“Peace and Stability for Afghans, by
AFGHANISTAN NATIONAL RECONCILIATION | NWSC v.1.4 | 12.13.2010
1 (html version)
“There is only one solution for peace
in Afghanistan – and that is an
Khalil Nouri, NWSC co-founder and
40 YEARS OF PEACE & STABILITY
A STATE OF CORRUPT AND VIOLENT AFFAIRS
AN AFGHAN SOLUTION
AFGHANISTAN NATIONAL RECONCILIATION | NWSC v.1.4 | 12.13.2010 3
President Barack Obama currently lacks a viable Afghanistan exit
strategy that will not leave the country in complete
violently-fractured disarray. Not to mention, the United States is no
closer to achieving any of its regional national security objectives
than it was prior to its occupation of Afghanistan ten years ago.
The current turmoil is due to the initial strategy being designed for
failure for a number of reasons, chief among them being the complete
lack of input from native Afghans during the policy development process.
This has resulted in alternatives bandied about by U.S. policymakers
and senior administration officials that are, unfortunately, formulas
for state collapse - including the continuance of a 10-year-old failed
counterinsurgency strategy, a Special Operations and C.I.A. drone war
and a power-sharing solution and top-down reconciliation process that
would divvy up the country amongst corrupt Afghan government officials,
violent Islamic extremists, mujahideen warlords and various other
Finally, there are some in favor of a de facto partition of
Afghanistan, an argument recently brought to the debate by Robert
Blackwill, a former policy advisor to both presidents Bush, which would
condemn the region to an endless ethnic conflict.
History has proven how the best-laid plans of global powers have failed
miserably over the past three decades. It is time for the U.S. and
international community to come to the realization that there is only
one solution for peace in Afghanistan – and that is an Afghan solution.
The aim of this document is to give Mr. Obama his exit strategy. And
contrary to conventional wisdom, the U.S. does not have to choose
between the lesser of two evils - Karzai or the Taliban – because there
is another pathway for achieving peace and true national reconciliation.
AN AFGHAN PERSPECTIVE
The concepts contained herein are refreshingly new, positive in nature
and one-of-a-kind because they reflect the thoughts and ideas of the
Afghan people. This is important to note because the authors firmly
believe the only way to end this war is with a complete indigenous
Afghan approach – one with zero interference and participation from any
Any remedy concocted must be designed by native Afghans and imbued with
their tradition and custom, because, historically speaking, every other
medicament imposed by foreign powers has exacerbated the situation,
causing the country to rapidly deteriorate into an unrecognizable shell
of what it once was.
You can take an Afghan to Hell with Kindness, but not to Heaven by force
- Afghan Proverb
External interference in Afghan affairs has resulted in nothing more
than ultra-violence, radicalism, poverty, and the destruction of the
very fabric of Afghan society. It is nigh time that Afghans are allowed
to determine the fate of their own country by reconstituting the sacred
unifying tribal structure and national identity that has been decimated
by over 30 years of foreign invasion, incessant civil war and chaos.
This is the primary focus of the New World Strategies Coalition (NWSC),
a think tank founded by Afghan expatriates who possess deep tribal
connections. The group focuses on developing political, economic and
cultural initiatives for Afghanistan, and unlike any other research
institute around the globe, the NWSC - in partnership with other
leading native Afghan scholars, experts and NGOs – produces truly
indigenous scholarship and solutions.
The NWSC is in a class by itself because it gathers direct feedback and
“ground truth” through a communication network of tribal elders and
representatives from some of the most well-respected tribes and clans
in Afghanistan that cut across both ethnic and sectarian lines, and is
thus able to channel the collective voice and will of the Afghan people.
The reason the NWSC has a built-in advantage is fairly straightforward:
the tribes will only disclose sensitive information to other Afghans
whom they trust. This is for cultural and practical reasons. The
cultural aspect is based on hundreds of years of anthropology and the
practical reason is based on fear of reprisal from the powers that be.
To illustrate the value of its indigenous intelligence, the NWSC has
been asked to testify before Congress on a couple of occasions. During
one session in the mid-1990s, the NWSC warned the U.S. government about
the rise of the Taliban. A senior congressman went so far as to say
that if the U.S. had listened to the NWSC’s recommendations, 9/11 could
have been prevented.
The purpose of this white paper is not to actually specify a political
solution but a process, because the crux of the approach is based on
Afghan native self-determination. Every significant political decision
will be left up to the Afghan people in a series of what the NWSC
refers to as All-Afghan Jirgas. The NWSC’s goal is to outline an
inclusive process and describe a tool that will revive Afghan
nationalism and empower the “silent majority” of the Afghan people, so
they can, finally, choose their own destiny.
A FORGOTTEN ERA
Once upon a time Afghanistan experienced a forty-year run of peace,
stability and social progress during the reign of King Zahir Shah; an
era that began in the early 1930s and ended only as a result of the
violent Cold War turmoil of the late 1970s. It is important to
understand that despite its poverty during this period Afghanistan had
been self-sufficient in food production,1 a vivid illustration of what
life was like when Afghans were in control of their own fate.
That type of society seems like ancient folklore in light of today’s
conditions, because after 30 years of incessant war Afghanistan is now
one of the most violent, corrupt and poverty-stricken places on earth.
The before and after snapshots are mind-blowing, illustrating a
near-incogitable contrast between an Afghanistan that was free from
external interventions, versus an Afghanistan that is occupied and
manipulated by foreign powers that have marginalized, weakened and
corrupted centuries-old indigenous institutions and value systems.
Eyewitness accounts from the 60s and 70s document Afghan women wearing
miniskirts at Kabul University. The sad truth is Afghan society had
been in the midst of progressive reform and had been transforming
itself into an enlightened, modern, and democratic society.
One is challenged to find another example of a society that has
experienced such dramatic economic, political, technological and
cultural regression in such a short time period. Afghanistan has been
bombed, decimated and hurled back centuries, and is now just a shell of
the nation it once was.
The challenge before the international community is to first accept and
then figure out how to go back in time in order to go forward, while
having the faith and moral courage to allow the Afghans to once again
control and choose their own destiny.
