The “Surge” in Iraq & Afghanistan

April 28, 2011 by  


NATO & the Pashtuns–A Misunderstanding of Tribal Identities

By Geoffrey Cook, TMO

Richmond, VA–April 9th–Your narrator finds himself in the (U.S.) Civil War-era (1860s) era capital of the Confederacy (i.e., the South) where he listened to the research of a Michael Yalchi on the lack of understanding between NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and the operation of tribal identity within the Southern Afghani battle theater.  This article is written with a considerable amount of your essayists own research, too.

Richmond, from which your author is reporting, is a moderate-sized (American) Revolutionary-era city of a little over 200,000, and is, also, the present-day seat of government of the current (U.S.) Commonwealth (State) of Virginia on the Atlantic seaboard a hundred miles below Washington D.C.  (Most of the American Civil War [1860-1865] was fought within this hundred miles between the two fore-mentioned two cities.)  This War fought on U.S. soil is considered the first “modern” martial dispute.

While in the Middle East, this past week (18th-24th) of the actual physical act of writing (April 23rd –26th) this article, the Libyan Civil War continues to fume, and Colonel Khadafy may even overcome his armed opposition as the battleground is raging back and forth between his divisions along with their African mercenaries against the rebels headquartered in this barren environment second city, Benghazi, the latter’s de facto capital.   Succinctly, there is no way to predict the outcome of this clash.

At the same time, British officers have been on the ground secretly for several weeks now whipping the rag-tag insurgent “military” into a credible resistance as the established government in Tripoli has ordered allied tribal leaders into the fray against a strategic dissident-held urban center.

The European Union (EU) intends to go to the Security Council of the U.N. (United Nations) in New York City to obtain the “legal” permission to plant the soldiers on the Maghreb soil there to, supposedly, institute safe-sanctuaries there.  (There was a great failure by the Dutch Army in the 1990s Bosnian War wherein Muslims were massacred by the failure of Amsterdam to enforce their assigned asylum.)  In Libya, what had started as a “no-fly” zone to protect unprotected non-combatants is, unfortunately, becoming a campaign for regime change in that North African nation.  Fortunately, Washington has pledged not to place land troops on another Islamic territory.  Hopefully, they will keep to their promise!

Concurrently, Ba’athist Syria is teetering toward a civil war; while Yemen “ancient” fissure between the North and South is beginning to crack again.  It was announced on the 23rd that Sana’a head of State was willing to step down, but this had become questionable by the 25th.  The Crown Prince of Bahrain has informed the British Royal family (the 24th) that he would not be able to attend Prince William’s wedding in London because of the unrest on his island.  Most of the other States in the Islamic West (of Dar al Islam) are in the midst of upheaval, too.  Some more dramatically and critically than others.  The end results in this overall region will depend upon how the present elites of their individual nation-states will react to their internal populist challenges.

Back to Michael Yalchi:  Iraq, which he only mentions only in passing, is, also, going through disturbance.  Strangely, if the late Bush Administration had refrained from its aggression, Sadam Hussein’s government’s days were limited anyway without so many Western allied lives lost!  Michael Yalchi did mention the success of General Petraeus’ surge in Mesopotamia, but he spent most of his time on its application on the Afghanistani battlefield.

One cannot talk about the Middle East unless one considers Afghanistan.  The U.S. strategic position is that it is on the eastern limits of American calculated policy regarding the Middle East — along with Pakistan (whose civil society is presently up in “arms” over the U.S.A’s drone [unmanned aircraft] attacks mainly in the tribal areas within their nation that may have caused as many as nine hundred non-combatant Pakistani deaths last year).    On the other hand, if you were in the Kremlin’s foreign office, the Hindu Kush Mountains is definitely part of Central Asia.  To the British and (now) New Delhi and Islamabad, it is unequivocally part of South Asia since it is solidly and historically inter-connected  to the nations across the Khyber.

