan/Pakistan/Pashtun/Taliban Conflict through a different lens than most. Simply stated, the Pashtuns predate either of the two modern nations sharing their historic roots. Both Pakistan and Afghanistan, the modern names we have for two post-colonial geopolitical constructs, were constructed without proper consideration for the Pashtuns. I am reminded of how Kurds have been regarded by modern geopolitics.
The Latest AfPak War
By Carlo Cristofori
The June, 2002, National Assembly (Loya Jirga) held in Afghanistan to select the head of state was rigged by the Bush administration, forcing the former king, who had majority support among the delegates, to withdraw from consideration*. This shows that the "Bush freedom agenda" was basically a sham--a political gimmick, a phony; and that Karzai is a U.S. puppet. Once he was installed, the subsequent elections, held without established political parties, were little more than a rubber stamp.
However, many Americans think that the U.S. brought freedom to Afghanistan, and cling to the notion of Afghanistan as "the good war." The original U.S. sin behind the lack of legitimacy of the Karzai regime, although factually incontrovertible, has remained almost unnoticed.
The result is that blame for the situation tends to be placed on other factors, such as corruption and poor governance. Both are essentially a function of government weakness. But a puppet regime is weak virtually by definition.
The decision to sideline the king aggravated the disenfranchisement and oppression of the Pashtun tribes (the majority political element in Afghanistan) occasioned by U.S. support for the Northern Alliance and other warlords. Northern Afghanistan, for example, has been brutally ethnic-cleansed of Pashtuns since 2001--another fact that has remained almost completely unreported.
But as Vartan Gregorian, the great historian of modern Afghanistan, warned in 2001, "Pashtuns won't easily relinquish two centuries of memory and power. Without a major Pashtun role in the future of Afghanistan, there will be no viable peace." Gregorian also noted that the king was welcome, but not as a U.S. puppet.
It is sufficient to take a look at a map of the insurgency to see that it is practically the same as an ethnic map of Pashtun areas (including the Pashtun areas of Pakistan).
This is why throwing more military forces into the cauldron, and killing more Pashtuns, is not the best solution--and it is hardly a freedom and self-determination solution. It will perpetuate and, indeed, exacerbate a disastrous internal contradiction in U.S. policy.
As for tribal militias, so-called "Arbakai"--villagers armed with rifles--are not much to keep the Taliban at bay. Large scale, heavily armed and lavishly financed militias, like the Uzbeg militia led by the infamous General Dostam, were organized by the Soviets before their pullout in 1989, and proved effective in staving off the collapse of the Soviet-supported regime--until they turned against it.
What is needed is not handing out wads of cash, but a political solution based on reconciliation with the Pashtun tribes. In the words of a British colonial statesman, "An Afghan ruler rules only by the goodwill of the most powerful Afghan tribes" (Sir Olaf Caroe).
It is the fundamental compact of allegiance between the tribes and the central government that needs to be reestablished. Such a compact is not a pipe dream, but something that actually existed as the historical basis of the Afghan state, and which, under the monarchy, afforded Afghanistan generations of progress and peace.
In fact, bribing tribal leaders is utterly incompatible with a genuine political process, just as bribing voters is incompatible with a democratic election. And if the bribing is done by foreigners, the affront is even worse, and the bribes are not likely to work, except on a very short-term basis.
Strange and anachronistic as it may seem, even at this late date the royal family are probably the only ones who can hope to do it--although not necessarily any of the king's sons, and within a republican, not a monarchical framework. The political capital accumulated by the Musahiban in the last century still hasn't dissipated, nor been appropriated by anyone else, least of all poor Hamid Karzai.
The most suitable forum is likely to be a new Loya Jirga, hopefully to be convened by the end of the current presidential term. To have a chance of success, any arrangement will require a fundamental rebalancing of power away from the non-Pashtun actors who have dominated the scene since 2001.
Those actors will resist, if given a chance: and it is precisely by deterring and preventing such resistances that the American military will find more fruitful employment than in savaging the tribes.
However, now that both the old king and his senior cousin, General Abdul Wali, are no longer around, everything will be harder, and the prospects more uncertain.
Carlo Cristofori was Secretary of the International Committee for Solidarity with the Afghan Resistance, set up by members of the European Parliament following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. In that capacity, he worked closely with a number of Afghan resistance organizations, becoming personally familiar with many Afghan political figures. He has analyzed Afghan politics for thirty years.
H/T 3 Quarks
Notes and references at the CounterPunch link.