TRIBAL STRUCTURE AND THE DYNASTIC PRINCIPLE
Replicating the exact form of government, laws, customs and rituals of
this time period is not necessary, but there are certain aspects that
could be reinstituted, strengthened or at least drawn upon, including
sacred tribal tools and traditions anthropologically ingrained within
the Afghan people. Once understood, one realizes the society-in-a-box
being imposed upon the Afghan people by Westerners is anathema to the
core fabric of their collective being. The last time the Afghan
nation saw anything that resembled stability was when its tribal
structure was fully intact and a national unifying monarch sat on the
throne - two essential factors that helped maintain what is referred to
in this white paper as the “tribal balance”.
The point isn’t to necessarily advocate for a return of this type
government but to show how and why it worked. The key is that the
solution must ultimately be decided by Afghans, and when Afghans were
last in charge of their own fate, there was 40 years of peace.
Throughout this era the state had been erected upon lessons learned
through centuries trying to maintain peace within an insular acephalous
tribal society with a penchant for infighting.
Although weakened during the past few decades, tribal principles and
national identity and values are still central to Afghan life, as the
tribe continues to be the most integral political, economic, military
and cultural unit for many in Afghan society.
The tribal belief system is also based on lineal and ancestral
adoration and near-religious belief in the royal bloodline. This
kinship acted as a common thread that provided national solidarity and
enabled the head of state to unify the tribes when necessary against
Afghanistan is still a hyper-fragmented and decentralized society. In
the past, when the Afghan state was most functional, although it was
technically a constitutional monarchy, the country resembled a “loose”
confederation in which legislative and judicial powers were pushed down
to the local level - a concept analogous to America’s states’ rights.
The end product was an informal Afghan-style democracy, and one much
more effective than what is nominally in place today.
So one can just imagine how Afghans view the Western-style
uber-centralized government of President Hamid Karzai’s administration.
Congressman Dana Rohrabacher characterized how important a loose
decentralized type of rule is for Afghans:
“Zahir Shah was the king of Afghanistan for 40 years and was successful
because he didn't try to rule the entire country from Kabul. The King
had a mandate from God- but he still let the people rule themselves
The tribal structure, moral code and kinship ensured not only
intra-tribal cohesion but unified Afghans at the provincial and
national levels as well. Common kinship and the respect for the King
were critically important in stabilizing a country that could easily
tip into chaos due to its fragmented nature.
The formal and informal power structures in Afghan society were
relatively distributed and rarely abused. The tribes were
vertically-structured and egalitarian in nature, in which decisions
were made based on consensus-building as opposed to orders handed down
from a hierarchical command structure. And although tribal elders
and leaders typically had the final say, they were able to become
leaders in the first place because they had earned the honor of their
respective tribes and derived their power from moral authority, not
threat of violence.
The inner-cohesion of the tribes was maintained by a moral tribal code
that the Pashtuns referred to as Pashtunwali, which was based on tribal
honor and pride, and also protected the rights of the individual.
Amongst the many tribes in Afghanistan, the Pashtuns represent the
largest of all, and its structure and values have generally resisted
modern institutional governments. The country overall exemplifies the
typical “storm paths” based on ethnicity, Islamic sect, and so on, but
in fact the active, viable political coalitions in the country are
built upon grounds of fellowship, friendship and trust that governs
their behavior - including those figures in government or other
informal positions of power.
In general, tribesmen are intensely focused on their code, specifically
their adherence to the value of “honor” which has been described as the
“tribal center of gravity.” The Pashtunwali norms override religious
norms, making appeal to Islamic identity less resonant to Pashtuns.
Pashtunwali also overrides modern legal norms, making a western-style
justice system ineffective. Thus, if the center of gravity shifts in
violation of the code towards either another tribe or an individual,
the outcome will depend on the ruling of a Loya Jirga, which is a grand
assembly of elders.
Afghans embrace this ancient traditional, spiritual, and communal
identity tied to a set of moral codes. These tenets promote
self-respect, independence, justice, hospitality, love, forgiveness,
and tolerance toward all (especially to strangers or guests).
These indigenous unifying principles are critical to the national
reconciliation movement which is focused on empowering the Afghan
people. Pashtunwali has been outlined here as more of a symbolic
illustration than a literal prescription, and gives insights into the
reality that Afghan culture is not based on extreme religious ideology
or cultural norms imposed from without, but rather by unique indigenous
values that have flourished for millennia from within.
Unfortunately, two non-indigenous movements arose during the end of
Zahir Shah’s rule: communism and a reactionary extremist form of
Islamic fundamentalism which opened the path for 30 years of societal
Figure 2.0 – History of Foreign Influence
FOREIGN INTERVENTIONS 30 YEARS OF FOREIGN INTERFERENCE
If ever one needs a reminder as to the magnitude of the havoc wrought
on the Afghan people, simply stroll through the countryside – but watch
your step. Afghanistan is still the most heavily land mined country in
the world with 60 Afghans per month still getting blown up, most of
them children who don't know what to look for as they play.2 As a
result, Afghanistan now has the highest percentage of disabled people
in the world.
The root cause of the turmoil we see today is that foreign intervention
has weakened the tribal balance, the Afghan national character and
unifying value systems. In order to properly analyze the symptoms that
afflict Afghan society today it is important to understand the history
and underlying causes of the country’s current decrepit state, which
will also shed light on the animus towards foreign occupiers,
especially the United States.
A consistent pattern formed of foreign actors attempting to impose
non-indigenous systems of government, social programs and/or religions
on a people infamous for resistance to external threats and influences.
A quick summary of this can be found in figure 2.0 below.
Periods Rulers/ Powerbrokers Systems Imposed Issues
(1979 – 1989)
Communists did bring some progressive social movements, yet Soviets
tried to depopulate the countryside.
