Afghanistan: Reconciliation Plans, Tribal Leaders, and Civil Society

Afghanistan: Reconciliation plans, tribal leaders and civil society

by Thomas Kirk

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A reading of the Afghanistan's troubled history against recent explorations of the contemporary conflict question the wisdom and trajectory of the current peace talks for creating a lasting end to the violence. Current efforts at reconciliation should carefully pinpoint the country's powerbrokers and uncover Afghanistan's voiceless civil society.

In a recent article The Washington Post details the great efforts being put into secretive negotiations currently taking place with insurgent leaders in Kabul. As the Americans reportedly take pains to discern the level of power of each of the participants, optimistic analysts note that the incumbent government and its international surrogates recognise the need to involve members of Pakistan's various shuras, the importance of regional actors' participation and the necessity of defining boundaries between moderate and irreconcilable elements. Furthermore, drawing lessons from previous conflicts, a growing body of commentators posit the country's tribal elders as the silver bullet with which to drive reconciliation. However, episodes from the nation's violent cyclical history, combined with an appreciation of the nature of Afghanistan's current conflict, suggest that if bypassed Afghanistan's civil society will carve its own violent path towards peace.

Download The Full Article: Afghanistan: Reconciliation plans, tribal leaders and civil society

Thomas Kirk is a researcher with Global Governance and PHD candidate at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Thomas' work investigates the role of civil society in creating the conditions for peace in contemporary conflict with particular reference to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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Tom,
Ref Kabul, we held CS meetings in Kandahar and Helmand last year during some of the worst times in recent history. In my ramblings around the world I have always found more CS space than commonly accepted - far beyond the capital. I like to think what we have seen around the world of late supports this finding. Sometimes it is good to study what (nascent) networks ALREADY exist and what has ALREADY been done. But, I applaud you for your desire and passion to assist, bravo!

I commend you on the "them and them" approach, but think we can do better than running around getting folks pencils Tom? Lol, again bravo. We bring a valuable (human and digital) network concept to folks who are already steeped in Afghan (collective) tradition of ashar. Afghan-led but not Afghan alone - for the moment it seems. In many cases CS is isolated . . . and when we mention that they must work LATERALLY - often across unintentional NGO stovepipes - at the lowest level . . . the light comes on . . . . for both of us!

Ref the Talib, lest we forget . . . the British and many district commissioners paid the highest price after the Musa Qala 'accords' with the Talib awhile back. The "ex" Talib is in some cases are similar to the the ex-salafist . . . who in many cases aren't so "ex" as they seem in my experience. This is why solid motivation and morale "diagnosis" is an important baseline for any R&R program. We have a history of buying 'treatment' regimens from flashy "snake-oil salesmen" from other parts of the Muslim world (S. Arabia, Singapore, et al), BEFORE we do adequate diagnosis.

Not sure I get the point ref urbanized Afghans and the CDCs, in my view anyone who is/was here tackling the tough strategic challenges has my admiration. Rural CS people were just glad for any help, from anywhere from their countrymen in the beginning. The "urbanized" tag would be foreign to them but not the "Afghan" tag - so there is still hope. The folks who had the courage to take to streets from Benghazi to Cairo might be considered "urbanized" - are they any less effective or any less heroes? IMV, the 'iteration' between urban and rural was more key. The CDCs are also a rural construct now regardless of audit trails back to their founders - BTW, even those with rural backgrounds can be counted among them. IMV, Afghans need to be brought together, not have outsiders split them further according to "rural cred?" For example, there are plenty of "internationalized" Afghans even in Nangarhar's outlying districts. One is amazed by the large number of youth and CS going back and forth through J-bad to Dubai and other cities in the region/overseas.

Cheers Tom, again thanks for your discussion and other commentators.

Thanks for the thought provoking and detailed articles . I enjoyed the detail and insight .

Ed,

Thanks for the reply.

I was not saying CDCs are located in urban areas, merely that the thinking behind them comes from urbanised and internationalised Afghans. This is not hearsay, which you are correct to suggest is something we should be wary of. I think we should also be wary of any NGOs and governments pushing agendas and projects as the 'answer', espicially when they have routes in Western thought.

