by Joshua Foust on 4/5/2007 · 3 comments

Some people have expressed skepticism at my theory that a lot of the fighting in Afghanistan can be explained through the prism of a centuries-long conflict between the tribes of Hamid Karzai and Mohammed Omar—including even the murder of Karzai’s father in 1999 (a move which pushed him into a strident enemy of the Taliban). This confused me, but since I have a job and stuff I didn’t have the time to go to a library and dig through the sources I’d need to authoritatively establish such a stance.

I do, however, have local Afghan media, and they are of the same opinion. Register with Afghan Wire and you can get access to their highly convenient background files as well—crucial information to unraveling the tangled web of Afghanistan.

Now this confluence doesn’t really prove anything—I have nothing beyond supposition to back up the claim that tribal conflicts are the primary drivers of conflict. But it’s cool anyway.

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– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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jonst April 7, 2007 at 11:30 am

(irony warning…well, its the internet after all, you have to signal attempts at irony)

Yeah, it does seem far fetched that in a tribal society, tribal disputes, going long back, would have much impact on present day society. (sigh…)

Anyway, on another subject, anything opinion on this?

Joshua Foust April 7, 2007 at 11:38 am

I should say that tribal tensions are probably a component, but there’s no direct evidence of tribes being the primary cause, like an actual split between tribes.

As for that article. For one I’d be interested to know which Iranians have close ties to which Gulf States. For another, the Baluchi are Pakistani in name only—they have engaged in violent clashes with Islamabad just as much as they apparently are doing now with Tehran. Think of them like you would the Kurds, a third party stateless Sunni ethnicity with a vested interest in remaining as independent as possible. Mir Aimal Kasi, the guy who shot up the CIA entrance in 1993, was Baluchi.

So it’s not surprising they hate the Iranian regime. Neither is it surprising the U.S. is supporting them, at least tacitly. I would venture the relationship is more opportunistic than calculated, but it’s not beyond our government to support local crazies who might make our short term job easier, consequences be damned.

But you’d think they’d have learned the lesson of supporting Islamic insurgencies.

Afghanistanica April 7, 2007 at 2:34 pm

I agree that among the Pashtuns tribe still matters, unlike elswhere in Afghanistan. Tribes are still a politically relevant factor in the south. But regarding Mullah Omar, he does not seem to care about tribal affiliation. His leadership council was/is littered with non-Hotak Ghilzais (including two Popalzais) and even non-Ghilzais (and not in a “token” manner). He seems to be in the historical mold of the “Ghazis” who rejected tribal leadership for religious/Jihad leaders who they saw as having legitimacy/God’s favour.

In my opinion the intrusion of an international market economy is lessening the importance of tribal loyalties, which have an economic dimension. And if/when the Afghan government/NATO can provide security, the tribe will become even less relevant as a provider of protection for its members.

So basically, my two cents is that the tribe is not as important as it was under Abdur Rahman when Ghilzais where being deported to the north, but is is still a relevant institution, although it is being further eroded.

This is definitely a good subject to put up for discussion.

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