In one sense, although it has an ancient history as a separate country, modern Afghanistan was a creation of the British and Russian Empires during the Nineteenth Century as a buffer zone between the two.  During the last decade of that century, the border was forced upon the tribes in the desert-like mountains (i.e., the Durand Line) to slow down what was known as the “Great Game.”  The British Indian Army had fought three disastrous wars over that world on the other side of their Line in the Nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries, and the War from which Moscow had retreated in 1989 was in effect their Third Afghan War.  All (total) six Afghan Wars fought by the two dissimilar Empires ended disastrously for the European powers.  The current War is an American/NATO adventure with the puppet-placed Kabul government as ally.  The enemy, of course, is the Taliban “army” (whose mass Kandahar prison break-out this past week-end [23rd  through  24th]shows a degree of popular support and effective tactical ability).

Some political scientists have described the current dispute not as a War an Afghani War, but as a revolt of a regional sub-nationality, the Pashtuns, for self governance and unification since they are divided by the arbitrary and ill-delineated Durand Line which currently serves as the border between Islamabad and Kabul.  The War on The Afghani side of the boundary is in the South of their countryside while in Pakistan it is being waged mostly within Peshawar’s Provinces by Rawalpindi‘s army.

Since we are discussing the War about Kandahar, the demographics of Afghanistan show forty percent Pashtun (the highest single element within the total population).  Near 11 and one-half percent are of the Durrani tribal group, and almost 14 percent are Ghilzai.  The Tajiks within the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan are the second largest ethnic group with a little over 25 percent of the population.  The Hazaras stand at 18 percent while the Uzbeks that are ruled from Kabul are at slightly over 6 percent.  The Turkmen there are at 2.5 percent.  The lowest identifiable ethnic group, is the Qizilbash at 1%.  Other minuscule clusters measure about 7 percent all together.  As can be seen the mountainous nation is a multi-ethnic and, further, multi-lingual, and discord has arisen out of these issues.

Within Pakistan, on the other hand, who are divided by the aforementioned frontier from their Pashtun brothers to the north — they make up about  fifteen and one-half percent of the whole of the latter country’s population.   The Pastuns there — besides the Northwest Provinces — are largely settled in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and in Baluchistan on the Iranian periphery, but pockets are scattered all over that nation-state.  Also, the Taliban themselves are mainly Pashtun, and are logically located in Afghanistan’s south and the Northwest Provinces in Pakistan’s Hindu Kush.
Back to Michael Yalchi’s comments:  The American-led coalition is attempting a surge in Afghanistan similar to the successful one in Iraq, but the tribal composition and internal identification within the two states are significantly different.  The Wickileaks of last week (18th-24th) has brought the District of Columbia’s faulty assumptions to light.  In Afghanistan, it is a social misunderstanding by NATO in how the various high tribes and sub-tribes relate amongst themselves that creates a problem for the Europeans and North Americans in their counter-insurgency.

Yalchi asserted that “Afghani (tribal) territorial ‘maps’ inform their society.”  That is, the clans are essentially local, and the division of customs, etc. between groups are determined by the harsh landscape, for they are isolated one from another, and, curiously, the same geographical constraints that make travel problematic throughout the region for Brussels (i.e., NATO‘s) armed forces has created shortcomings in the Western alliance’s rush throughout that craggy topography.

Your correspondent, who happens to be an anti-imperialist personally, desires to end this piece by stating, unlike the British in their Imperial times who would be stationed in the Mountains for thirty years, and often would take a Pashtun woman to wife, etc., and was trained to speak the local language fluently.  (In other words, although alien, he was intimate with the culture.)  The American soldiers are posted in Southern Afghanistan for about a year at a time.  Mostly, they depend upon “fixers,” a journalistic term denoting a person native to the country who leads non-indigenous individuals through the landscape, translates and arranges things with the local inhabitants.

This lack of cultural comprehension is the real reason the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s campaign in Helmet and other Provinces in the South of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is going inadequately for the Western offensive in suppressing the Taliban’s insurgency.

Whereas Michael Yalchi regulates his analysis to the NATO alliance’s lack of accomplishment to a deficiency in grasping the lack of cohesion between the clannish customs who are opposing the Western soldiers in the combat zone in the high country, your commentator would go further to say it is a total cultural insensitivity and disrespect for their Pashtun opponent.

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