January 31, 2008

A Monolithic Pashtunwali?

A quick note on the ongoing discussions about engaging the tribes in Pakistan and Afghanistan:

Much I have seen written in the press and by military authors on the tribal code known as pashtunwali suggests some sort of monolithic code upon which we can project group behavioral expectations.

However, pashtunwali is highly varied across Pakistan and Afghanistan and highly dependent on both tribe and location. The requirements of hospitality, the power of the tribal meetings, the empowerment of tribal militia, the extent, boundaries, and power of individual tribes (e.g., large contiguous tribal areas in the southeast versus small pockets of tribes running from Pakistan to Iran in the south and similarly dispersed tribes in the east), and the source of authority for elders (religion versus wealth versus military prowess versus hereditary) all vary.

Few things may prove as dangerous as generalized conceptions of pashtunwali in the hands of those who establish our strategy--especially given that two recents heads of CENTCOM's tribal engagement team in Afghanistan had no background whatsoever in either tribes or Afghanistan.