Afghan Civil Wars
(1989 – 1994)
(Saudis / Pakistanis)
Warlordism result of Saudi and U.S.-funded and Pakistani-trained
(1994 – 2001)
(Saudis / Pakistanis)
Islamic reactionary religion the result of foreign pan-Islamic Deobandi
Wahhabism of Saudis, Pakistanis
(2001 – 2010)
U.S. and NATO-sponsored Afghan government
Western-style Centralized Democracy
Blatant installment of a “puppet” regime by U.S. and an attempt to
implement a corrupt democratic system
The following brief synopsis of Afghan history is important because it
tells the story of how the tribal structure, the dynastic principle and
those indigenous values and institutions that bonded Afghan society
together were systematically destroyed, and how purported foreign
ideological and religious panacea were actually contraindicative. The
following critique, at times stinging, is based on the perspective of
most Afghan natives and is a stark reality Western policymakers must
come to terms with and weigh heavily during the decision-making process.
U.S. involvement in the annihilation of Afghan society cannot be
overlooked, because tribal elders certainly haven’t forgotten. Most
Americans are not aware of the fact that the U.S. and British
intelligence agencies had been working together since the end of WWII
to destabilize Afghan society.
According to Elizabeth Gould and Paul Fitzgerald in Invisible History:
Afghanistan’s Untold Story, a Manichaean worldview and Cold War
strategy retarded the expansion of anything that resembled communism or
socialism – including movements such as nationalism, secularism and
even, sadly, progressivism. Indisputable proof exists that the
U.S. fanned the spread of pan-Islamic extremism during the 1950s and
1960s, and helped facilitate the rise of groups like the Muslim
Brotherhood primarily because the U.S. shared the same disdain for
communists as conservative religious reactionaries. Through the Asia
Foundation – a C.I.A. front – the U.S. funded Islamic extremist
movements at Kabul University that eventually led to Afghanistan’s
indigenous and moderate version of Islam being replaced by the sadistic
fundamentalism we see today.
King Zahir Shah ended up the victim of historical circumstances,
shackled to a century and a half legacy of colonial domination. Caught
between the forces of communism, Islamic fascism and the geopolitics of
the Cold War his grand plans for progressive democratic reform were
crushed and his country destroyed.
Afghanistan played the role of geopolitical chessboard for U.S. Cold
War strategy against the Soviets during the 1970s, a decade that ended
with the U.S. and C.I.A. forcing the Soviets’ hand into invading
Afghanistan to, as President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor
Zbigniew Brzezinski put it: “give Russia its Vietnam”, as the U.S. went
from Nixonian détente to Carterian confrontation.
It is now no secret that the C.I.A., via Pakistan's Inter-Services
Intelligence (ISI), funded and supported violent Islamic jihadists
called the mujahideen in the Afghan war against the Soviet Union,
providing them billions to procure weapons and recruit and train more
jihadists. After the Soviet retreat, these mujahideen “freedom
fighters” became the very warlords that divided and terrified
Afghanistan as it spiraled into civil war, moral decay and chaos, which
led to conditions ripe for the rise of The Taliban and Al Qaeda.
The Taliban’s ultra-orthodox Islamic movement was actually spawned in
reaction to the political and moral chaos brought about by the
fractious mujahideen’s inability to work together in controlling the
After the post-9/11 takedown of the Taliban the U.S. abandoned
Afghanistan by taking a detour to Iraq and leaving the country – once
again – in the hands of warlords. This time the C.I.A. and U.S.
military paid these miscreants millions upon millions to “secure and
keep the peace”, which further corrupted the country. Thus, the rise of
warlordism was yet another non-indigenous phenomenon that would have
never taken root were it not for foreign meddling.
Kabul has fought against restoring the tribal balance and traditional
Afghan autonomy since Karzai took office. The Karzai regime has not
supported inter-tribal solidarity, even ignoring the decisions of local
jirgas and shuras. Reason being is that the Karzai clique is threatened
by tribalism and sees it as much too egalitarian, instead preferring a
form of patronage that is not inclusive but serves one side – their
The Taliban see the tribal code and custom as an affront to Islam, thus
tribal conventions were further weakened during their reign as the
chaos of the mujahideen warlords was replaced by religious fascism. The
Taliban tried to establish Deobandi networks and replace
tribal-centered villages with ulema and madrassa-centered structures.
Today, they are continuing to uproot the tribal foundation, evidenced
by their assassination campaign against tribal elders. In addition,
according to Afghan expert Selig Harrison, “[S]ince 1979, the role of
the hujrah [local secular community center] has been deliberately
undermined by Pakistan and other countries including the United Kingdom
and Saudi Arabia.”
Harrison finds the coexistence and the interaction of the ancient
tribal code of Pashtunwali with Islamic religious traits to be
indispensible for understanding Pashtun culture:
“On the one hand, it explains the inevitable and ritualistic
religiosity of a Pashtun, and on the other hand it explains the
futility of efforts to inject religious fundamentalism in Pashtun
social and political culture as it stands in contradiction to
Pashtunwali. In fact, the Islamic identity of the Pashtuns is only one
thousand years old whereas Pashtunwali is reportedly five thousand
Societal fragmentation has been working in the Taliban’s favor. With
the death of the dynastic principle and the absence of a well-respected
national leader as head of state, Afghan society now lacks a common
lineal thread that could unify the nation. Although the Taliban have
pushed a faux-nationalistic movement that has failed, because of their
previous brutal and bloody persecution of non-Pashtuns and non-Sunni
Muslims in the north during their short power stay, the Taliban will
never be able to unify the country.The implosion and degradation of the
tribal structure and true Afghan nationalism directly spawned a sad new
world now dominated by corruption, violence and poverty. 30 years of
conflict resulted in a chain reaction that continues to work against
any restoration of a valid state.
Tribalism and dynastic loyalty were principles that cemented the shards
of clans and ethnicities together, enabling Afghanistan’s distinctive
“regulated anarchy”. But when these bonding agents were destroyed,
Afghan society shattered and spiraled into an ever-darkening chaotic
abyss, only to be exacerbated by U.S. policies similar to the ones that
are arguably the root cause of the current state of affairs.
Afghanistan is now caught in the throes of a debilitating nexus between
tribal imbalance, the death of Afghan nationalism and America’s
incoherent military and political strategies, which are exacerbating
already-deteriorating conditions on the ground.
General David Petraeus’s COIN strategy is designed for failure because
of the stratospheric odds against winning Afghan hearts and minds. Not
to mention the fact that NATO’s very presence is fueling the insurgency.
