Tribes in Afghanistan: A Guest Post from Michael Yon
It can be tempting to downplay or ignore the influence of tribes in Afghan politics, and on the effects on our operations. We tried to ignore the great influence of the tribes during the war in Iraq, and not until 2006, fully three years into the war, did we effectively begin to work with tribes on an appreciable scale.
The work with the tribes during 2006–2007 in Anbar Province helped set conditions that greatly facilitated the successes of “The Surge,” which unfolded during 2007. A compelling argument could be mounted that had we not seen the 2006 tribal “Awakening” in Anbar, the Surge might have spiraled into yet more violence, and the war in Iraq could have been lost.
Drawing parallels between Afghanistan and Iraq is fraught with peril, yet there are some useable lessons in regard to tribal influences.
As I wrote in a recent Washington Times article:
Time has a different meaning here. Take the case of members of the Baibogha tribe who abandoned a patch of land nearby about 150 years ago. Hazaras moved in, now Baibogha have come back to tell Hazaras, “Wait . . . you stole our patch of nothing while we disappeared for 150 years.”
The memories are long and Afghanistan is a fragmented “country” by even the most enthusiastic interpretation of the term. The president of Afghanistan is little more than the mayor of Kabul. Government influence is no more prevalent than are paved roads. In Ghor Province, for example, there is not a single meter of paved road, and the effective law of the land falls on tribal lines.
If we desire to help bring Afghanistan to a status that a reasonable observer might call a “developing nation,” then the commitment here has just begun. This expensive project will require many decades of effort at best, and more likely a full century of commitment.
If most Afghans cooperate, and we work hard together, Afghanistan might develop into a self-sustaining country—a real country—after a few decades. In the dispatch “Sangow Bar Village” I wrote that the village was in the dark.
It had no electricity until 2006 when Lithuanians invested about $40,000 to build a micro-hydro generator with the idea of watching the village to see if true improvement was made. Today, Sangow Bar has plenty of electricity and the people have lights and satellite television . . . The Lithuanians have determined that the project was a success, and the project appeared to be a success to the Japanese and to me.
With this success in mind, the Lithuanians together with Iceland decided to build thirty more hydro-generation stations. Now, if we look at this in context of the broader picture, thirty, three hundred, or even three thousand might seem like an irrelevant number. But it’s not.
However, Afghanistan’s narco-remittance-puppet-state is hindering each attempted step forward. An embryo of a real country is growing, but will die instantly without help. For now, and at a minimum many decades to come, with a lack of stable government, tribal influences will be at least as important as those emanating from Kabul.
Sangin, Helmand Province