October 19th, 2010
11:58 AM ET

Opinion: Restoring the tribal balance the only path to peace

Editor's note: Khalil Nouri is the co-founder of New World Strategies Coalition Inc., a native Afghan think tank for political, economic and cultural solutions for Afghanistan. Michael Hughes is a journalist and blogger for The Huffington Post and Examiner.com. He is also a strategist for the New World Strategies Coalition.  The statements and opinions expressed in this guest blog are solely those of the authors. 

By Khalil Nouri and Michael Hughes, Special to CNN

President Barack Obama doesn’t have a viable Afghanistan exit strategy due to a fatal flaw in America’s policy development process: a complete lack of input from native Afghans. It is time for the U.S.-led coalition to realize there is only one solution for peace in Afghanistan – and that is an Afghan solution.

The alternatives bandied about to date are formulas for state collapse – a nearly 10-year-old failed counterinsurgency effort; a power-sharing arrangement that would divvy up Afghanistan between corrupt government officials, Islamic fundamentalists and mujahideen warlords; and a partition strategy guaranteed to yield perpetual civil war.

However, as paradoxical as this might seem, the U.S. cannot withdraw until an indigenous political solution is in place, because abandoning the field to the Taliban would create dire consequences that make the present military occupation look good by comparison.

First, Westerners must grasp that Afghanistan’s future lies within its past. Afghanistan experienced forty years of peace, prosperity and stability during the reign of King Zahir Shah. Since then, after 30 years of incessant war, Afghanistan is now one of the most violent, corrupt and poverty-stricken places on earth.

Afghanistan saw stability when its indigenous tribal structure was intact and a national unifying monarch sat on the throne – two essential factors that helped maintain the “tribal balance”. Tribalism and dynastic loyalty cemented the shards of clans and ethnicities together, which enabled intra-tribal and inter-tribal cohesion. When these bonding agents were destroyed, Afghan society spiraled into an ever-darkening chaotic abyss.

The decimation of the tribal structure tilted the center of gravity towards “strongmen” and away from respected tribal elders, because, in a Hobbesian world of “kill or be killed”, might trumps tribal values. Brute force, guns and money replaced tribal moral authority as the source of power, thus marginalizing the voice of the majority of good, moderate Afghans.

The logical solution to this dilemma is to reinstate the tribal equilibrium. This can be accomplished through a series of “All-Afghan Jirgas.” The jirga is a 300-year old mechanism designed to resolve major political issues by assembling Afghan tribal leaders, especially in times of crisis.

A total of three rounds of jirgas would be held, the first two in neutral countries, for security purposes, to design the solution. The finale will be held in Kandahar, the heart of Afghan politics, where a new head of state and form of government will be announced.

This plan might sound similar to the Bonn Process that established Afghanistan’s current system of government, yet no foreign influence will be allowed. The Bonn Accord, in contrast, was crafted under UN auspices with heavy involvement from Westerners and other regional actors.

Unlike Bonn, the opposition will be encouraged to attend; however, groups will not be allowed representation. The likes of President Karzai, Mullah Omar and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar may participate as individual citizens only.

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 Hezbi-Islami and retired Pakistani military and intelligence officials.

The U.S. will need to continue to provide security to “level the playing field” and can then begin employing a “reverse mujahideen” strategy by supporting moderate Afghans to fight an insurgency that will surely continue at some level, as irreconcilable remnants of the Taliban conduct jihad to fulfill dreams of establishing a caliphate.

Additionally, it will be critical to prevent Pakistan from interfering in Afghan affairs. Long-term the U.S. must help Pakistan rebuild its country and economy because America, Afghanistan and other neighboring countries will never be secure if Pakistan is unstable.

It is time to re-empower Afghanistan’s “Silent Majority,” but an Afghan solution is not possible until the Obama administration is willing to listen to natives so that Afghans can, finally, choose their own destiny.


Filed under: Peace jirga • Taliban • Voices • Your View
soundoff (23 Responses)
  1. rj