Also, Afghanistan, with its tribal society and weak tradition of
loyalty to the state, is not a promising place for a classic
counterinsurgency operation. Its twin goals of protecting the
population and guiding the Afghan security forces toward
self-sufficiency are inconsistent with Afghanistan's history, culture,
General David Petraeus asserted in his most recent counterinsurgency
(COIN) guidance that the U.S. cannot capture or kill its way to
victory4. The General said the decisive terrain was the human terrain
and the Afghan people are the “center of gravity”.
He also wrote:
The Taliban are not the only enemy of the people. The people are also
threatened by inadequate governance, corruption, and abuse of power –
recruiters for the Taliban.
However, U.S.-led forces can execute these COIN guidelines perfectly
and would still fail to win over the local populace because Afghans
perceive their sitting government in Kabul as illegitimate and corrupt.
Poverty-stricken Afghans watch as billions of dollars worth of foreign
aid is poured into a corrupt patronage system and allocated to
provincial leaders who act as mob bosses. This combination of economic
desperation and wanton graft is a formula the Taliban have exploited
time and again. Afghan society functioned much more effectively and
equitably when it had a loose decentralized form, as opposed to
centralization which breeds corruption on a daily basis.
A recent Pentagon study concluded only 24% of the most critical
districts in Afghanistan support the Karzai government and the rest are
sympathetic to the insurgency. Respondents cited rampant corruption and
ineffective governance as reasons for their opposition, and many see
Karzai as an illegitimate President because they believe the most
recent elections were rife with fraud.
Government corruption is so pervasive that large percentages of Afghans
in key districts are willing to suffer through another era of Taliban
fascism if the only other alternative is continuing to live under the
Karzai regime’s reprobate and mob-like rule.
The ultra-centralization that the Americans afforded to be written into
the Afghan constitution has been almost as tragic a mistake as propping
up Karzai as the leader. The consolidation of power and money among the
Karzai family has been mind-numbing.
The President’s brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai (AWK), sits at the head of
Kandahar’s provincial council but runs the region like a kingpin – and
is notorious for being involved with security extortion rings, illegal
real estate deals and the drug trade.
The U.S. had previously stated that the Kandahar operation will
determine the outcome of the war, but if Afghans see coalition forces
tied to the President’s brother, the U.S. chances of success are slim,
if not nil. Maj. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, the senior American military
intelligence official in Afghanistan spelled it out succinctly in the
New York Times last year:
If we are going to conduct a population-centric strategy in
Afghanistan, and we are perceived as backing thugs, then we are just
NWSC tribal connections in Kandahar have validated all of the
aforementioned sentiments and claim AWK is single-handedly fueling the
Meanwhile, President Karzai claims he will not remove his brother
because AWK had been “elected by the people”. However, the NWSC has
first-hand knowledge from tribal leaders that AWK won the council
position as the result of a local jirga, where representatives vote by
raising their hands for all to see. They assert AWK used threats and
intimidation beforehand to ensure he won the seat. The tribal leaders
assert that AWK would be lucky to get one vote in an honest election,
but anyone who valued their life would never dare to vote against him
in an open jirga.
The bottom line is that the chief source of “inadequate governance,
corruption, and abuse of power” is President Karzai, his family and his
inner-circle. If it is true, as French army officer and
counterinsurgency theorist Roger Trinquier put it, that “the sine qua
non of victory in modern warfare is the unconditional support of a
population”, and if the U.S. wholeheartedly believes in the most basic
precepts of COIN strategy – then Karzai’s very existence as head of
state is irreconcilable with capturing the hearts and minds of the
Afghan population. Thus, unless something changes at the top, it would
be reasonable to conclude that this war is now unwinnable.
Hence, it would seem, Afghanistan is stuck with Karzai at the helm for
quite some time, as he wins terms indefinitely because of his
organization’s impressive electoral fraud operations. Not only that,
but it appears the Karzai regime has consolidated even more power by
rigging the recent parliamentary elections to ensure that the lower
house is fully under the control of a soon to be unchecked executive
branch, thus transforming Afghanistan into a de facto totalitarian
Although it may seem like an affront to our Jeffersonian sensibilities,
tribal instruments such as the jirga and the Afghan predilection
towards a constitutional monarchy have proven to be considerably more
representative than the current Afghan government's idea of
VIOLENCE & INSURGENCY
The issue of the Afghan insurgency is complex and subject to numerous
interpretations. Despite initial claims that the Taliban were an
indigenous force and wanted nothing more than to purge Afghanistan of
hated warlords and criminals, a plethora of Western intelligence as
well as public statements by Afghan and Pakistani officials indicates
the Taliban are closely aligned to a fatal mix of transnational
extremists backed by elements of Pakistan’s military that are bent on a
political and religious transformation of the region.
