Nearly every day’s news now brings another “fresh approach” to Afghanistan. It’s good that President Obama has decided to send 4,000 additional trainers for the crucial task of shoring up the Afghan National Army rather than dumping combat troops into a situation where more combat isn’t a major part of the answer. But many of the ideas floated by the Obama administration for strengthening Afghan governance show an abysmal lack of common sense and specific knowledge of the country.
This week UPI, citing outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan William Wood, reported that the U.S. might be willing to allow a Taliban political party, as long as it respected the Afghan constitution. Responding to the story in an e-mail, policy expert Jeff Bliss commented, “Funny, I don’t remember the Nazis being able to restart their party after World War II.” Indeed. The Taliban didn’t exactly run a multi-party state, and their “ideology” consists of murdering those who don’t live exactly like they do.
Leaving aside its morality, this dumb idea gets the facts on the ground dead wrong. First, the insurgency isn’t primarily ideological, and bringing Taliban-like strictures to Afghanistan wouldn’t end it. The insurgency is first and foremost an intra-Pashtun power struggle. As Thomas Johnson and Chris Mason ably pointed out in the journal Orbis in 2007, Mullah Omar and most of the Taliban leadership are of the Hotaki Ghilzai tribal group. Almost all Taliban are members of the Ghilzai confederation. The Ghilzai and the Durranis–the tribal confederation to which the King and President Hamid Karzai belong–have been bitter rivals for hundreds of years, with the Ghilzais being odd man out for most of that time. Even now, they are poorly represented in Karzai’s cabinet and in governorships in the Pashtun provinces. (A free download of Johnson’s excellent article “Understanding the Taliban and Insurgency in Afghanistan” can be found here.) (more…)