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TheCurmudgeon
07-13-2008, 06:15 PM
I throw this out as an open question how do you win the support of the rural people of Afghanistan?

I spent OEF6 building as a company commander building roads in rural Afghanistan both in Oruzgan Province working from Tarin Khot south to Tanacheuy and in Paktia Province from Khost to the Pakistan border. In both places I had the opportunity to work with local town leaders. Three things were clear. First, just surviving is a pretty arduous task. This was unforgiving country and town leaders were more interested in day-to-day survival matters than anything else. Second, the central government had no influence. This was because no one had ever seen anyone from the central government. Depending on where they were the locals may see ANA troops once a month but beyond that nothing. Even when I was in locations where the coalition had built district offices the only thing there was a building and some furniture. There would be some ANA to protect it but they did not even have the fuel to run their generators. They could offer little to the population in the form of support. Third, we were outsiders. We were not, nor were we ever to be, their brothers. Our world and theirs was significantly different and we were never there long enough (i.e more than one year) to build a relationship.

The one thing I did notice in both places was a pride in being Afghani. That pride included their common history of expelling invaders.

At this point in the struggle it seems that the coalition needs to convince these fence-sitters to take a side and support the central government. Ultimately this is their fight for their country; we just have a national security interest in who wins.

Thoughts?

Rex Brynen
07-13-2008, 07:35 PM
I throw this out as an open question how do you win the support of the rural people of Afghanistan?

This is the absolutely central question. I think it probably has multiple dimensions to it (just off of the top of my head):

1) What is it that the central government needs to do in order to secure--or, perhaps more immediately, "rent"--the loyalties of peripheral Pashtun rural populations? Service provision might be part of this, but it would be a mistake to assume that all intrusions into existing rural autonomy are welcomed. Asking the locals is always a good way of finding out, although one has to do this in a way that predisposes them to provide the answers that they think you want to hear.

2) Who are they key powerbrokers in this, and what to they need and want? This often isn't the same issue as #1. Indeed, a critical issue for them might be having their authority recognized or reinforced, assuming a key role in dispensing patronage, etc. This might be difficult to reconcile at times with the broader task of building central state capacity, or in cases where satisfying some community leaders causes tensions with others.

3) Can local populations shift safely allegiances? Are they secure enough to do so? How can this be provided--external forces, ISAF, flipping local leaders, changing the attitude of second tier, local quasi-Taliban elements, etc. It is essential to understand the dilemma that the locals are in, when cooperation with Kabul or ISAF might be met with punitive Taliban attacks.

4) To what extent are broader political issues (political representation, corruption, etc)? This might well vary from area to area (and from local power-broker to power-broker).

5) To what extent are demonstration and domino effects important? The survival of local rural populations requires that they pay close attention to how the political (and economic) tides are shifting around them. Positive momentum--and the fear of missing a "departing train" (if I can use that analogy in rural Afghanistan!) can be a powerful asset. Negative momentum (like dramatic jail breaks in Kandahar) can act as a major deterrent to cooperation.

6) How does issue framing count? Can locals be convinced that the foreigners really want to leave once things are stable? This seems essential if local defensive nationalisms are not to be aggravated.

I think the more you break the question down, the closer we get to a whole array of relevant issues and possible answers.

Part of the key, I think, is moving local perceptions of central government authority along a continuum from threatening > irrelevant > helpful > indispensable.

Ken White
07-13-2008, 09:46 PM
but my suspicion is that this:
"...a continuum from threatening > irrelevant > helpful > indispensable"describes the attitude of most people in the world to their respective governments. Obviously, the level of emphasis at each step varies widely from nation to nation and even from person to person within each nation. Equally obviously, those factors will shift as events occur.

I suggest that for many nations and people, you could also throw in a 'tolerated' before and / or after the 'helpful.'

All of which leads me to a belief that the likelihood of the rather independent and proud Afghans getting to the final stage may never occur and that 'helpful' and 'tolerated' may be all that one could obtain -- and that tenuously. I think that's adequate. It may well have to be.