In a society in which people from different provinces view one another
as “foreigners” one can only imagine the sentiments and mixed loyalties
that have shaken the Afghan’s historical sense of pride in their
nationality. As distrust and unhappiness with the U.S.-led coalition’s
efforts grows, the need for a drawdown of Western forces becomes
apparent. Yet, simply abandoning the field to the Taliban could create
dire consequences that make the present military occupation look good
What the Taliban could never have done for themselves, the coalition
has provided by alienating the Pashtun tribes and virtually forcing
them into the hands of Taliban “protectors” who have successfully cast
themselves as a force for Pashtun nationalism. Plus, there is
definitive proof that despite the increase in troops and funds, the
Taliban insurgency has grown over the past nine years and overall
conditions have deteriorated at great cost to the U.S. in terms of
blood and treasure. A situation succinctly summarized by the
Afghanistan Study Group in their recent report A New Way Forward6:
At almost nine years, the U.S. war in Afghanistan is the longest in our
history, surpassing even the Vietnam War, and it will shortly surpass
the Soviet Union’s own extended military campaign there. With the
surge, it will cost the U.S. taxpayers nearly $100 billion per year, a
sum roughly seven times larger than Afghanistan’s annual gross national
product (GNP) of $14 billion and greater than the total annual cost of
the new U.S. health insurance program. Thousands of American and allied
personnel have been killed or gravely wounded. And if defeating
the Taliban is not the objective, but “dismantling” Al Qaeda is, ASG’s
director Matthew Hoh laid out in a recent Intelligence Squared debate
why this rationale for war also defies commonsense:
[Al Qaeda] is a collection of individuals. It's not a formal military
organization that we can defeat with conventional forces. And think
about it. Look back at the last 10 years of their attacks. Their most
recent attack, a lady who took two parcel bombs and FedExed them from
Yemen. Look at the attacks of the last three years in this country in
the sense that they're done by individuals, small cells, it's a
decentralized organization that will not be affected by the presence of
brigade combat teams occupying Southern Afghanistan. So nine years ago
19 men hijacked four airplanes. We're now in Afghanistan 109 months
later with 100,000 troops…
And now, because of the decimation of the tribal structure, instead of
respected and unifying tribal elders working with residents to build
consensus and make decisions for the greater good, the chaos in a war
zone has tilted the center of gravity towards “strongmen”, because in a
Hobbesian world of “kill or be killed” might trumps tribal tradition
The chaos has caused a power vacuum in key leadership positions in
tribes, districts and provinces that are being filled by warlords, drug
traffickers, and corrupt politicians. The tribal code, weakened by the
rise of the warlords, has been replaced with a code based on brute
force. As Brigadier Justin Kelly put it7:
“Unless you are confident in the ability of your government to enforce
its peace, then the man with a gun at your door at midnight is your
Tribal leaders have been marginalized and the tribal structure
weakened, which has smothered the voice of Afghanistan’s version of the
“Silent Majority”, because most Afghans are moral and well-intentioned.
But the war has empowered the maligned actors whose sources of power
are money and guns.
Mr. Obama needs an exit strategy, but the options he’s been provided
and other supposed solutions that one reads in op eds across the
blogosphere are no-win proposals that will fail to meet U.S. objectives
and only make matters worse in Afghanistan.
If the root cause of the current dilemma is tribal imbalance and the
destruction of the Afghan national identity, the obvious answer should
be to reinstate this equilibrium and rebuild nationalistic character –
one would think.
However, a number of Western foreign policy experts have posited
interesting remedies that would do the exact opposite. The status quo
counterinsurgency is obviously not the approach with its overreliance
on building up Afghan security forces, but neither is simply handing
the country back to the same set of warlords that caused this mess in
the first place. The solution is not Karzai’s misguided top-down
reconciliation process, which lacks credibility and will never have the
full support of the Afghans. Nor would dividing Afghanistan into
partitions be the answer, because it would simply make the state
inherently prone to civil war.
PROPPING UP AFGHAN NATIONAL DEFENSE FORCES
Bereft of a political solution, it is not speculation but a guarantee
that if U.S. forces drawdown prematurely and leave Afghanistan in the
hands of centralized security forces, the government in Kabul will
collapse and a more divisive and destabilizing civil war shall erupt.
The Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP) are
just one of the major problems - they are symbols of the central
government and not trusted by a society built on localized security.
Yet, the U.S. continues to stake their mission on developing these
security forces. Without a unifier, after the U.S. withdraws all of
this training will become academic when these forces collapse or
reunite with the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras of the former Northern
Alliance to fight the Pashtun uprising.
Besides not sufficiently reflecting the Pashtun population – the
country’s largest ethnic group – Afghan national security forces are
loaded with drug addicts and criminals due to low pay and the fact that
real warriors and fighters are either still defending their tribes or
have joined the Taliban, typically for more money.
Once again, ignoring the norms of a decentralized and fragmented
society, the U.S.-led coalition tried to force a top-down approach to
build a national security force. Instead, they should have focused on
strengthening and arming the villages and building a security structure
from the ground-up.
Without a legitimate political solution the Afghan future will look
worse than it is today because we have seen what happens in Afghanistan
when there is a power vacuum at the top – violent “strongmen” men like
the Taliban and warlords seize power. The Obama administration is
reportedly attempting to negotiate a power-sharing arrangement with the
likes of Mullah Omar’s Taliban, the Haqqani Network and Gulbuddin
Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e-Islami, with dubious usual-suspect go-betweens
involved such as the Saudis and Pakistanis.
The Afghan people have seen this movie before, and it doesn’t end very
well. Read the tribal elders’ lips: the solution must be an Afghan
solution – they do not want Pakistani or Saudi Arabian involvement
After the initial takedown of the Taliban after 9/11, the U.S.
unabashedly handed the physical security of the country over to
warlords, the consequences of which need not be belabored. And now U.S.
officials are thinking of brokering a deal to share the Afghan nation
with an even more malevolent cast?
As far as reconciliation with the Taliban-led insurgents go, care must
be taken because, as Sima Wali, King Zahir Shah’s representative to the
Bonn Conference once quipped:
“You show me a moderate Talib and I will show you a moderate Nazi.”
There is a difference between allowing disenfranchised Taliban fighters
to rejoin Afghan society but an entirely different matter to allow the
movement’s leaders to share power.
Some within DOD intelligence have suggested that Hekmatyar falls within
the “reconcilable” category – which may or may not be true. However, it
is likely irrelevant because our sources in Afghanistan have lent the
impression that the tribes do not want to negotiate with Hekmatyar and
would rather see him prosecuted, exiled to Pakistan forever – or worse.
Ultimately, the U.S. must leave it up to the Afghans. The Afghans
should decide which Taliban will be reintegrated into the villages and
the Afghan people will determine what role Taliban leaders will have in
the new government.
KARZAI’S RECONCILIATION PROCESS
President Hamid Karzai established an Afghan “High Peace Council” aimed
at negotiating peace with the insurgents, yet the individual appointed
to lead the initiative, former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, is
a Tajik warlord accused by U.S.-based Human Rights Watch of war crimes
that killed thousands of Afghans during the civil wars. The Taliban
have publicly denounced the selection and refuse to sit down with
Rabbani because he has so much Pashtun blood on his hands.
Not to mention that the Karzai government, perceived as illegitimate by
most Afghans, lacks credibility and the most basic trust of its own
people - let alone a mandate to negotiate anything on their behalf.
Thus, the Afghan government is in no position to formalize a settlement.
