Playing with Fire

by Joshua Foust on 1/4/2009

Afghanistan Shrugged hits again with a deeply insightful comment on “community engagement”:

When the ANA and ANP attack the Taliban it’s in defense of the road network created by and for the populace; instead of nebulous ideals that few here seem to understand. Understanding of those ideals will come later. Right now I’d be happy for just the population just to understand that the government protects the road that brings them money and progress.

This is an interesting aside to the grander debate about roads and counterinsurgency: roads do indeed matter tremendously to the economic and political development of communities (they just do nothing to stop IEDs or quell violence, as the previous year has shown). And it is also interesting to see that in the East the insurgency saw its support undermined by its focus on destroying a road—the Ring Road in this case—that was so obviously good for the people.

It makes for interesting comparison with this Hazaristan Times editorial about the whole arming-the-tribes thing:

However, whether the Durranis are armed or the Ghilzais, these armed tribal militias will essentially be autonomous, not under control of any recognized authority. This takes Afghanistan back to the pre-DDR and DIAG days, where hundreds, even thousands, of armed militia groups roamed free outside government control. This new plan can reinvigorate warlordism, wasting the hundreds of millions of DDR and DIAG dollars that brought a great measure of stability, particularly in the North and northwest.

That stability may become history when the former Northern warlords see that not only there are no consequences for rearming, but that the government itself is arming their counterparts in the South. And since there’s only a delicate ethnic balance in many parts of the country, the potential rearming spree may actually leave Afghanistan in far worse condition than now.

While I’d quibble with the Durrani-Ghilzai take on what is fueling the insurgency, this is exactly the reason why arming the tribes is, as HT argues, playing with fire. And it doesn’t really empower local communities the same way providing pragmatic and fairly basic economic development to communities will—such as, for example, paving some more roads.

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This post was written by...

– 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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