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How Our Cognitive Solipsism Made Us Limbic Captives of the Taliban – Part 3 of 3
"Those who intervene in Afghanistan can face disintegration themselves -- not because of the power of the Afghans, but because of the forces that are unleashed in their own fragile societies."
-- Ahmed Rashid
Even the U.S. Government's own investigation into and report on the lessons we've learned about stabilizing Afghanistan openly admits broad-cut failure:
Our analysis reveals the U.S. government greatly overestimated its ability to build and reform government institutions in Afghanistan as part of its stabilization strategy. We found the stabilization strategy and the programs used to achieve it were not properly tailored to the Afghan context, and successes in stabilizing Afghan districts rarely lasted longer than the physical presence of coalition troops and civilians. As a result, by the time all prioritized districts had transitioned from coalition to Afghan control in 2014, the services and protection provided by Afghan forces and civil servants often could not compete with a resurgent Taliban as it filled the void in newly vacated territory.
Three-quarter truths are always more dangerous than 100 percent lies. What the SIGAR tome never mentions is precisely why we failed to figure out how to "properly tailor" stability operations to the Afghan context: We never took the social cognition to which Afghan honor-shame dynamics give rise -- nor how the Taliban exploited, manipulated, and wrought havoc with those dynamics (and, therefore, with Afghan social cognition and social identity) -- seriously. We never took the Afghan social-mind seriously as a mind on its own stubborn and irreducible terms. And we, therefore, never took Taliban's destruction of the Afghan mind seriously. The SIGAR report even fails to explain adequately the social-cognition and lethal cognitive errors of US/ISAF/NATO strategists and, therefore, condemns us to repeating the same mistakes -- not learning anything worth learning from lessoned learned.
The SIGAR reports never mentions on any of its 302 pages how our own tenaciously steadfast commitment to cognitive solipsism -- the blinding assumption that Afghan cultures organize the material phenomena of their existence exactly the way we do -- regarding the Afghan social mind made us dumb to what the Afghan themselves required for stability.
In the wake of the SIGAR report, the same un-addressed cognitive solipsism is now tricking many stakeholders today into believing that the Taliban (not the NATO-backed ANA) can establish the bare-minimum stability required for healthy village life and, of course, large-scale mining and pipeline operations.
Although we have long possessed a powerful library of reliable, detailed, non-ideology-driven (Taliban disenchanted) analysis of Afghan tribal structures, clan networks, honor-shame dynamics -- analysis that confronts the many devils in the detail of Afghan social cognition (honest reckonings of the Afghan mind) -- this hardheaded scholarship has largely been ignored by policymakers and stability stakeholders. It is barely mentioned in the May SIGAR report.
Although we have long possessed a powerful science (cognitive anthropology)[i] by which to understand in detail how Afghans cognitively organize the material phenomena of their culture, we have catastrophically failed to apply the relevant insights of that science to understand what counts to Afghans as material phenomena in Afghanistan's 4GW battlespace. Thus, we could not know how to tailor anything properly for Afghans, be it khet partug or VSOs.
The SIGAR report is largely ignorant of that science.
Our own cognitive egocentrism made us blind to the moral centers of gravity in Afghanistan. While we've been looking with night vision goggles on directly into the halogen lamps of "post-colonial COIN" theory (what the SIGAR report calls "diverse expectations"), the Taliban operating for decades in our blind spots.
Be voluntary ignorance as it may, our archive of responsible Afghan analysis -- derived from the hard-won, qalat-level experience of irregular warriors (like Major Gant) and informed by the sciences of evolutionary cognition and cognitive anthropology -- dispels the smoke and shatters the mirrors of the coven of Rasputins advising stability stakeholders today.
For example, too many stability stakeholders in Afghanistan, often informed by contracted regional analysts, now firmly believe that the following three objectives honestly represent the Taliban's credendum:
1. Restore peace in the region (through Islam or coercive means)
2. Neutralize the population by disarming
3. Impose Sharia law as the ordering principle to defend veracity and preserve the Islamic
character of Afghanistan.
Accepted at face value, those objectives purportedly constitute both the Taliban's political philosophy and political economy. They're adduced by analysts as the drivers of the Taliban's reputed village-level appeal, the source of their to rise hegemonic power, and the bedrock of the "stability" their leaders now promise 4GW stakeholders.