According to Martine Van Bijlert from the Afghanistan Analysts
Network8, the main issue is that no one can guarantee that Taliban
members will be “protected from local army authorities or police
looking to avenge past grievances or to aggrandize their own
well-being.” Van Bijlert also stated:
"Time and time again what people will tell you is that the obstacles
for fighters to return have to be removed first. And a big obstacle is
how they've been treated by the government or powerful people linked to
Van Bijlert believes the so-called reconciliation process has little to
do with the needs of ordinary Afghans and is all about exit strategies
for the West. The process is so fraught with uncertainty many Afghans
have been forced to “hedge their bets” – once again stuck between “the
anvil of the Karzai government and the hammer of the Taliban.”
Wali Muhammad, the malik of an outlying district of Kabul, acts as a
local councilor, mediator and elder, inheriting the unpaid position
from his father and grandfather. Wali is forced to do so because the
Afghan government is benignly ineffective, routinely predatory and has
little to no role in the daily lives of the local populace.
Wali is torn because when the Taliban were in charge the district had
no school and no doctor, yet, unlike now, it was safe with little
corruption. For him a good compromise would be to allow those Taliban
to integrate back into society willing to respect the Afghan
But, just in case, he's hedging his bets by training his young son to
take over as malik, realizing the traditional system needs to remain
strong in order to provide for the people’s basic needs and to secure a
modicum of order. Based on the inherently flawed, top-down
reconciliatory structure and lack of viable alternatives – his bet is
very likely a wise one.
A few Western foreign policy experts have recklessly suggested
partitioning Afghanistan, including former Bush administration official
Robert Blackwill, based on the premise that since the US cannot win the
current war in Afghanistan it should consider a de facto partition of
the country and hand over the Pashtun south to the Taliban while
propping up the north and west where Uzbeks, Tajiks and Hazaras live.
However, countries such as Russia, Tajikistan, Iran and Pakistan have
at one time or another over the past 20 years proposed similar plans -
all to no avail. The Afghan response to such talk regardless of region,
ethnicity or tribe - has been swift and at times even threatening.
According to Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid: Twenty years ago,
Gen Dostum told me that the first Afghan who suggests partition would
have his throat slit. Before the attacks of September 11 2001, Taliban
leaders told me the same thing. The same holds true today.
Afghanistan’s ethnic mix is much more complex than Westerners realize
and such a partition could have worse consequences than India’s
ill-conceived division that gave birth to Pakistan in 1947, considering
a number of Pashtuns live in the north as quite a few Uzbeks and Tajiks
live in the south. It is a recipe for perpetual civil war.
AN AFGHAN SOLUTION- BROAD SUPPORT
HOWEVER, all is not lost. But the indigenous solution will require
quite the paradigm shift for most Westerners who will struggle with the
concept that Afghanistan’s future lies within its past.
It is a historical and undeniable truth that Afghanistan saw a 40-year
epoch of peace when there was tribal balance, lineal rule, and society
was based on a strong national identity and indigenous tradition and
custom. And it is very clear what happened when this tribal balance and
nationalism was decimated. Hence, a logical conclusion would be that a
restoration of said balance and nationalism and a return to a truly
indigenous form of government is required. The NWSC has designed a
peace process that has garnered broad support to achieve such a
What Americans and Westerners must trust is that the majority of
Afghans are good people but have been victimized by history and their
society devitalized under the repressive control of the minority of
warlords and strongmen who have seized and consolidated power. An
Afghan solution, however, will empower these people to come forward and
take back their country from the oppressors.
At a recent gathering of the Afghan community in the Seattle area, the
NWSC received unanimous support for its Afghanistan National
Reconciliation process from a diverse subset that represented Afghan
society, who all advocated for a series of “All-Afghan Jirgas” to solve
the political dilemma in their homeland.
This idea has been discussed directly with contacts in Afghanistan
along with members of the Afghan Diaspora, located in America, Canada
and Europe – who all roundly support the concept. This includes
influential tribal leaders from the most popular tribes in the South
such as the Alokozai and Achakazi; some Ghelzai Pashtuns in the East;
and non-Pashtun tribes across the country - including the Hazara,
Uzbek, Tajik and Panjshirees in the North. It has even been approved by
former Taliban commanders, former members of Hezb-e-Islami and retired
Pakistani military and intelligence officials.
For anyone that knows anything about the nature of Afghan tribalism and
custom - if the aforementioned types of people approve of this idea,
then it is beyond all doubt that the entire Afghan nation will accept
THE ALL-AFGHAN JIRGAS
The Loya Jirga is a “grand assembly” of Afghan leaders and tribal
elders typically convened to decide a major political matter such as
selecting a new head of state or ratifying a constitution. It is a tool
that has been used since the 1700s, especially in times of crisis,
including the one assembled in Kandahar in 1747 when Ahmad Shah Durrani
was appointed the first Emir of the modern Afghan state.
The jirga is actually one of the oldest forms of democracy and will be
an ideal tool for reconciling differences and selecting Afghanistan’s
next government that should meet Western standards of representative
sovereignty. The jirga is a functioning decision-making body, mythic
and sacred in nature, which is steeped in Afghan custom and can
actually lead to a strengthening of the internal cohesion of the tribes
as well as promote cross-tribal consensus building. The jirga will help
ensure a unifying, legitimate and representative leader is selected.
The All-Afghan Jirgas would be organized by the NWSC and its native
Afghan partner organizations. A total of three rounds of jirgas would
be held, the first two of which would be held in neutral countries
before the finale in Afghanistan. Below is a breakdown of the objective
and location of each jirga round:
Jirga #1 – Define the solution ( country to be determined )
Jirga #2 – Develop the implementation plan ( country to be determined)
Jirga #3 – Choose Head of State (Kandahar or Kabul)
At the first jirga the tribal elders will define the type of government
they want, resolve their differences akin to tribal feud or any prior
animosity towards one another, and begin the process of nominating
candidates for head of state. At the second jirga the participants will
decide on an implementation plan and at the final jirga the head of
state and government type will be selected and announced.
The reason for the foreign locales is due to the lack of security in
Afghanistan, considering the country is in the middle of a war.
