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
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