IN AFGHANISTAN, TRIBAL GOVERNMENT MIGHT PAVE THE WAY FOR PEACE
Eid al-Adha is one of the holiest days in Islam. This year, the holy day was marked by bloodshed when a bomb went off in a mosque in Kabul, Afghanistan, killing Arsala Jamal, a provincial governor. The bombing is part of a wave of terrorism that threatens to destabilize Afghanistan and overthrow its weak central government. With the U.S. withdrawal only a year away, some analysts say a return to tribal governance could help the country combat the Taliban.
“[The] indiscriminate violence, on a day reserved for national peace and celebration, reflects a complete disregard for the sanctity of life,” said Marine General Joseph, the ISAF commander. Jamal, who was speaking at the mosque on October 15, was an ally of President Hamid Karzai. The bomb that killed him was placed inside a microphone, suggesting that Jamal was the intended target.
Over the last decade, the Taliban has assassinated over 1,000 mid-level government leaders. Jamal is the second governor of Logar to be killed. The province is home to a thriving insurgency that wants nothing to do with the central Afghan government that it sees as an unwelcome outside force.
“Societies emerging out of political violence have very low levels of social trust, weak institutions of governance, and simmering political feuds with deep roots that only sustained, predictable, active involvement can contain and eventually overcome,” Kori Schake, a research fellow at the Hoover Institute wrote for Foreign Policy. Schake believes that Afghanistan needs a long-term U.S. military presence to avoid political splintering.
With the U.S. moving into an advisory role and Afghan forces taking control of the country’s security, some believe that the centuries-old Pastunwali is the key to a stable Afghanistan. Pashtunwali is an honor code practiced in varying degrees by ethnic Pashtuns, who make up 40 percent of the population.
“Pashtunwali is defined by its emphasis on community consensus and local decision-making,” reports The Yale Globalist. “By privileging village, tribe and even family over the state, the Codes depend on active local participation.”
Many analysts worry that without tribal support, Kabul will be unable to effectively govern Afghanistan and warlords will have free reign to carve up the country. Yet Pashtunwali, which does not rely on a hierarchy and prizes individual adherence to the honor code, could allow rural areas a measure of autonomy without Taliban control.
“Experts are concerned over the consequences and feasibility of strong, centralized Afghan state,” says Robert Ross of Georgetown University. “Expanding the reach of weak and corrupt government may cause further instability in local areas. Engaging Pashtun tribes may provide political stability. It could give a voice to Pashtun tribes at multiple levels, possibly preventing further center-periphery tensions.”
The tribal system in Afghanistan is complex, but it has weathered centuries of unrest and invasions by the British, the Soviet Union and the United States. Historically, the tribes oppose outside influences, but they may be open to cooperation with Kabul to push back against the advances of the Taliban.
“At the end of the day the only solution in Afghanistan is to work with the tribes and provincial leaders in terms of trying to create a backlash…against the Taliban,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates said at a NATO conference in 2008.
The so-called ‘tribal solution’ to Afghanistan’s problems comes with more than a few caveats. Critics of the plan argue that Pashtunwali is not very well understood in everyday practice and that the code has been “idealized” by Westerners. Others say that Pashtunwali is often at odds with the teachings of the Qu’ran, which may lead to confusion and inconsistency. Human rights advocates also worry that a return to tribal law would undermine the advances in women’s rights that have been made in the last ten years.
“Male Pashtun autonomy is abusive to women when women are given as compensation in blood feuds, when women are killed in honor killings, when a widow is forced to marry her brother-in-law…and when women are kept from educational and health resources,” says Palwasha Kakar of the Harvard Law School. “In the end, for Pashtunwali to survive, it must adapt its concepts.”
As the deadline for withdrawal nears, it will be up to Afghanistan to decide what path it will take to fight terrorism and secure its future.
By Jonny Eberle, Grey Cell Staff Writer