Fortunately for the Taliban, there are many analysts now providing terminological scrims that obscure how they actually gained power over the minds, moral authorities, traditional institutions of Afghan villagers. Take, for example, this history of the rise of the Taliban, which was inspired by Ahmed Rashid:
The origins of the Taliban, an extremist religious fundamentalist group that took political power in Afghanistan by 1996 and now battles US and NATO military forces, should be located in the historical circumstances that gave rise to the group during the 1980s. These circumstances include the disintegration of the Afghanistan village, in particular the rural economy and localized political structures that had historically provided political stability in the country. In addition, the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union and the large-scale mobilization by the US and the Pakistani governments of religious extremists contributed to the creation of the Taliban. The wartime conditions and invasions of Afghanistan territory by foreign powers fueled the growth of religious zealotry epitomized by the Taliban, which then filled a vacuum of economic, political, and ideological space within Afghanistan. A vacuum within this context can be described as the destruction of physical space, which limits or eliminates the basic access to the necessities of life. This is further complicated by the occupying foreign forces that further destabilize the local Afghan village economy due to the importance given by the occupying powers to the centralization of governmental authority. The subsequent disintegration of the balance between rural and urban economies has had an adverse effect on the country as a whole, consequently creating an environment for radical ideologies to emerge.
This purported "history" echoes the Taliban's own "creation myth," the narrative they propagate (often in poems) about how they came to power and why they should rule Afghanistan. It was written by a student at America's Florida University Honors College. I adduce it to demonstrate how far and how effectively Taliban propaganda has traveled and because this is the narrative by which many Afghan stability stakeholders today are captivated. It's general narrative resonates even with the SIGAR report's accounting of how the Taliban's rise to hegemonic dominance.
This undergraduate-level analysis is sadly typical of many (but certainly not all) professional regional analyses today, which chronically focus on what the Taliban say instead of what they do and have done, which now includes human slaving (mostly children). Obscuring the deepest sources of Taliban power -- the total usurpation of traditional moral authority as part of a program of ethnic cleansing -- these Taliban-sympathetic analysts project primary responsibility for the fragmentation of Afghan society onto the United States, ISAF, NATO.[ii]
That's the same shrill mantra we hear repeated ad nausea in primary US, European, and Middle East media sources, whose street-level stringers are typically Taliban members who send so-called field correspondents the emails upon which they base their "professional" stories. These so-called "situation reports," carefully crafted by Taliban information operators, describe what's "really" going on outside of Kabul. For some reason, many professional journalists believe that Taliban propaganda is less fake "fake news" than NATO reports. We have very good reason to suspect that Big Business Media have long been ciphers for Taliban propaganda.
Blame shifting for Afghanistan's return to the shatterzone is typical of Taliban information operations. The blame narrative is often supported and promulgated, even by non-Taliban regional analysts. Pakistan's newest Prime Minister, for example, is often quoted as saying, "The war on terror is the most insane and immoral war of all time. The Americans are doing what they did in Vietnam, bombing villages. But how can a civilized nation do this? How can you can eliminate suspects, their wives, their children, their families, their neighbors? How can you justify this?"[iii] We expect that kind of distortion of our efforts in Afghanistan from a Pakistani Prime Minister who has written a book titled, Warrior Race: A Journey Through the Land of the Tribal Pathans.[iv]
However, even regional analysis by non-Taliban regional consultants has too often become caught up in what an Afghanistan expert has called "the psychology of the availability cascade..." ...in which complexity is simplified for the observer-participant [analysts/media] who is caught up in group sociology that tugs him into agreement with his peers even if the individual doesn’t totally agree with the simplification. The Availability Cascade leads to the Availability Heuristics that fuels irreversible bias. Biochemistry drives the process.[v]
The undergraduate's Taliban-sympathizing analysis above is a good example of the psychology of the availability cascade. Although he does correctly note -- "These circumstances include the disintegration of the Afghanistan village, in particular the rural economy and localized political structures that had historically provided political stability in the country" -- he obfuscates how the Taliban themselves systematically brought about the fragmented circumstances in which Afghan traditional village structures and institutions are now found: Usurpation of local moral authority to end of ethnic cleansing. Even the SIGAR report obscures the Taliban's systematic destruction of Afghan traditions. The "success" of the Taliban has become its own argument for stability, in the terminology of cognitive science, an availability heuristic.