Previous jirgas held in places like Kabul have been interrupted by
gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades. Not to mention that over a dozen
people were killed in the run-up to the most recent parliamentary
A jirga outcome under foreign occupation would be unacceptable to the
tribes; hence Afghanistan would still be stuck with a legitimacy issue.
The decisions emanating from a jirga held in a neutral country would be
accepted as more legitimate because of the absence of coercive powers.
If the first two jirgas are successful in other countries, it will
actually enhance Afghan nationalism and win the trust and confidence of
Kandahar is to host the finale because it’s mission critical to winning
the war, the heart of Afghan politics and the Taliban’s spiritual
cradle. Holding an event of such magnitude can rally the local
Kandahari populace around the All-Afghan cause, diffuse the insurgency
and bring relative calm to the entire volatile southern region. Plus,
it will bless the Afghanistan National Reconciliation process and the
nominees with historical recognition and the respect of the people.
One indispensable requirement is that there is no foreign involvement
in any phase of the process. U.S. involvement will be relegated to
providing “a level playing field” which will be accomplished by simply
providing security where and when needed.
The entire process could take anywhere from three to six months. The
NWSC will work with other native Afghan NGOs and organizations to
create an independent commission stationed in Kabul that would register
those who want to attend the jirgas. A formula would need to be devised
to ensure the decision-making body contained an accurate number of
delegates that was a true reflection of the proportionality of
Afghanistan’s tribal and ethnic demographics.
Parties or groups will not be allowed representation – only individual
Afghans. The Taliban, the Afghan government, drug barons or the
warlords cannot attend. The likes of Mr. Karzai, Mullah Mohammad Omar,
Hekmatyar, Rashid Dostum and other leaders may join the jirga as
ordinary Afghan citizens without any affiliation – or bodyguards.
It must be emphasized that the NWSC is not promoting any specific type
of government – there isn’t one predetermined solution. The final form
of governance will be left for the Afghan people to decide at the
All-Afghan Jirgas, although beforehand a few models will be developed
in order to provide some ideas and ignite the solution creation process.
THE DUBLIN OPTION: REFRAMING THE DEBATE
It would seem obvious to most Afghans that the locales for the first
two rounds of the Afghanistan National Reconciliation process be held
in non-aligned neutral Islamic countries; however, the external genesis
of the decades-old Afghan war and the psychological impact Afghanistan
has had on the West’s attitudes towards Islam no longer make a
resolution just an Islamic issue.
What is needed now is a wholly different way of thinking. This can only
be done by moving the issue of Islam off center stage where the current
acrimony has been intentionally focused by the combatants and replace
it with another model that incorporates ideas, histories and enduring
beliefs that link Afghans together with the West in a common struggle
and a better life for all. This can only be done by moving the initial
jirga to more than just another place, but to another environment
entirely that supersedes today’s crisis.
Parallels have been drawn by numerous experts to the complexities of
Afghanistan’s sectarian/tribal dynamic with the ongoing conflict in
Northern Ireland. Various tactics employed by peacekeepers in Northern
Ireland have been tried in Afghanistan with limited success, but the
circumstances surrounding the two countries are not dissimilar and for
very good reasons.
Aside from sharing a long colonial heritage with Britain, Ireland and
Afghanistan share an ancient legacy of tribal law and secular codes of
moral conduct that long precede the Christian and Islamic eras.
Ireland’s pre-Christian Brehon Laws provided a sophisticated set of
rules for every aspect of Irish society. Prior to hostile European
invasions, Pashtunwali was a guide for a peaceful and hospitable
Afghanistan that was known to accommodate Jews and Christians,
considering them both to be religions of “the book.”
A new and shocking departure from the existing narrative is needed to
change the tone of the Afghan crisis and reorient people’s thinking. As
part of the indigenous solution to restore the true Afghanistan,
Afghans should allow themselves to escape from the existing extremist
narrative by reconnecting to an ancient shared past. This can be
achieved by holding the first meeting of the tribal Loya Jirga at a
fifty five hundred year old UN-ESCO World Heritage Site north of Dublin
known today as Newgrange.
Originally known as Bru na Boinne, (mansion on the river Boyne), the
structure is central to pre-Christian Irish mythology having been built
by the Dagda, the father of the Tuatha de Danaan, (people of the light)
who was known as the Good Father, for his role as a benefactor to all
the people . Described as a "passage grave" by modern scholars, it was
considered a "house" where the dead could live and pass in and out of
supernatural reality into this world at will. It was also a place where
the living could commune with the spirits of the Otherworld and see,
hear and feel the bountiful Grail that awaited them in the spirit-world
According to the world-renowned scholar Joseph Campbell in his book
Occidental Mythology, The Masks of God, "By various schools of modern
scholarship, the Grail has been identified with the Dagda’s caldron of
plenty, the begging bowl of the Buddha in which four bowls, from four
quarters were united, the Kaaba of the Great Mosque of Mecca, and the
ultimate talismanic symbol of some sort of Gnostic-Manichaean rite of
spiritual initiation, practiced possibly by the Knights Templar."
According to Masonic lore, Newgrange’s unique history and mythology is
also central to the biblical Enoch, grandfather of Noah, who is found
in all three Abrahamic religions. This ancient lore and mythology can
provide a new narrative outside the framework of today’s violent
religious struggles. It also would reconnect Afghanistan’s progressive
heritage to the larger goals of nation-building, education and the path
But most of all Newgrange stimulates something in the imagination; a
deeper connection to the past and the evolution of human thought that
has been lost in bitter squabbling and forgotten to both the East and
the West. It should well be seen by desperate authorities as just the
right vehicle to change a deadly dynamic that is currently not working
The idea of holding the initial jirga in a region just outside of
Dublin, Ireland requires more than just simply “thinking outside the
box” – it requires throwing the entire box away. This concept is a
game-changer that has depth and weight and can bring about a positive
form of “shock and awe” as the Afghans symbolically tell friend and foe
alike a new age is dawning. Afghanistan in its current state is
unrecognizable to most Afghans anyway, and a major paradigm shift is in
BONN AGREEMENT: LESSONS LEARNED
The All-Afghan Jirgas concept does bear similarity to the process
outlined in Bonn Germany as the post-9/11 war against the Taliban had
been winding down, in which a transitional government with an interim
leader had been established along with a roadmap to select a new leader
The Bonn Agreement was aimed at, purportedly, establishing a permanent
“broad-based, representative and democratically-elected government”.
