But We Need Band-Aids
Posted by Michael Wahid Hanna
To keep this back and forth going just a bit more, I wanted to respond quickly to Michael Cohen’s post below where he characterizes tribal outreach efforts as band-aids. To which I would reply that we desperately need band-aids. This type of arrangement is not a long-term strategy and nor must it be. Certainly we should not confuse tactical success from engaging tribal militias as some sort of strategic breakthrough.
But I also believe that we overestimate our ability to craft long-term, sustainable solutions to the many ills that plague Afghanistan. In short, I don’t believe that these types of short-term efforts are irreparably damaging the coherent nation-building strategy that would simply take its place. When coupled with the difficult security situation then I think that band-aids are not such a bad idea − we need all the help we can get.
Further, my main point was simply to rebut the presumption that this type of initiative outside the scope of the central government’s control was inherently problematic and doomed to contribute to the unraveling of the country. In some ways, creating even ad hoc structures for the devolution of power might nudge the country toward a more sustainable and decentralized system of governance. While Shinwari tribal leaders expressed a lack of trust in Kabul they have not indicated a desire to topple that government and that is a real and important distinction.
Whether or not circumventing the central government represents some form of doctrinal heresy, we should judge this approach on its effectiveness. Again, this is a very small initiative and I cannot speak to the likelihood of its success, but all things considered I don’t think we can eschew such opportunities simply because of long-term concerns about the authority of the central government.
For the record, having a background in human rights law, I can say definitively that I think burning down the houses of Taliban sympathizers is immoral and also counterproductive. But, if we are engaged in some level of sponsorship with tribal militias then we might have the ability to influence their behavior. And let us not forget, if the root of this dispute is commercial in nature, it is conceivable that it will lead to violence in any event. Accordingly, it seems to me that taking advantage of these existing tribal rivalries might be more constructive than if we simply sat it out.