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15 July 2010


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Gautam Das

This has been tried under various names after the USA's entry into the Afghan war(s) in 2001. The US Spl Forces have also been creating and emplying such 'local auxiliaries', from before 'Op ANACONDA'.

Col. Lang has pointed out why it cannot work the way it has been described. It only 'legalizes' the local headman or warlord's armed followers, most of whom are also his relatives and clansmen. If the headman or warlord is induced to go over to the Taliban, so will this lot - but will demand their government salaries even when operating for the other side. That money of course will come from the American taxpayer. Neat arrangement - for the Taliban. Enjoy!


Big important men with guns deserve more bribes for keeping Afghans safe! Karzai's popularity improves!

Patrick Lang

Gautam Das.

I am not so in love with central government as you are. What is Karzai but yet another warlord? pl

FB Ali

What seems to have happened here is that Petraeus pushed to establish these local defence groups on the lines of the Iraqi ones (which had their origin in the Shia-Sunni civil conflict, and which the US later co-opted in the areas of interest to them). However, Karzai had no intention of allowing a Sons of Afghanistan to develop under the umbrella of the US.

What he has agreed to is a face-saver for the US, intended to cover his rejection of their proposal. These groups will only be set up where the Interior ministry and the local police have control; thus, they will have no impact on the war against the Taliban. Of course, this will become another source of US funds to the Afghan government (and, ultimately, the many pockets ever ready to receive them).

Col Lang, re your comment on the other thread regarding the breakdown of the traditional tribal structures. This was the underlying societal structure of the bulk of the Pashtun people on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border. Its destruction is a major reason behind the rise of fundamentalist movements, such as the Taliban, among the Pashtun in both countries.

The traditional tribal leaders were inherently conservative and inward looking; thus, they were not interested in joining up in the anti-Soviet jihad that the US and Pakistan were trying to promote in the 1970s. Money, intrigue and religious fervour were deployed (by the ISI and the CIA) to break their hold and recruit the young men of the tribes into the Mujahideen.

These are the chickens that are now coming home to roost ‒ in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.


Now to really upset Karzai, once the village militias are up an running, how about creating an overarching grouping of villages on tribal lines?

As for weapons:

"The regiment possessed carbines - beautiful Martini-Henry carbines that would lob a bullet into an enemy's camp at one thousand yards, and were even handier than the long rifle. Therefore they were coveted all along the border, and since demand inevitably breeds supply, they were supplied at the risk of life and limb for exactly their weight in coined silver - seven and one half pounds' weight of rupees, or sixteen pounds sterling reckoning the rupee at par. They were stolen at night by snaky-haired thieves who crawled on their stomachs under the nose of the sentries; they disappeared mysteriously from locked arm-racks, and in the hot weather, when all the barrack doors and windows were open, they vanished like puffs of their own smoke. The border people desired them for family vendettas and contingencies. But in the long cold nights of the northern Indian winter they were stolen most extensively. The traffic of murder was liveliest among the hills at that season, and prices ruled high"

The Man Who Was - Kipling.

N M Salamon

a differnet view on Victory - Enjoy!


The Twisted Genius

They're trying to make this a a big countrywide production. That is a sure way to screw up the whole thing. As Colonel Lang said, the Interior Ministry will treat it like another cash cow. Petraeus' staff will throw way too much money at the problem which will just exacerbate the corruption. Implementation will inevitably drift towards centralized solutions that work only in PowerPoint presentations.

Let the SF teams administer this locally and in consonance with local conditions. Any payments made should not distort the village economies. The SF teams are doing this here and there. Just let them do it in more places. It won't create "a new country in an ancient land," but it may allow us to get the bulk of our forces, and the inevitable graft and corruption, out of Afghanistan. Let the contractors and warlords pad their accounts on someone else's dime.


I'm just worried about the unintended consequences of this. I guess every move has unintended consequences. I am not an Islamophobe and I do not want some all out clash of civilizations as the neocons desire, but I don't think we should forget that ultimately rural Afghans view themselves as members of the Faithful, that ain't gonna change anytime soon. And just calling the Taliban "takfiris" who don't understand what Islam is all about, isn't helpful either. Sure, many Muslims might feel that the Taliban is some sort of Islamic heresy, but that doesn't help us. I think that, for non-Muslims, using that approach is like lecturing Pentecostals on dogma, based on conversations one has had with Episcopalians.
Considering the population surge Afghanistan is experiencing and will likely continue to experience, combined with ongoing environmental degradation that nobody is talking about, I wonder what of that place in 20-30 years? Sure we can get rid of the Taliban or Al Qaida, but how much will that change things? Al Qaida and the Taliban, seem to me, to be a manifestation of something deeper, something that will continue to rear its head under different names. I don't know what that "something" is, and I'm not ashamed to admit it.