Yes. I quite agree that people can get blinded by the views of their institutions / organisation. I think my limited time studying the Afghan conflict has shown me that the discourse surrounding analysis is the most limited and heavily circumscribed I have encountered in my life. This applies to both the construction of possible solutions / paths to peace / ideas, as much as it does to what is actually going wrong in Afghanistan. I am trying hard to avoid falling into such traps.

I also agree with your theorised approach to facilitating civil society. Our event in Kabul consisted of around 100 Afghans from all over the country and from all walks of life. There were three LSE people who were not really contributing ideas, but rather observing and running around doing behind the scenes activities like moving around chairs, fetching pens and sorting out travel expenses. Not really a 'us and them' approach and more of a 'them and them' approach, would you agree? Also, it would be great to do similar things in the provinces in the future, but for this beginning stage bringing people to Kabul was the only way we could see to get Afghans together in environment in which they could share ideas across the kind of divides you suggest - "how do Kandahari youth help women in Bamiyan and vice versa".

On your last statement, I am very much aware that the Taliban as a movement should have to answer for many appalling crimes and I dont think I would do what I do if I did not believe this. However, I also am aware that the country is partly in the trouble it is in now due to a failure of interveners and the national government to reach out and engage dormant / ex Taliban post 2001. On the contrary, we and the Afghan government painted all Talibs with the same brush and failed to bring them into the 'new society that we set about creating. I think the country is paying the price for this mistake and the current reconciliation process is going to try (hap - hazardly and probably too late) to rectify it. Maybe, just maybe, if we had of engaged men like the one I mentioned post 2001, we would not be in the position we are currently in and about to cut deals to allow us safe exit with his more violent ex-comrades.

I hope I continue to learn, in and out of the field, and can aviod falling into the traps you rightly highlight, both academically and practically.

Best,

Tom,
I dont think the Libyan civil society groups risking their lives opposing Gadhafi would regard my observations as nitpicking? When you have an "outside" organization such as LSE, coming in to do 'civil society facilitation in Afghanistan; an organization whose Director just resigned due to being backed by a Dictator whose son allegedly plagiarized a report on civil society - the very topic of LSEs intervention in Afghanistan? Credibility is always important - Afghans watch the news just like "us." (BTW, this is not just my view, but that of many young Afghans I have talked to in recent weeks.) But, as you are not LSE, I digress . . .

You might want to further investigate CDCs for yourself. I can set up a meeting for you the next time you are in Afghanistan if you like. I have visited many CDCs around the country, almost all in rural areas - unlike you characterize them. In this regard, I think as researchers and commentators on Afghanistan we have to be very careful of hearsay. For example two years ago, I had a meeting with various ISAF officers, and one British officer who was offered to me as the "tribal expert." He told me "Well . . . 'its all about tribes." I said how did you deduce this? He said well, "I talked to someone who said this . . . " So he had 'heard about this. I talked about the CDCs or inkishafi shura and how they were different from the qaumi [tribal] shura and why this was important to know for Coalition folks on the ground.

[I find with regard to Afghanistan, analysts are very tied to and emotional about their or their institutions views (sometimes unfounded), and dont seem to think enough for themselves. IMV, analysis should be about provoking 'different paths of thinking, not similar ones. ]

Actually, the vast majority of the 29,000 CDCs across Afghanistan are rural. Already CDCs are taking up peace building, and local conflict resolution functions, for the last few years now. In fact the Sanayee Development Organization, an FP for the NSP program down south, found in a recent survey that many men in the south agreed that women should have more of a role in these functions. The CDCs may be imperfect, but they have been in place for seven years plus, and as such are a potential network, if they can be turned to horizontal collaboration. As you say, we dont want to impose new social constructs or networks "from the outside," as some development organizations (US) and govts (UK) seem to be doing at present.