    Ostensibly we are in this tribal country to capture/kill Bin Laden. A reward has been been offered. No success to date.
    RAISE THE REWARD–FIVE(5)BILLION US DOLLARS(DEAD) TWENTY (20)BILLION US DOLLARS(ALIVE).THERE MUST BE SCORES OF "BOUNTY HUNTERS" WHO WOULD BE INTERESTED. PERHAPS EVEN SOME LEADERS OF COUNTRIES. (Afganistan & Pakistan, come to mind). MONEY COULD BE PLACED IN AN "OFF SHORE" ACCOUNT-NO TAXES.
    In both the short & long term IT WILL SAVE AMERICAN LIVES. Begin a grassroot movement to end this senseless loss of AMERICAN SEVICE HEROS. Hold our elected officals feet to the "fire of re-election".
    (note: the dollar amounts mentioned above are really small when compared to what we have and continue to spend monthly. How much do our "officials place the value ($$$$$) of our military men & women? Next time you attend a townhall meeting with your elected official(s), ask them.ALSO, start a overwhelming letter,email, etc. campaign to ELECTED OFFICIALS AND NATIONAL NEWS ORGANIZATIONS.We can hold their feet to the "fire of re-election".Question??(1)how many elected officials(sons/daughters or relations are serving in the military??(2) How many in a combat role??? As americans(I am proud to be one) we need to begin,and not stop,asking tough questions of our elected officials.
    AS AMERICANS WE MUST AWAKE ALL OF OUR NEIGHBORS AND STOP THIS LOSS OF OUR SERVICE MEN &WOMEN.
    GOD BLESS AMERICA.

    March 17, 2011 at 9:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • joelle esther benyayer

      the big risk in europa the holland lets entrance russian iranian maroco turkish now they got some dangerous people come now to france without any chekcing some in defense or police involds with drugs traffic sometimes with them not acceptable the customs need to be put back the jewish communauty pay the big price and some liberal are not consummer of drugs or cheat music come from drugs trafci we find afghanstan cannabis iranian cocaine maroco cannabis thanks holland and crimnals russian are now in south of france joelle esther benyayer

      April 3, 2011 at 12:18 am | Report abuse |
  2. rj

    THE TIME HAS COME TO TELL THE NEIGHBORS OF AFGANISTAN TO HELP BRING PEACE(OR A FORM OF IT) TO THIS COUNTRY. AMERICA SHOULD HAVE LEARNED BY NOW THAT WE WILL NEVER EFFECT ANY MEANINGFUL CHANGE. STOP THE LOSS OF AMERICAN HEROS, THEY ARE BEING ASKED TO FIGHT FOR SOMETHING THAT WILL REALLY NEVER MAKE AMERICA STRONGER. RAISE THE REWARD FOR "BIN LADEN". WE ARE SPENDING BILLIONS EACH MONTH, CONSIDER RAISING THE REWARD/ ANTE- ONE(1) BILLION DOLLARS(DEAD) TEN(10) BILLION DOLLARS (ALIVE). PAY THESE MONIES IN ANY CURRENCY. WE CAN THEN SAY "WE WON" AND GET OUR TROOPS HOME-. THERE WILL BE NO SHORTAGE OF BOUNTY HUNTERS WHO WOULD LOVE TO ACCEPT THIS CHALLENGE. AN ADDED BONUS, IT WILL BE A BIG STEP FORWARD TO REDUCING OUR DEBT-CLEARLY A "WIN-WIN" PROPOSITION.
    NO MORE MR. PRESIDENT, NO MORE CONGRESSMEN & WOMEN. BRING OUR TROOPS HOME-NOW- OR COMMON SENSE VOTERS WILL HOLD YOUR "COLLECTIVE FEET" TO THE FIRE OF RE-ELECTION!!!!!!!( I AM SIMPLY A CONCERNED AMERICAN WHO HAS SERVED THIS COUNTRY WITH PRIDE).

    March 17, 2011 at 8:51 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Daniel Azad

    I think if American or the west want to solve the problem in Afghanistan they should help Hazaras of Afghanistan. Hazarajat, Afghanistan is one of the safest place in Afghanistan. Billion of dollars from the west are are being spent in the taliban areas, while no money have spent on Hazarajat.

    November 2, 2010 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Iaminthearmy

    I guess the war and what is going on over their is less important than blacks in america being poor, is that new news?

    Why would CNN take the AFGHANISTAN tab off the front page, who cares about blacks in america i want to know how our troops are doing and now i have to go through links to get to these pages.

    PUT IT BACK!

    October 24, 2010 at 7:57 pm | Report abuse |
  5. The Prophet Mohammed

    To all other countries- If you don't want America in your country- do your damn job and run your country, take care of your people. We really don't care how crazy your dictator is so long as he is consistent. If you're gonna go off the deep end (Iran and North Korea come to mind) go all the way.

    October 22, 2010 at 2:03 am | Report abuse |
  6. choe_mu_seon

    Tribal balance in the middle east means voluntary segregation. They've done it themselves for a very long time, and it seems to work for them. Too bad Americans don't understand the ethnic balance, coming from a country with only 200 years of race relations.

    October 21, 2010 at 6:02 am | Report abuse |
    • The Prophet Mohammed

      @ choe_mu_seon- Just becuase that's the way it has always been done doesn't make it right. That's one thing America has going for them, and yes there is always a time of prejudice in America especially when there is a new immigration boom yet over time America adapts to it. Being close minded does not help in situations like this, the World does not expect Afhanistan to turn out to be another America but it would be nice it they could at least unite enough to accomplish the basics and take some pride and responsibility in thier own country.