What does that mean for us a generation from now. I guess, I'm just worried because none of our leaders take the long view of things,in a rational way I mean, and how short-lived gratitude and memory is. We are partially in this mess because in the 1980s people didn't stop and really think about how arming a but of fanatics might solve an immediate problem, but create others. Kind of like back in the 1940s everyone thought a government funded pension for the elderly was cool, but didn't realize people might eventually live long after age 62.

On a side note, regarding my qualifying statements on long-term US prospects in the Dar al Islam it is a sad state of affairs these days in that any wouldbe commentator on the Middle East must negotiate through an intellectual sea full of Frankfort School, anti-colonialist, neocon, and Dispensationalist sharks.

Patrick Lang


Amen, brother. pl

Patrick Lang


1- We did not arm the Taliba. We armed their enemies among the mujahideen. We did this working through the Pakistani ISI. They were playing their own double game and breeding the Taliban in refugee camps in Pakistan. We also did not arm what is now Al-Qa'ida. The Saudis did that.

2- Villagers in scatered places do not make a threat to the US.

3- You need to stop thinking of Muslims as an undifferentiated mass. pl

Gautam Das

Col Lang,

Begging your pardon, Sir, but I'm not 'in love' with the central govt.

The talks in Bonn, which led to the creation of the present Constitution, almost broke down as practically all the non-Pashtun delegates nearly walked out. Gates just about managed to hold them there. The issue, which is a central one to the entire problem of trying to govern the country, was the relative powers of the President. It was the USA who wanted a strong President (and understandably a Pashtun), thus it was felt that he NEEDED to be allowed the power to nominate Provincial Governors, who thus could not be elected by their provinces. In the absence of a 'social contract' which makes the citizens of provinces willing to be governed by a central govt, in exchange for whatever advantages, this solution is ipso facto a non-starter. (For example, what if all the states of the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific-coast, or Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, were to reject the authority of the Federal Govt?)

Hamid Karzai was an almost-nobody, though from an influential and politically-active Durrani Pashtun family, till he was 'picked up' by the USA back in the days of the Cold War anti-Soviet 'Crusade'. He has since become a Kabuli 'warlord' if you like, but with the US taxpayers and the rest of the international community's money.

The alternative to any form of central govt there; good, bad, or indifferent, is either no govt at all (USA/ISAF deals with myriad semi-independent village republics under their own headmen, groups of clan/'khel'-linked villages, and occasional tribal confederations), or various worse scenarios. The USA chose the 'strong-President' model: this has amply demonstrated its non-viability since this new Constitution came into place.

This is my personal understanding and opinion, since I have no idea what the Indian Govt's is. (I haven't been part of it since October 1991)

The military-operational side has two different sets of problems: (1) What should the US and international forces do militarily? Nation-building? Fighting? If so, against whom, and how? (2) How to organize a functional Afghan security apparatus? The US ambassador, Gen. Karl Eikenberry, was once himself there himself with #2 above, while still in uniform. He should have a pretty good idea. Only his spats with Gen McChrystal seem to get publicized.

I have enormous admiration for many things about the USA, including its armed forces. Surely your country can find the right answers, provided it wants to.

My apology to you and other readers in case this sounds as if it is written out of pique; I am actually trying to explain the rationale for my earlier comment.

With regards,

Gautam Das

Patrick Lang

Gautam Das

The United States? I think there is a question about the long term de facto structure of the US. Irredentist ambitions in the SW, deeply felt resentment of the federal government as seen in the "Tea Parties?" These and other problems are being contemplated in the capital.

As for Afghanistan, IMO it is a delusion to think that Afghanistan can be made into a country as integrated as, say, India without the availability of forces as strong and determined as those of India. Such centripetal forces are not going to be available in Afghanistan. A loose confederation of regions is all that can reasonably be expected. The US has been mistaken in its policy. pl


Citizen, you say "government funded pension for the elderly was cool...."

If Social Security is government funded, why does the government keep taking significant money out of our paychecks?

Brian Hart

Why shouldn't we provide allied tribes and villages with weapons to defend themselves against Taliban shake downs and night village raids?

Karzai will take his cut and the village elders will have their say, but this is a cost effective method of expanding the strength of our allies and making life difficult for the Taliban. We do not have enough troops to guard villagers from night raids and never will. We also can't afford $1.2 million per soldier in high numbers for very long.