That in turn leads me to believe that the answer to Curmudgeon's very valid question "...how do you win the support of the rural people of Afghanistan? is that if the 'you' therein is the coalition, you probably will not and cannot get beyond 'helpful' for most Afghans; if the 'you' is the Afghan government, they may get to tolerated -- in a couple of generations. That is not to say we should not be there or should not try (helpful is good and is most always appreciated), it is simply a suggestion that assessments of achievability be realistic. The ideal is always ideal but it rarely appears, mostly due to people having vastly different ideas about ideals...

Rex Brynen
07-13-2008, 11:47 PM
but my suspicion is that this:describes the attitude of most people in the world to their respective governments. Obviously, the level of emphasis at each step varies widely from nation to nation and even from person to person within each nation. Equally obviously, those factors will shift as events occur.

I suggest that for many nations and people, you could also throw in a 'tolerated' before and / or after the 'helpful.'

All of which leads me to a belief that the likelihood of the rather independent and proud Afghans getting to the final stage may never occur and that 'helpful' and 'tolerated' may be all that one could obtain -- and that tenuously. I think that's adequate. It may well have to be.

That in turn leads me to believe that the answer to Curmudgeon's very valid question "...how do you win the support of the rural people of Afghanistan? is that if the 'you' therein is the coalition, you probably will not and cannot get beyond 'helpful' for most Afghans; if the 'you' is the Afghan government, they may get to tolerated -- in a couple of generations. That is not to say we should not be there or should not try (helpful is good and is most always appreciated), it is simply a suggestion that assessments of achievability be realistic. The ideal is always ideal but it rarely appears, mostly due to people having vastly different ideas about ideals...

Absolutely agreed--and I think that recognizing those constraints are essential, especially since trying to push to fast too far down the continuum is likely produce a backlash in the other direction.

Rank amateur
07-13-2008, 11:52 PM
Part of the key, I think, is moving local perceptions of central government authority along a continuum from threatening > irrelevant > helpful > indispensable.

I bet you're surprised, but I disagree. ;) Our biggest successes have come from dealing directly with tribal chiefs. So I'd suggest that the answer is "whatever it takes to bring a chief on board." Or to use a bit of lingo, there is no strategic solution, just individual tactical successes.

Get out in the field and start talking with the chiefs.

Ken White
07-13-2008, 11:52 PM
I totally agree with you but history and indications lead me to believe some hard charger will end up in command and try to expand the envelope. Hopefully not -- maybe, just maybe, we're getting smarter as we slowly fight a losing battle against maturity... :D

Rex Brynen
07-14-2008, 12:10 AM
I bet you're surprised, but I disagree. ;) Our biggest successes have come from dealing directly with tribal chiefs. So I'd suggest that the answer is "whatever it takes to bring a chief on board." Or to use a bit of lingo, there is no strategic solution, just individual tactical successes.

Get out in the field and start talking with the chiefs.

I said part of the key--you can't win the support of the locals if they see you as intrinsically threatening by your very existence. I agree that a strategic "win" of the entire rural population of Pashtun Afghanistan isn't achievable, and was thinking more about individual AORs.

As I commented earlier, Who are they key powerbrokers in this, and what to they need and want? I think in this regard, we're saying the same thing.

davidbfpo
07-14-2008, 07:34 AM
Winning local support from a proud, independent people. I do wonder if the model used by the British along the NW Frontier, yes the other side of the Durand Line, offers some guidance - often the people and tribes are the same.

The locals were left to govern themselves as much as possible (not very progressive and confirmed by the Pakistanis when returning to FATA after 9/11. - no schools, no medical facilities etc).

There was a set of rules on what the locals could not do, notably to the supply roads and railways for the military garrisons along the border. The roads were guarded by local raised forces.

There was a well known enforcement tariff, which occassionally meant military action to enforce fines on tribes etc.

Locally recruited para-military forces, paid for - without any local taxes and with long term seconded officers / NCOs.

Nothing I have heard about the situation today indicates the national Afghan government has a proper role outside Kabul. So start local, bottom up.

From my comfortable armchair.

davidbfpo

William F. Owen
07-14-2008, 10:32 AM
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/7501538.stm

A good start might not be killing so many civilians (if indeed they are).