The concept of the Bonn Agreement was not the problem but the manner in
which it was actualized. The outcomes were already predetermined by
U.S. officials, arguably driven by Western geopolitical and economic
interests. Motives aside, U.S. manipulation of the jirga’s results is
an underreported historical fact according to M. Chris Mason who served
as a U.S. political officer on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Mr.
Mason told the NWSC that the Bonn Process was rigged by the U.S. to
"put our man Karzai in office”, and he wrote the following in the U.S.
Army’s own think tank magazine, The Military Review:
In 2002, three-quarters of the participants in the Emergency Loya Jirga
signed a petition to make the late King, Zahir Shah, the interim head
of state, an inconvenient show of reverence for the monarchy, which
required an extraordinary level of covert shenanigans to subvert. Even
a ceremonial monarchy would have provided the critically needed source
of traditional legitimacy necessary to stabilize the new government and
It was a clear case of foreigners dictating Afghanistan’s future by
blatantly ignoring the will of the Afghan people. The cast of
characters that did attend were so entrenched with other foreign powers
that China, Iran, Russia and other outsiders also were able to
influence events. Figure 3.0 below compares the Bonn Agreement to the
proposed All-Afghan Jirgas.
Of course, the U.S. cannot abandon Afghanistan either. They just must
play an “interim defense” supporting role and not be seen leading the
fight. The Afghan tribes and militias will need U.S. support to defeat
Taliban remainders who refuse to yield until a Caliphate is
established. It would be a “reverse mujahideen” strategy – propping up
moderate Afghan pro-government Muslims against jihadists, as opposed to
fanning the growth of pan-Islamic extremism as the U.S. did in the war
against the Soviets.
Afghans have a warrior code and will fight to the death to defend their
tribal honor, especially against foreigners - they are self-contained
fighting units that simply require funds, a little training, advisement
and upgraded weaponry. Except this time the “outsider” enemy will be
This should not be confused with continuing occupation. The U.S. should
immediately cease “offensive” operations such as night raids, etc., and
take a more defensive posture while announcing an acceleration of its
withdrawal timeline which will diffuse the jihadi cassus belli and lead
to reductions in violence levels.
Some objections may be raised that the Taliban toppled Kabul in the
past and will take over once again after NATO leaves. One must remember
that the Taliban were able to run roughshod and takeover Afghanistan in
the mid-90s because the tribal structure had been decimated and lacked
cohesion, not to mention there was the absence of a unifying national
Also, the Taliban had overwhelming and near explicit support from
Pakistan’s army and intelligence group, led by General Beg and Hamid
Gul. Pakistan provided the Taliban with funds, weapons, sanctuary,
recruits, training and logistical support and even deployed Pakistani
troops throughout the country. They also gave the Taliban enough cash
to buy-off warlords and corrupt governors, as some provinces fell under
their control without a shot being fired.
Not to mention, ironically, the Taliban carried snapshots of Zahir Shah
and deceived the Afghan people by telling many of them once Kabul fell
they would reinstall the King – but this never happened. This is yet
another illustration of the type of respect the people held for Zahir
Shah and the strength of Afghan nationalism.
Plus, the NWSC has received word from numerous Taliban contacts that
support the concept of Afghan national reconciliation and like the idea
of the Afghan people deciding their own fate via jirgas as opposed to
having the country’s destiny dictated by Westerners.
The benefits of the Afghanistan National Reconciliation process far
outweigh perceived risks and, although there are plenty of legitimate
concerns, said risks seem diminutive compared to the costs of doing
nothing and maintaining the status quo.
The jirga initiative will foster a deep, strong unifying feeling of
Afghan nationalism the country has not experienced in ages. At the same
time it will help prevent future civil wars guaranteed to break out in
a post-NATO environment marked by a destabilizing power vacuum.
Plus, when the united will of the Afghan people is expressed, based on
Afghanistan’s history prior to foreign interference, securing women’s
rights will become a reality and is something that need not be
sacrificed. As a matter of fact, the opposite is true, because this
movement will only provide more opportunities for progressive social
Most importantly, at the end of the day a leadership team will be
ratified and type of government established by Afghans, for Afghans and
will reflect the will of the majority for the first time in over 30
This white paper was meant to propose a process design and requires a
much more detailed project plan and entire other white papers could be
written about critical issues and questions that must be considered and
Pakistan / Saudi Arabia: Neutralizing Pakistan and Saudi Arabia during
the jirga proceedings and keeping them from interfering in Afghan
affairs going forward will be major issues the Afghans will need to
resolve. Long-term, after the jirgas, when Afghanistan is a truly
united nation with a leadership team and government in place that has
been accepted by Afghanistan’s formerly silent majority, developing and
implementing solutions to prevent Pakistan from encroaching on the
lives of Afghans will be made much easier.
Drug Trade: The drug trade is one of the more destabilizing factors and
will require an entire white paper to outline any solutions. But much
of this solution must come from the U.S. and its intelligence agencies.
Government Types: Ideally the form of government will be left up to the
Afghans to decide at the All-Afghan Jirgas, however – that could also
be a recipe for chaos if thousands of solutions are put on the table. A
commission should come together of key Afghan leaders to determine
three to five workable options for the group to choose from.
Security: Once the plan is announced the delegates will be in grave
jeopardy and will be threatened by elements from both the insurgency
and the sitting government. The U.S. will have to take care to provide
this interim security so that the delegates will be safe until the
political solution is in place.
The next step would be for Congress, the White House and the military
to buy into the concept and then fund a deeper assessment that would be
accompanied by a detailed project plan. An independent commission of
Afghan natives should be established, preferably led by the NWSC, which
would handle things such as the logistics of the jirga; developing a
delegate representation model; identifying, vetting and registering
participants; coordinating the development of government options; and
acting as a liaison between the delegates and the U.S. government.
For more information contact the following:
Khalil Nouri Michael Hughes
NWSC, Inc. NWSC, Inc.
NEW WORLD STRATEGIES COALITION, INC. (NWSC)