      October 22, 2010 at 2:01 am | Report abuse |
    • rj

      WAKE UP AMERICA. WE ARE LOSING LIVES,FAMILIES TORN APART FOR NO GOOD REASON. LET THESE PEOPLE RULE THEIR COUNTRY-FOR BETTER OR WORSE. STOP THIS INSANE DESIRE TO ESTABLISH A "DEMOCRATIC GOVERNMENT" AROUND THE WORLD. WE CANNOT AFFORD TO CONTINUE TO SPEND COUNTLESS BILLIONS ON A COUNTRY THAT PREFERS TO BE LEFT ALONE. THE VARIOUS TRIBES HAVE MANAGED TO LIVE TOGETHER WITH SOME SUCCESS FOR CENTURIES. STOP THE BLOODSHED OF PRECIOUS AMERICAN LIVES. SPEND THESE BILLIONS TO REBUILD AMERICA,CREATE JOBS AND LEAVE THE AFGANS TO LIVE THEIR LIVES AS THEY WISH. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. GOD BLESS AMERICA. (A VETERN FROM THE VIETNAM ERA).

      March 17, 2011 at 8:26 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Matt Weems

    Afghanistan is really several regions which have been different things at different times. In the fertile valley zones there is the Kabul river valley, running from Kabul down to Kandahar and Helmand, there is the south bank of the Oxus river, now Mazar and populated with many Uzbeks and Turkmen, and lastly Herat in the western side of the nation. The giant Bhuddahs in Baiyman tell us the Indian civilization was important in the center of the country at one time. And Persian civilization had a big role, especially during the Samanid revival. The Pashtuns have a more recent and more energetic conquest, then the Mongols left the Hazara as a garrison right in the middle.There are many layers each painted over the other. As a result no claim to Afghanistan can be made as a historic right. Too many different people have been there at one time or the other for anyone to make a claim. Instead the various ethnicities and cultural groups have to find a way to form a single political unit that looks out for everyone. That's the challenge. Other nations face the same issue, the US included, but Afghans seem to fear and distrust each other with a nakedness that is shocking. I don't know how that will be solved.

    October 20, 2010 at 1:21 am | Report abuse |
  8. S R Wakankar

    Afgan solution lies in a Summit between Kabul/Islamabad/Delhi/and Dhaka, in New Delhi.This whole region is OLD HINDUSTAN.In the past, there were only Persia(today's Iran) and Hindustan.So the solution lies not in Bonn,Washington, or London, but in Delhi.Afgans are Indians.They fell apart and became a separate nation in late 18th cen. because of weakening of the Mughal Indian Empire.
    These four nations should meet and sort out the AfPak issue.The ultimate way out id DEMOCRACY.India is going ahead with a fine democracy.Af/Pak should also follow India.The problem is with Pakistan which is unable to free herself from the killing hangover of the past-the obsolete ideology of medieval anti-Indian Arab/Muslim Imperialism, the bedrock upon which it has come into existence.Delhi-like democracy should be established in Islamabad and Kabul. This is the only solution.Pakistan wants to annex through force Indian Kashmir and also Kabul. This is impossible.Such stupid agenda will result in end of Pakistan.
    New Delhi is the place for AfPak solution.
    –S R wakankar

    October 19, 2010 at 8:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Zahir

      If one knows the history of the region he'll never say Afghanistan was a part of The India, on the contrary India did not become a nation, if it wasn't for the Babur the King of Afghanistan, and his Mughal dynasty, to unite India as a nation for the first time in history, and it did last till The Great Britain colonised India. Afghanistan will never have peace untill the Pakistan decide to support Talibans and extremists, or join the US and allies to bring peace by uniting the tribes in Afghanistan,and stop harboring terrorists in Pakistan. Obama should put a pressure on the Pakistan government and ask them the same question that George W. Bush used to ask" Are You With Us , or Agaginst Us?"

      October 20, 2010 at 11:28 pm | Report abuse |
      • The Prophet Mohammed

        @ Zahir, Well Spoken!

        October 21, 2010 at 2:19 am | Report abuse |
  9. Matt Weems

    Zahir Shah had been gone too long and was too old to return to power. In any case, while he was in power he had been little more than a figure head, allowing his ministers to make the governing choices.

    As far as warlords to nobility, look at Ahmad Shah Durrani. He comes back to Afghanistan with a small army, gets himself made ruler by a combination of force and bargaining. At this stage he is a warlord. But over time his line becomes legitimate. This is a normal pattern. Presumably, many powerful families in Afghanistan have their roots in banditry and violence. We had the same pattern in Europe before the nation states arrived.

