With all the hullabaloo about tribes these days (mainly with regard to our not likely being able to leverage them as much as we’d like) and the rampant corruption and subsequent illegitimacy of the Afghan government, it begs the question of how does ISAF build stability in the country if there doesn’t seem to be any sort of mechanism to adequately govern the people?
Here is another way to pose this conundrum: The Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan cannot provide governance to its people in almost any area: security, health, education, courts. The reasons for this are many and well known to our readers here. And the root causes for their inability to govern seem unlikely to change anytime soon. On the other side of the equation, there has been quite a bit of discussion on using local governance systems to achieve the same results because local leaders would be more receptive their constituency’s issues and would decrease corruption because these leaders wouldn’t screw their own people. It sure makes a lot of sense at face value, which is why MAJ Gant’s paper made a lot of sense to him and apparently a whole lot of other people.
There is, of course, a “but” at the end of that last sentence. The U.S. Government could not possibly support such an idea without significant systematic changes to the way we understand governance. Here is the ISAF mission statement:
ISAF, in support of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, conducts operations in Afghanistan to reduce the capability and will of the insurgency, support the growth in capacity and capability of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), and facilitate improvements in governance and socio-economic development, in order to provide a secure environment for sustainable stability that is observable to the population.
We’ll come back to this in a second, but just keep it in mind. Let’s take the hypothetical that we’ll start to support the tribal structure, whatever that means. If, and that’s a big if, we manage to actually figure out how social structures actually work, then we begin arming, fighting with, and just generally supporting “tribes” all over Afghanistan. Local political powers would be given huge increases in their clout (to say nothing of the fact that many would have their clout taken away)
at the whim after serious consideration by U.S. analysts commanders. In theory, this should all go as swimmingly as the Sons of Iraq program did, but with more non-security power given to local leaders.
I’m not going to belabor the many secondary, tertiary, and so on effects of this. Let’s look back at that ISAF mission statement. [I]n support of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Well, shucks, that’s going to be hard to do if we tell that Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan that they can’t find their fourth point of contact from their elbow so we’re going to empower all these other people. Promoting the power of local leaders would certainly decrease the power of the central government and vice versa (while I believe this to be fairly common sense, I’m sure that the Sons of Iraq program certainly supports this conjecture). By supporting local leaders in the ways that MAJ Gant suggests we would be undermining the mission of ISAF. Seems sort of silly to do that.
And don’t go expecting ISAF to change its mission any time soon. State-building is what the U.S. does and it’s just that. Building states. States that look like Western states from a governance perspective. Areas that are governed by local leaders are generally considered “ungoverned spaces” because of the lack of a Western-style governance structure. The government of the United States would never permit one of its military organizations to subvert that policy. So it seems pretty obvious to me which horse we'll really back and why. Even if we back the other for the short term, they better know that they're going to get screwed in the end if their interests collide with the national government's. If you do want to bet on this, the Trifecta is a sure thing: a bundle on GoIRA, Local Leaders, and ISAF in that order (ISAF comes in third because they can't help but shoot themselves in the foot).
I’ll be the first to admit that I am not a political scientist and that these are rough ideas at the present. Hopefully (operative word) I’ll be able to draw them out in future posts, but I can’t make any promises. As always, I’d love input from the vast grey matter possessed by our readers.