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One Tribe at a Time

chApter ix

cloSing thoughtS

“Many so-called failed states are really failed tribes.

  • David Ronfeldt, Tribes First and Forever

W E HAVE TO STUDY AND UNDERSTAND the tribes. Become their true friends and let them see us in all of our strengths and faults as well.

Work with tribalism, not against it

“In the absence of state institutions, how can a typical civil society’s service requirements be provided or administered in an ecient manner? One way is to use traditional groups such as tribes who have experience in performing local governance roles and functions.” (Taylor, Tribal Alliances: Ways, Means and Ends to a Successful Strategy, p. 9)

In the words of Haji Mohammed Zalmay, one of the better district governors in Konar province, “e key to success is getting tribes to come to shuras and keeping them united.”

Remember, in most cases the Taliban is not pres- ent in areas where the tribes do not want them to be.

Whether the US “wins” or “loses” in Afghanistan, the tribes will still be there. As David Ronfeldt says in Tribes First and Forever, “e tribe will never lose its signicance or its attractiveness; it is not going away in the centuries ahead.” erefore, we must learn to understand the tribe’s signicance now.

  • ere will be no large-scale “awakening” of the

tribes in Afghanistan, as there was in al-Anbar province in Iraq. It will be a much slower and more dicult process.

Nine Dierences between Iraq and Afghanistan

In an excellent paper by Carter Malkasian and Jerry Meyerle entitled, How is Afghanistan dierent from al-Anbar?, the authors list nine dierences and four implications of those dierences:

  • 1.

    Sectarianism in Iraq versus government misrule in Afghanistan

  • 2.

    e strength of Arab tribes in Al Anbar versus Pashtun tribes in Afghanistan

  • 3.

    Afghanistan’s unique history of warlordism

  • 4.

    e major rift in the al-Anbar insurgency versus

the minor rifts in the Afghan insurgency

  • 5.

    Arab tribal customs in Iraq versus the Pashtun tribal code (Pashtunwali) in Afghanistan

  • 6.

    e urban al-Anbar insurgency versus the rural Afghan insurgency

  • 7.

    e IED and suicide attacks of the Anbar insur- gents versus the small-unit tactics of the Afghan insurgents [Note: this point is not as valid in 2009 as it was in 2007.]

  • 8.

    Fuel smuggling in al-Anbar versus the poppy trade in Afghanistan

9. e cross-border sanctuaries surrounding al-Anbar versus Pakistan’s tribal areas

We must learn to understand the tribe’s significance now.


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