What if Petraeus has concluded that Obama is serious about next summers deadline for troop increases? That would mean we will be dialing down our ground presence leaving villagers exposed to Taliban reprisal. And what if he thinks we are going to leave an air force and special forces response in the region that will prevent sustained large groupings of Taliban but will be too thin to protect villagers when we pull back?

Last it should be noted that after 9 years of war we aren't seeing foreign governments arming the Taliban with anti-aircraft shoulder fired weapons or new land mines or comm systems. If we were they wouldn't be using ammonium nitrate for 80% of their IEDs now and we'd be losing aircraft on a regular basis.

Wouldn't any long war strategy depend on a defensively armed rural militia?


Col Lang,

I agree with your points, if I implied that the US created the Taliban that wasn't my intention, clearer writing was in order. But I will say that the US helped to create a situation in which the Taliban arose, even if the Taliban were a Pakistani project. I'm not playing the blame game, though, if you go far enough back one could say the Mongols created this situation. On unintended consequences, would you agree that the victories against the Soviets in the 1980s, and against the Serbs in the 1990s was a major morale booster for groups like Al Qaida?

That said, I could see where if one took my approach to its logical conclusion they would be immobilized with indecision. But, I think history has too many examples of good ideas that produced monsters. I hope that somewhere there is a secret grand strategy being formulated by the government. The idea that there isn't scares me even more, it makes our policies the victim of shifting ideological winds, which from my standpoint appears to be the case.


I don't know about your experience, but I live in a place where many Social Security recipients get far more back than they paid in. My grandmother has been on the program for 30 years, and I could easily see her on it for another 10. Sounds cold, I know, I might love grandmal and feel responsibility for her care, but that's for me and my family to deal with, not you or other taxpayers.

The government keeps taking money from our pay-checks, btw, for their pet projects, and Social Security is just one of the justifications for collecting said taxes.


Gautam Das:

"The alternative to any form of central govt there; good, bad, or indifferent, is either no govt at all (USA/ISAF deals with myriad semi-independent village republics under their own headmen, groups of clan/'khel'-linked villages, and occasional tribal confederations), or various worse scenarios. The USA chose the 'strong-President' model: this has amply demonstrated its non-viability since this new Constitution came into place."

My wife traveled through Afghanistan from Iran to Pakistan and then India as a teenager along with whole busloads of teenagers (a program called Commonwealth Expeditions, not a bunch of hippys). It was slightly dangerous but not unduly so.

Why cannot Afghanistan return to a form of Government something like the days of Zahir Shah, and a loose confederation of tribal areas? Or am I simply showing my ignorance by asking?

Shouldn't the form of Government suit the temperament and culture of the people?


Would someone be so good as to point me to a history of Afghanistan? A little google the other night seemed to indicate current history started with the Brits, but I'm sure it goes furtherback than that. I would like a good, non-ideological history book, please?


Walter Vogelsang, The Afghans, is a good place to start if you want a long-view from ancient times on. It's arranged almost like a text-book, with digestible bits of information, and you don't get bogged down in the details. Vogelsang is an archaeologist with a specialty in Ancient History, and it shows in the book. There are better historians for more recent eras in Afghan History. But for pre-British Afghan history, you'd be hard pressed to find a history that is as inclusive as Vogelsang and is accessible to the everyday reader. Louis Dupree's Afghanistan is also a very inclusive book, but it isn't the kind of history book you seem to be wanting. Also, remember that there was no state called Afghanistan prior to the 19th century. You had Afghan empires, and empires and states within Afghanistan or including territories that now are in Afghanistan, but there was no Afghanistan. This is why if you are interested in Afghan history before the 19th century, you'd have to consult works on these other states/empires/peoples.

If you do any reading, be warned, however, because eventually any anachronistic mention of Alexander the Great by the chattering classes might become very annoying. You'll learn why statements about Alexander's invasion of Afghanistan make as much sense as stating that Emperor Claudius ordered an invasion of the UK, or that we can understand Turkey by studying the Hittites.


Thank you. I'll try Vogelsang.

Gautam Das


Re: 'Shouldn't the form of Government suit the temperament and culture of the people?' I agree entirely; it should. But in Zahir Shah's time there WAS a 'social contract' under which the non-Pashtuns, who together constitute more than half the population of Afghanistan, agreed to be ruled by a Pashtun king.

Too much has happened since then, most of which everyone knows. Thus the problem has again boiled down to a situation that predates the US involvement from the
December 1979 Soviet invasion onwards. One of the two fundamental problems with governing Afghanistan predates even the Zahir Shah model and the current 'strong President' model. It stems from the Pashtun belief that, as the majority ethnic group (about 44 to 48 %), they have an inalienable right to rule Afghanistan. This is both resented and disputed by the non-Pashtun majority. A fully democratic method of governance would merely create a deadlock, a likely situation well understood by the framers of the present Constitution.