The CDCs were built by Afghanistans people, not by outsiders. Often in my travels to visit them, again out in the rural hinterland, I would encounter what appeared to tribal elders, serving in non-elected positions such as treasurer(s). More often than not, they would confide in me that they were more proud of their CDC position than they were their status as a so-called 'tribal elder. BTW, many 'elders were not elected by their communities to CDCs in Helmand province and thus went over and lobbied the British-formed Community Councils (at district level) for appointed positions. If the Afghans and the West are serious about "representativeness" as a key stabilization and development goal then one has to take the CDCs seriously. (BTW, I think both of us want something better than 'coping mechanisms,' the Afghans certainly deserve more.) Speaking of "what Afghans want," one might look at the Afghan Constitution, which calls for elected village assemblies. Since the funding is not there yet for these elections, the IDOG and MRRD have agreed to treat the CDCs as defacto village assembly for the time being.

I am not suggesting another CSO, quite the contrary. (I counted 24 womens groups in Helmand alone recently). The different groups must now be networked together, laterally: a "them and them," versus an "us and them" approach. I think this is the benefit of doing deep-dives in the south versus forums held in Kabul or London with academics or urbanites from either of those locales. Many of us have found that facilitating collective networking events "in the setting," (Helmand, Kandahar, Oruzgan) holds greater benefit. Instead of how do women in Kandahar and women in other provinces help each other, or how do civil society groups in Kandahar help each other, the question should be: how do Kandahari youth help women in Bamiyan and vice versa. An open-ended architecture for civil society self-support.

The focus of these events were communities, represented by their people, transferring knowledge, resources and solutions across lines, so yes, it sounds like we have same goal in mind, just caution with regard to overemphasis on religious and tribal figures. Important to understand that the tribal "system" has decayed a good bit across the country from the 70s onward. Replaced by other actors, perhaps not as well intentioned.

Finally ref the ex-Talib who told you that he had "all his life worked for 'rights', if this weren't so tragic a topic, his claim would be laughable. I should think one might give great pause relating this claim to the families of those women who were shot in the head, stoned in public executions throughout the Talib's reign, or had acid thrown in their face of late.

Good luck in your further studies Tom, and thanks for the conversation.

To get the LSE nit picking out of the way, yes you are correct, our head did resign. As for the details, if you would like to write to the LSE with your suggestions I am sure they would be received and thought about (I am not trying to be sarcastic - I think it is best I do not comment on these matters given my position).

On Afghanistan, thanks for your reply, I am new to my studies and have only been in country once. I think I should tell you that we were in Afghanistan to try and get the ball rolling on many of the things you have mentioned. We brought CSO heads and community leaders (teachers, youth, women, tribal and religious) together for a three day brainstorm on 'civic action and national interest, with a measure of discussion around 'human security thrown in as well.

It was generally concluded, by the participants, that ordinary citizens have many good initiatives operating all over the country and they could do with a platform to allow them to communicate and share experiences across community lines. Unsurprisingly, no one wanted yet another CS organisation to spring up! This sounds very much like the type of thing you where suggesting.

You should also be pleased to know that LSE are merely affecting as helpers in the endeavour and, I think, we will be aiming to look into how technology could be used to support civil society communication. So many points of agreement with our approach and your there I think.

Personally, I am a big fan of the 'conflict transformation, hands off and long term strategy approach to peace building and I hope what we did may be followed up by the people concerned (I am not really involved in this on a day to day basis, but will put you in touch with a colleague that is if you like).

In terms of the intellectual laziness of the 'tribal prism, I quite agree and tried to show this in my piece. If this did not come across very well, please put this down to me not knowing enough at the time to put in some paragraphs on alternatives. I think the whole point of writing on SWJ, a non reviewed journal, is to get this kind of feedback and discover new avenues to investigate, huh?

Please also do not think I am ruling CDCs out,
I just think more work needs to be done. I had the fortune of sitting through a presentation by a fellow from the Agha Khan foundation on their work with CDCs, which has been taken up by the MRRD. Although very positive and an excellent speaker with many interesting statistics to back up his assertions, I do worry what will happen once foreign money stops being pumped into these initiatives and oversight of projects is not conducted by auditors from outside of the community (I think most CDCs are not self sustaining as of yet and audits have to be reported back to a central office). More importantly, I am still not clear as to how these localised initiatives are able to stop inter-communal conflict, although would concede they will go some way towards instilling 'civil mindsets in the long run.

