April 12, 2010

Tribal Engagement for Afghanistan?

Spurred on by this paper (.pdf), the gang at Small Wars Journal ran a great workshop a few weeks back examining whether or not tribal engagement would work as a strategy for Afghanistan. (I moderated one of the discussion groups.) The participants in the workshop included scholars, intelligence analysts, and military officers -- including a lot of Special Forces officers. The verdict?

  • Tribal engagement is appropriate in some locales, but needs to be considered as one component of a broader community or local engagement approach in order to reflect the wide variety of local social and power structures across the country.
  • Community engagement must be accompanied by reinvigorated efforts to link the national with district and village level governments – in essence , a “top-down, bottom-up” strategy must be employed or the international community risks further balkanization of Afghanistan.
  • The focal point for the engagement must be at the district level where, constitutionally, the interface between GIRoA and the Afghan population occurs.
  • Government legitimacy, accountability and transparency must be improved at the district level, either through actually conducting district elections or by holding local community jirgas to appoint district representatives. Without this legitimacy Afghan communities will have little to no desire to reach out and interface with their local leadership.

Translation? Most of the attendees agreed an "engagement" strategy was necessary in Afghanistan, but almost all of the participants had in mind something very different from what Jim Gant argued for in his influential paper. (And in fact rejected his approach more or less explicitly -- something that surprised me.) Most of the participants favored, instead, a kind of "community engagement" strategy. Anyway, you can read the full workshop report for yourself and access other media here. The report itself is short and worth a read, and Ben Fitzgerald's band of Aussie ninjas at Noetic Group get the kudos for putting it together.