The other fundamental problem, which has again begun to come into effect since the US-Saudi-Pakistani support to the anti-Soviet 'jihad', and which Gen. Petraeus and the US State Dept can do nothing about, is the question of 'What is
Afghanistan?'. 'Afghan' is synonymous with 'Pashtun', which partly accounts for
the Pashtuns' belief in their 'divine' right to rule in Kabul. But only about one-third of the Pashtun population of the Af-Pak region live within the boundaries of what is today’s political state of Afghanistan, or the Islamic
Republic of Afghanistan (IROA). The other two-thirds live east of the Durand Line in the adjoining areas of the neighbouring political entity, Pakistan, in
the province recently re-named ‘Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’, in the
Federally-Administered Tribal Area (FATA), in the Provincially-Administered
Tribal Area (PATA), and in the northern part of Pakistan's Balochistan province. All of them believe they have a legitimate say in everything in IROA, as a 'sovereign right'. Neither the IROA nor the Pashtuns as a whole recognize the 'de jure' (disputed by them) Afghanistan-Pakistan border, represented by the Durand Line.

Gautam Das

Gautam Das


while reading the recommended book(s), you might like to keep in mind that there are three distinct ethno-cultural regions within what is being called the 'AfPak' region. This continues to have a major bearing on the politics and governance of the region.

These ethno-geographical regions are, from North-West to South-East, (1) 'Khorasan', from the Oxus River to the Hindu Kush Mountains, inhabited mainly by non-Pashtun ethnic Turkic peoples (Uzbek and Turkmen)speaking Turkic languages, and by ethnic Tajiks, speaking their Persian dialect (2) 'Afghanistan' from the Hindukush to the Vale of Peshawar (in today's Pakistan), inhabited by Pashtu speakers, most of whom are ethnic Pashtuns, and (3) 'Hindustan' from the Indus River southwards down the Indus valley (in today's Pakistan), and eastwards across the Pakistani Punjab into the Gangetic plain in today's political India. The two lowland provinces of Pakistan, Punjab and Sind, are culturally 'Hindustani', even while being Muslim inhabited. The traditional border crossing from 'Afghanistan' to 'Hindustan' is at Attock on the Indus River in Pakistan.

'Hindustan' means 'land of the Indus River valley', 'Hindu' (the people) meant 'people of the Indus River valley' (and its associated culture extwending into the adjoining Gangetic plain), while 'Hinduism' (the religion) literally only means the religion of the people of the Indus River valley, and by extension, the Indo-Gangetic plain. The eastern part of the modern state of Pakistan lies in geographical 'Hindustan'. Even though inhabited by Muslims, this fact separates it culturally from the Pashtun-speaking peoples of 'Afghanistan' (= 'Pashtunistan'/'Pakhtunistan'). These three different cultural regions exert strong loyalties on their inhabitants, in spite of the modern political boundaries overlying them, but not coinciding with the cultural boudaries.

A bit of pre-British history: The Barlas Turko-Mongol chieftain Babar, a native speaker of Chagtai Turki, from today's Uzbekistan, conquered Afghanistan in the 16th Century, before going onto establish an Indian empire (that included Afghanistan) You could read his memoirs 'Babar-nama', widely available in English translation, for some genuine period local flavour 'nama' = 'letters' (actually his diary). He wrote well.

Nadir Quli Beg, an Afshar Turkmen chieftain ('Beg' = 'chieftain') from Khorasan captured Afghanistan, and then Persia, becoming Nadir Shah ('shah' = 'king'), the King of Persia (ie, Shah of Iran). When he was assasinated after a very successful plundering raid into Hindustan, wherein he sacked the capital city of a Muslim king, Delhi (where I live), his Persian empire broke up, and Afghanistan was taken over by an Afghan (ie, Pashtun) lieutenant of his, Ahmad Khan Abdali. This enterprising gent then conquered Khorasan, and went on to consolidate his kingdom, as Ahmad Shah Abdali. His dynasty became known as the Durrani dynasty. His kingdom is modern 'Afghanistan', minus some of the eastern part which the Brits managed to run an agreed border through, putting most of the eastern mountains within the British Indian Empire.

The above simplifications might might help in an understanding of the politico-military history of the AfPak region, medieval and modern, including the current.

Gautam Das


Gautam Das,
I would like to thank you very much for the additional information. You and citizen have been very helpful. I've written down the information so I can keep the geography straight. Now, I need to consult an atlas.

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