Eden
07-14-2008, 12:33 PM
I think the first step is recognizing the peculiar (to us) worldview of the rural Afghani. The people you deal with in Nuristan or Oruzgan or Helmand are survivors with a keen understanding of their own socio-political environment - a fact we often do not grasp. Their narrative (built on their own experience and the folklore of centuries) doesn't match the one we want to foist upon them.

They do not see a strong central government as a positive benefit. We think a strong central government will be able to provide them with improved social services and security; in their experience, strong central governments are rapacious and trigger serious violence, as opposed to manageable local violence.

Foreign bayonets always, in the end, go away. When they do, things get very bad for a while, as the locals sort things out. Thus, they view your patrols as portents of future insecurity, despite any local and transitory improvements. Moreover, foreigners only come when a strong Afghanistan would threaten their own interests - they see promises to build a strong central government as a veiled means of installing a puppet who can oppress local perogatives.

Cultural constraints - the Pashtunwali is the best known, though it is by no means universal throughout the country - often cause locals to do things we find perverse. Afghans are not stupid; they grasp that their own mores can work to their temporary disadvantage. But they believe that their endurance, strength, and uniqueness springs from these traditions. Perversity in support of their culture can be, in fact, a source of prestige, respect, and local influence. On the other hand, you will find many Afghans can be quite cynical in defending or abandoning observance of the traditions when it suits them - just to make dealing with them more difficult.

Patronage is so ingrained that Afghans find it difficult to believe in our protestations of disinterested support. They are suspicious of our motives as individuals - what, exactly, is in it for us? - or they delight in and exploit our naivete bordering on stupidity.

Another aspect of the patronage system we find frustrating is that it is far better to have resources (money, gas, weapons, people, expertise) than to dispense them. Once you have given out, say, money, you reduce your ability to bargain, to influence, to bribe, to be flattered and wheedled. This is why money piles up in government coffers. The masters of this finely balance giving out and amassing treasure. And Afghans do not recognize the concept of public funds or unit supplies - they are always considered to belong to the official responsible.

Complicating this, of course, is that like people everywhere, there are many exceptions to these general rule - Afghans who are honest, reliable, and selfless in the Western sense rather than in accord with local standards.

Oh, and take everything I say with a large grain of salt: a year in-country does not make me an expert...but you'll find that many Afghans are as ignorant of distant parts of their own country as any wet-behind-the-ears lieutenant.

Ron Humphrey
07-14-2008, 02:48 PM
This is something I have spent a lot of time contemplating and I have a question regarding (How to view) the Afghan makeup.

I get the vision of the Knights of the roundtable, Kingdoms, Fiefdoms, Lords and ladies, etc.

Realizing how different the cultural makeup is would it still not be somewhat realistic to view the makeup of afghanistan in this way.

Ground up (as david mentioned) being a key component. The one commonality which still seems to be consistent whereever you go seems to be that local life happens along hierarchial lines. Head of the family, head of the faith, head of the tribe, head of defense, etc.

Isn't this a situation where less can definately be more, in that the less you actually have to do, pay, build, etc; the more likely those in local control will be more likely to look to you for what they can get towards greater empowerment.

???

marct
07-14-2008, 06:34 PM
Hi Ron,


This is something I have spent a lot of time contemplating and I have a question regarding (How to view) the Afghan makeup.

I get the vision of the Knights of the roundtable, Kingdoms, Fiefdoms, Lords and ladies, etc.

Realizing how different the cultural makeup is would it still not be somewhat realistic to view the makeup of afghanistan in this way.

Well, if you want an analog from Western history, Scotland is much better than the mythologized Arthurian Britain. I would look at the faction fights surrounding Robert the Bruce and, also, James VI, for example.

Ron Humphrey
07-14-2008, 06:46 PM
Hi Ron,



Well, if you want an analog from Western history, Scotland is much better than the mythologized Arthurian Britain. I would look at the faction fights surrounding Robert the Bruce and, also, James VI, for example.

a researching I will go:D

______________

Celtic Geographies: Old Culture, New Times By David Harvey

Is this a good place to start?

marct
07-14-2008, 06:58 PM
Celtic Geographies: Old Culture, New Times By David Harvey

Is this a good place to start?

Honestly, it's been so long since I read in the area, I'm embarrassed to say I can't remember :o.