However, whatever we think about CDCs, the majority are still top down, imposed structures, created by external, urbanised and international actors. I am still working on how I think about these things, but it seems to me that in many conflict zones civil society finds its own coping mechanisms and it is these we should be supporting rather than imposing. The problem is many of these mechanisms do not fit the stipulations of the 'liberal piece or the guidelines of donors.

I was fortunate to meet an Afghan who declared to me that he was an ex-Talib and a tribal elder. All his life he had worked for 'rights, but he stated post 2001 no-one comes to consult him on the health / public good. Sadly the only contact he gets with outsiders is intrusive night raids. Is this because his kind are no longer considered fit for purpose? The man has real social connections and capital within his community, not to mention the networks in place to get things done, but I suspect he would not look good sitting at the head of a development project. Such things give me real pause for thought.

Anyway, thank you for your advice, I will be sure to follow up on the articles you mentioned and I will do a lot more looking into CDCs. I suspect they will be in my sights for many more months to come.

Best,

Tom,

Didnt know LSE had 9,000 staff so thanks, learned something there. However these numbers cant obfuscate the facts. It appears LSE was sufficiently embarrassed to have its Director resign recently? I am just suggesting that some quality control might have been in order after a dictators son and one of "former" terrorist regimes key figures wrote a "thesis" on civil society - a group that has long-suffered and is now suffering at the Gadhafi familys hands?

Ref Afghans determining what groups best constitute civil society, my research around the Muslim world over the last ten years (seven months in southern Afghanistan) has indicated groups are the most powerful in terms of mobilization and capacity to act, and I think the voices from the street around that world now may prove my point. Further, it depends on what segment of Afghan society you are talking about? The self-proclaimed tribal elder might give you a different view of course.

Actually, perhaps more than from Islamic perspectives, the concept of civil society in Afghanistan has it origins in local Afghan traditions such as ashar. The key is how can we update these traditions and empower them with digital means? I think religious figures in the main have been hostile to civil society as a potential competitor at the lower end of the social-cultural strata, in many parts of the world I have researched. What we have seen around the world for the most part they have been the followers as opposed to leaders of civil society. With regard to Afghans and perspectives on civil society I would refer you to "Kabulis remarks" in the NYT http://atwar.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/15/when-the-wave-hits-afghanistan....

Ref Islamic thought, like most Westerners, I am not an expert in this area but would encourage you to listen to the "Doha Debates" series where many of the far-flung Muslim participants offer that there should be no separation of mosque and state.

With regard to religious leaders in Afghanistan, most Afghans from 40-up would argue strongly with the fact that religious figures were a major force in "ending" Soviet occupation. I think they would credit this end to many other internal and external forces.

Reference the Tribal Liaison Office, since when do we go to one social-cultural arm to be the single interlocutor for the people we aspire to protect? You make my point for me - we must stop with the unbalanced Gunga Din approach to engagement and foreign policy. Of course one can expect 'warnings from them - they have already lost much power and influence to the CDCs. There are now 29,000 of these locally -elected councils around the country. I find it surprising that many commentators on Afghanistan know very little about them: perhaps this can be attributed to intellectual laziness, groupthink and the prevailing tribal prism. In my view, it is critical that CDCs be involved in the process if Afghanistan and the West truly wants a reconciled and re-integrated one Afghanistan, rather than going backward into tribal fiefdoms.

An interesting piece on competing influences at the lower end of the Afghan social-cultural-economic strata is the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (Kabul)'s "The Changing Face of Local Governance? Community Development Councils in Afghanistan." I don't think we can scarfice representativeness to speed toward often little-impacting Measues of Output. Afghans have paid a heavy price for this approach to date.

Not familiar with the New Wars concept. What I am saying is society will continue to suffer if we dont have balanced engagement, if we keep engaging "the usual suspects," and we dont network and empower those folks we now see (too late) demanding power around the world - before they take to the streets. Again it is intellectual laziness not to seek out and identify new voices and promote, network and facilitate this process. This ensures sustainability - regenerating civil society. If we dont facilitate "them" engaging "each other" (first) there will be more chaos in more countries.

Didnt say cultural understanding is useless, but it must be balanced with many other disciplines. The real failure is in this understanding and engagement imbalance - not in any better reporting approach. Shove harder . . . same backlog . . . same stovepipes. It is in working more laterally across social/economic sciences and civil society groups.

With regard to counter-rad, IMV, the most effective forms of counter-radicalization have nothing to do with religion or ideology - in that sense they are much more pragmatic. They are based on field studies (historically) on motivation and morale, which have been picked up by an army of observers spouting "new" insights. The most effective programs IMV are based on critical thinking, awareness, civics, and directing individuals to positive lifestyles.

If you read my book on COIN in Iraq, which I am told was helpful in developing the present Anaconda model(s), I maintain that COIN is about reconstitution and regeneration that we cant kill our way out of. See: http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/RB9323/index1.html

My development officer colleagues were big supporters of the CDCs in Kandahar Province in 2008 but my cynical take on the CDCs was that it was primarily an imported bureaucratic concept that would disappear once the aid spigot was turned off.

I don't think there is a single answer that can be applied to all provinces/districts re the tribal cohesion question but I basically concur with Tom Kirk on this issue. I also concur that mullahs remain important, not least on the role of conveyors of information to an illiterate rural population.

The one reconciliation issue that I cannot quite understand is how an intensive CT effort is supposed to encourage the insurgents to negotiate. Isn't a High Value Targeting approach designed to destroy an organization, rather than get it to modify its behavior? Why wouldn't the losses caused by HVT cause the Taliban to seek revenge rather than negotiation, especially given the importance of badal (revenge) in Pashtun culture? We tried the "inflicting enough pain to make them cry uncle" approach with our bombing campaign against North Vietnam. That obviously didn't work.

Hi Edward,

Thanks for the reply, I will try to address some of your comments, but firstly, I should point out that there are around 9,000 students at LSE, many research centres, many viewpoints and many, many arguments. I hope that covers your first observation.

You are correct to question my definition of civil society; I left it very broad and unspecified on purpose. The more I learn and experience with regards to Afghanistan the more I have to readjust my ideas on what constitutes a civil society actor in Afghanistan. At this point in my thinking I would have to conclude, although widely used as a term in Afghanistan, it is best left to Afghans themselves to denote who counts as civil society (see below link). To those who contest the concepts applicability to Central/South Asia from the get go, the concept has origins in Islamic thought and neatly fits into Islamic ideas behind the separation of the House of Peace and War.

(http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/GWOT/pdf/Civil%20Society%20in%20Afghani...)

In answer to your question, yes I did miss an opportunity to lay out exactly who should be consulted in the R & R process, but to be honest I had not had the opportunity to actually ask Afghans that question at the point of writing this article. I can now answer fairly certainly that Afghans want to see widespread consultations and, depending on which province they come from, the members of society they believe should be consulted vary from CSO members to traditional leaders. Furthermore, in my limited experience the number of times Afghans (from across many provinces) would suggest that religious leaders should have a big role to play in ending the conflict seemed indicative of a belief in the role of traditional civil society in reconciliation. There appeared to be an assertion that such leaders helped end the Soviet invasion, so they are best placed to negotiate an end to current violence. I would be interested to know how widespread such feelings are from your experience.

Your reference to CDCs and other community development initiatives is something I think is important. I am very interested in these bodies, but out the moment from my best estimate the jury is still very much out on whether these groups represent Afghan civil society and general opinion. As you point out, the MRRD has very much brought into the idea of CDCs, but there exist warnings from other organisations such as the Tribal Liason Office that such initiatives are setting up parallel, and therefore competing structures, to traditional grass roots councils/courts/elders/religious authorities. There is also the consideration that many of these initiatives work to strengthen 'in-group bonds at the expense of the creation of 'bridging ties between communities, ethnic groups and sectarian allegiances - further aggravating conflict. I think much interesting work is still to be done in this area and I am not entirely sure CDCs could be confidently held up as groupings to consult in any R & R process.

I dont think ethnographic / anthropological approaches to understanding Afghanistan are useless, I would rather suggest the failure might lie in the ability of useful cultural knowledge to be communicated upwards, whether that be in the civilian or military command chains (see below).

http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/2010/12/counterinsurgency-as-a-cultura/

In my remarks about the fragmentation of Afghan society I tried to get across the idea that this was happening due to a collection of factors, not just the introduction of extremist ideology. That is the idea captured in the New Wars concept - society suffers at the hands of a diverse set of global political and economic actors that benefit from the continuation of war and the inability of society to organise for its own needs.

I am a little confused by your last point about the need to conduct a counter radicalisation programme at the civil society level. I do not think this is the primary concern as this conflict is not about radicalisation. As stated, the factors that drive someone to pick up arms in Afghanistan are numerous and rarely ideological (hence Kilcullens 90%), so how would your programme work?

However, I would say that if we keep killing off the middle level leadership in the insurgency, then yes, we might begin to see the conflict take on a more radical bent as younger, potentially more ideologically motivated, elements take up the reigns.

Best

Hi Edward,
Thanks for the reply, I will try to address some of your comments, but firstly, I should point out that there are around 9,000 students at LSE, many research centres, many viewpoints and many, many arguments. I hope that covers your first observation.
You are correct to question my definition of civil society; I left it very broad and unspecified on purpose. The more I learn and experience with regards to Afghanistan the more I have to readjust my ideas on what constitutes a civil society actor in Afghanistan. At this point in my thinking I would have to conclude, although widely used as a term in Afghanistan, it is best left to Afghans themselves to denote who counts as civil society (see below link). To those who contest the concepts applicability to Central/South Asia from the get go, the concept has origins in Islamic thought and neatly fits into Islamic ideas behind the separation of the House of Peace and War.
(http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/GWOT/pdf/Civil%20Society%20in%20Afghani... )
In answer to your question, yes I did miss an opportunity to lay out exactly who should be consulted in the R & R process, but to be honest I had not had the opportunity to actually ask Afghans that question at the point of writing this article. I can now answer fairly certainly that Afghans want to see widespread consultations and, depending on which province they come from, the members of society they believe should be consulted vary from CSO members to traditional leaders. Furthermore, in my limited experience the number of times Afghans (from across many provinces) would suggest that religious leaders should have a big role to play in ending the conflict seemed indicative of a belief in the role of traditional civil society in reconciliation. There appeared to be an assertion that such leaders helped end the Soviet invasion, so they are best placed to negotiate an end to current violence. I would be interested to know how widespread such feelings are from your experience.
Your reference to CDCs and other community development initiatives is something I think is important. I am very interested in these bodies, but out the moment from my best estimate the jury is still very much out on whether these groups represent Afghan civil society and general opinion. As you point out, the MRRD has very much brought into the idea of CDCs, but there exist warnings from other organisations such as the Tribal Liason Office that such initiatives are setting up parallel, and therefore competing structures, to traditional grass roots councils/courts/elders/religious authorities. There is also the consideration that many of these initiatives work to strengthen 'in-group bonds at the expense of the creation of 'bridging ties between communities, ethnic groups and sectarian allegiances - further aggravating conflict. I think much interesting work is still to be done in this area and I am not entirely sure CDCs could be confidently held up as groupings to consult in any R & R process.
I dont think ethnographic / anthropological approaches to understanding Afghanistan are useless, I would rather suggest the failure might lie in the ability of useful cultural knowledge to be communicated upwards, whether that be in the civilian or military command chains (see below).
http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/2010/12/counterinsurgency-as-a-cultura/
In my remarks about the fragmentation of Afghan society I tried to get across the idea that this was happening due to a collection of factors, not just the introduction of extremist ideology. That is the idea captured in the New Wars concept - society suffers at the hands of a diverse set of global political and economic actors that benefit from the continuation of war and the inability of society to organise for its own needs.
I am a little confused by your last point about the need to conduct a counter radicalisation programme as the civil society level. I do not think this is the primary concern as this conflict is not about radicalisation. As stated the factors that drive someone to pick up arms in Afghanistan are numerous and rarely ideological (hence Kilcullens 90%), so how would your programme work?
However, I would say that if we keep killing off the middle level leadership in the insurgency, then yes, we might begin to see the conflict take on a more radical bent as younger, potentially more ideologically motivated, elements take up the reigns.

Aside from the irony of the London School of Economics funding by the Gadhafi regime [no champion of civil society as we now know] coming forth -after LSE's recent Civil Society Conference in AF - and the fact that one of Gadhafi's son's wrote a plagiarized paper on civil society while at LSE, here goes . . .

I agree with Kirk's central point [?] that CS actors must be more involved in R&R, but disagree with some of his supporting assertions and reasoning. Indeed who he considers "CS" sometimes seems to move back and forth. [A missed opportunity to lay out what CS role in R&R might look like?]

Find it somewhat ironic that the author - following Flynn, et al back in 2009 - takes to task "the necessity of understanding Afghanistan's social context and ordinary Afghan's opinions" when he himself may belie a lack of knowledge therein. For example CDCs, CCs, DDAs and the legion of (often stove-piped) civil society groups started by both NGO/IO outsiders and local Afghan NGOs are never mentioned in this article! Instead, like those he might intellectually oppose, talk of "tribes" dominates his argument. Though there has been a tug-of-war over the charter of Community Development Councils (29,000 across AF according to MRRD) between IDOG and MRRD, and the CDC track record has indeed been spotty, there has been a de facto recognition of the CDCs by both as the closest approximation of the "village assemblies' called for by the Afghan constitution. I am told by ISAF 'guest advisors' that USAID/OTI is not be a "fan" of CDCs, but I hope/sense this reflects more emotional than rational thinking. [I think COIN requires more rigorous thinking than one being 'a fan' of one approach or another . . . or a fan of another person?]

In the author's first para I might argue the point ref "authorities strategies enjoyed a broad amouny of popular support." Not sure what 'authorities' he is talking about?

I hate to admit it . . . I have never read the "Accidental Guerilla," and can't attest to its author's experiences outside the wire, or in AF. However, "ethnography" [perhaps Kirk means to say anthropology?] - in the absence of a well-balanced approach also featuring social sciences, economics, psychology - has proven a failed approach both in macro terms in Afghanistan and via the Human Terrain Teams that some of the "AG" author's colleagues reportedly "launched and designed."

Unlike Iraq, I don't see the insurgency or Taliban in terms of ideology or the "Takfiri menace;" if anything I see the Taliban's approach as very pragmatic:

- Govt is inept (at governance and security)
- Taliban as opportunity
- Taliban short-term intimidation
- Taliban long-term intimidation

Other remarks attributed to Accidental Guerilla and implications for AF? IMV, tribal society in Afghanistan was not "ruptured" by "Takfiris" or their ideology, it decayed due the killing by Soviets of many, westernized sons and daughters for whom the tribal template no longer fit, and held no interest for, and internal decay over time. (Yes, perhaps due to the winds of globalization as Kirk infers later.) The mystical "tribal elders" - our SF/OGA folks seemed captivated with for so long in Afghanistan - were over time replaced by opportunists and criminals with gold teeth. Most "taks" [as we somewhat misguidedly categorized them as in Iraq, hence elevating their status] I have interviewed around the world, when you scratched them, were nothing more than . . . common dopes.

Fact that elders are opportunistic is no big surprise to most of us cc'd here. Our early fall-back approach (trying to play "the Great Game" and failing miserably) from 2002-onward set us back badly. I would say 'traditionalists' in the south are the TB's unintentional allies.

Westerner academics tend to attribute much power to Afghan mullahs: however even people in rural areas of the south smile knowingly (if not dismissively) at their mention . . . as "having their rightful place in our lives." Rather the opposite in my experience, the mullahs have been (perhaps unwelcome) pawns for these new tribal elders (who in the Afghan tradition make fun of them), vs. "manipulating" the elders.

Unlike Kirk, I think trawling history ref tribes has little benefit for AF, and again, only served to put us behind the eight-ball. In most cases we over-acculturated or believed that the "tribes would keep us safe" (notice the emphasis on 'us') when there was no evidence to support this approach. IMV, more important to understand the current social dynamics.

The way ahead ref "CS and R&R" is to conduct deep counter-rad and derad simultaneously - as we suggested in attached report for COMISAF in mid - 2010. IMV, the best form of counter-rad is sustainable and abiding, lateral CS networking among youth, women, cultural actors, small business owners, and media producers.

A head-count of one's cousins, and their quick re-casting as "insurgents" is not Re-Integration and Reconciliation.