    So what do you do with a guy like Dostum? Do you issue a warrant and set the north ablaze? Or do you allow him to retain much of his power and wealth, and ask him to cooperate with the Kabul government. Obviously it makes more sense to do the latter. Over time Dostum's heirs will become patrons of the people and local nobility. Essentially the elders you think are the legitimate source of authority.

    My opinion of Afghans is they have a pattern of authority and violence that is typical of any society with a strong feudal aspect to it. A more modern system is desirable, but will take decades to bring about.

    October 19, 2010 at 7:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Prophet Mohammed

      @ Matt Weems- Very good discussion and very accurrate assessement.

      October 20, 2010 at 12:09 am | Report abuse |
  10. Interesting Mr. Weems

    Matt Weems: it sounds like you think Afghans were warlords, are warlords and will always be warlords. Mr. Massoud by the way, before he died, agreed to King Zahir Shah becoming the ruler. In the 2002 loya jirga in which the U.S. inserted Karzai as head of state... 3/4 of delegates supported a return of Zahir Shah which crossed tribal and ethnic boundaries. Did you know when the Taliban ran roughshod across Afghanistan the first time many of them carried pictures of Zahir Shah and lied to everyone that they wanted to bring back the king? And you obviously do not understand how tribal elders became elders in the first place. The premise of your comment is that the Afghan people at their core are miscreant warlords. The authors in their article beg to differ.

    October 19, 2010 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Matt Weems

    There was no peace when the Soviets left because the mujahideen leaders could not agree on who the new emir would be. Hekmatyar and Masood fought each other for the top spot – an office your own article says is one of the two items needed for peace. Who would take this job? Hekmatyar? Karzai? Mullah Omar? would any of these agree to let another take it? Karzai's power is buttressed by the ability to distribute western aid to supporters and deny it to his foes. Without this aid Afghanistan would collapse and Karzai fall from power. Do you think the west would allow a solution without any say of their own? Also your claim that Kandahar is the center of Afghan politics may be correct for Pashtuns, but the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazara would never agree to a Kandahar Jirga over a Kabul one. The implication is the Pashtuns have a right to rule the nation and the other ethnicities should sit down and shut up. Again – I see no peace coming from that.

    And these tribal elders you want to take back their rightful voice, reclaiming it from the warlords. Those elders are dead, have been in exile for decades or become warlords. And how did they become respected elders to begin with? Their ancestors seized power very much the way the present strongmen have. The present warlords will want to pass their power and wealth down to their families in the same manner. Telling them they can't will bring war.

    October 19, 2010 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Daniel-2 The Clueless

    Dear Daniel 2-

    Not sure what article you were reading and it is hard to even address your comment because it is so nonsensical. Allowing the Afghans to chose their own leaders is a waste of tax dollars?

    October 19, 2010 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Daniel-2

      Isn't that how we so-called "won" the war in Iraq,by paying off the Insurgeants and hiring them to join the occupation forces under the name of "Awakening Councils"? It seems that way to me and we're still paying them.

      October 19, 2010 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
      • not the same as awakening

        We are not paying anyone to join occupation. The objective is for the U.S. to leave and let the Afghans defend themselves vs. the Taliban. So the U.S. would not be leading the fight so the word occupation would not be applicable. The Taliban would them become the "occupiers" catch me? Doesn't anyone realize the Taliban are NOT an Afghan phenom? The Taliban are nothing more than the creation of Saudi and Pakistan. does anyone understand that the Warlords are not an indigenous Afghan product? click Afghan solution in the article and read the white paper it is linked to, this will spell it out. I know it is confusing, but Petraeus awakening will not apply to Afghanistan.

        October 19, 2010 at 7:21 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Dan in Lafayette, IN

    To tell you the truth Daniel when dealing with tribal communities it really sounds like the only way to keep the peace between the different ethnicity's. Hell it's better than having the Taliban forcing their way of life upon the people!

    October 19, 2010 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • S Eanwar

      @ Matt Weems, Agreed Tribal Societies are thing of old, but with level of literacy and lack of political heritage this is hte only system that worked. I do not agree with ur assumption that Afghans are violent people. They are feircly independent. Tribes tho look like autocratic but are largly small tho restricted consulltative communities. Tragedy is 1979-2020 war of life time has even distorted that sturcuture. And has no comming back we we bank rooled alternatle leadership (war lords0 to fight Russians.

      Having said that its not too late, we can bring sanity to this insane part of world, we owe them this much, Biggest push needs to be on economic front, and not military

      October 21, 2010 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Daniel-2

    Is another form of bribery as I suspect,using our tax dollars to payoff these tribal leaders into supporting the occupation?

    October 19, 2010 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |