Afghanistan: Pashtun AlienationWhy the rise

by Nathan Hamm on 9/6/2003

Afghanistan: Pashtun AlienationWhy the rise in Taliban attacks
lately? Judging from the reactions to their fall from power, no one
really is aching for them to come back. So, why have they been
operating so freely in the south and east of Afghanistan? The
International Crisis Group says it’s alienation.

Alienation from the centre is compounded by the
displacement of large numbers of Pashtuns in the north, amid a wave of
ethnically targeted violence following the collapse of Taliban rule by
factions of the United Front that helped the U.S.-led Coalition. UNHCR,
the Karzai administration, and some regional authorities have taken
steps to facilitate the return of displaced northern Pashtuns. The
critical issue will be ensuring security and access to land for those
communities that were displaced. The international community should
also support continued monitoring of violence against Pashtuns in the
north and west by non-Pashtun militias, which remains acute in the
provinces of Herat and Badghis, and call on regional authorities to
remove and hold accountable commanders responsible for these abuses. To
date, the south and east have had only a modest stake in the political
and economic reconstruction processes outlined in the Bonn agreement.
International assistance has been slow to materialise in areas outside
of Kandahar and other major towns, while poppy cultivation has boomed.
Commanders with little or no popular legitimacy remain the principle
military partners of the Coalition, and have used their power to
consolidate control over regional administrations and economies. In
Pashtun areas, this has led to the growth of patronage systems along
sub-ethnic lines and fuelled tensions within communities; those Pashtun
tribes that lack kinship ties to local authorities are marginalised
politically and economically. The Coalition, whose entry into the
Pashtun provinces was welcomed by a population that had grown
disenchanted with the Taliban’s increasingly arbitrary and autocratic
rule, has failed to capitalise on this reservoir of goodwill.
Collaboration with local commanders has drawn the Coalition into their
factional and personal rivalries, compromising its non-partisanship in
disputes unrelated to the war on terrorism. Heavy-handed tactics in
search operations and inadequate responses to reports of civilian
deaths from air strikes have also fuelled discontent with the Coalition
presence. The risks posed by the growing disaffection among Pashtuns in
Afghanistan should be self-evident. The Taliban came to power not only
because of the military assistance provided by Pakistan, but also
because local commanders had become notorious for their abusive conduct
toward civilians and extortion of traders. The Taliban’s initial
success in disarming the south and restoring a modicum of security was
welcomed as a respite by large segments of the local population. Today,
insecurity in the south and east, impediments to trade, and continued
competition for influence by the neighbouring states present a set of
conditions dangerously close to those prevailing at the time of the
Taliban’s emergence. The risk of destabilisation has been given added
weight by the re-emergence of senior Taliban commanders who are ready
to capitalise on popular discontent and whose long-time allies now
govern the Pakistani provinces bordering Afghanistan.

This should be good news rather than bad. The
battle is not against a set of beliefs strongly held by Pashtuns, but
against a set of conditions that can be erased with security and money.
The upcoming disarmament program should help establish the authority of
the central government (if its successful that is), and the innovative
use of troops such as with the Provincial Reconstruction Teams should
make a difference.

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This post was written by...

– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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