Although the undergraduate also correctly notes -- "This is further complicated by the occupying foreign forces that further destabilize the local Afghan village economy due to the importance given by the occupying powers to the centralization of governmental authority" -- he fails to mention the inconvenient fact that the economies of many Afghan villages had been effectively re-stablized by ISAF Village Stability Operations up to the point we discontinued those operations. The SIGAR report also mentions that fact, but does not explain how we failed to support traditional Afghan moral authority from the ground-level up, whereas the Taliban replaced and weaponized those traditional moral authorities.
The undergraduate's apology for the Taliban's regional hegemony concludes:
Village cultures have helped to shape the historical and contemporary political orientation of the Taliban. Gramsci’s theory of ‘cultural hegemony’ will be employed to examine the growth of the Taliban in the context of the economic collapse of villages, which the Taliban has used to strengthen its position within Afghan village communities. Gramsci’s theory is also useful for examining and critiquing the hegemonic and cultural biases of the US occupying army. The escalation of the US backed war in Afghanistan has coincided with a return of the Taliban to positions of influence and power, largely by intensifying the destruction and threats to many of the fragile security networks that exist within the Afghan village.
Like many stability stakeholders and regional analysts today, the undergraduate's analyst describes the emergence of the Taliban's hegemony as if it were based in traditional Afghan village, clan, tribal, and moral institutions, as if the Taliban have respected and preserved traditional Afghan "village cultures." In his ensuing arguments, the undergraduate never mentions anything about how or why the Taliban took a sledgehammer to all of the load-bearing moral pillars of Afghan society, how the Taliban exploited and disrupted the ancient dynamics of honor-shame codes that had structured Afghan social cognition -- and, therefore, had stabilized Afghan social, political, and economic life -- for centuries before a piece of shrapnel turned Mullah Omar into a literal and figurative Afghan Cyclops.[vi] The analyst hides the Taliban's systematic destruction of traditional Afghan forms of daily life -- cultural wreckage reaching from the madrassa to the market -- under the velvet pillow upon which he's sitting.
We are justified in suspecting that he's practicing Taqyya; the sophomore analyst appears deliberately to obfuscate the Taliban's systematic destruction and replacement of traditional Afghan honor-shame codes, moral institutions, and moral authorities with their own bizarre interpretations of an Islam that makes ample room for narco-trafficking, gun-running, raping, murdering civilians, human slaving, ethnic cleansing, which is what the Taliban really mean by "disarming the population." Again, the undergraduate's thesis is worth pausing over because much recent Afghan analysis does not even come up to its BA-level of sophistication and nuance.[vii]
Accepting the Taliban's self-reported credendum (especially its claims about establishing Shariah) at face value, however bias affirming that might be, feeds the fantasy that the Taliban will now provide the interregional governance generally believed to be a necessary precondition of stability. These analysts fantasize that, by subjugating Afghans to one ideology (the Taliban's narco-Salfism), stability will suddenly re-emerge, phoenix-like, from the country's bone-ash soil. They may be correct, if the Taliban are permitted to complete their program of ethnic and clan cleansing. Recall, point one in the Taliban's platform reads: "Restore peace in the region (through Islam or coercive means)."
These analysts-turned-Taliban-apologists have even begun depicting the Taliban as if they were Mohammed himself: Self-fulfilling prophets who successfully bring law and order to a lawless, clannish, tribal Afghanistan, as if these drug-dealers and human-slavers are now in the midst of founding a wholly new civilization. And perhaps they are, but it is not a traditional Afghan village-centered or even a legitimately Islamic civilization.
According to somewhat more sophisticated analyses, the Taliban will even liberate Afghans from limbic captivity to the ancient honor-shame dynamics that have kept them bound to their respective "moral tribes" for centuries. Somehow, according to this (mainly Pakistani) fantasy, criminal socio-paths who compose the Taliban's leadership will depart from their wicked ways once they are at table in Kabul and suddenly bring law to the lawless, post-tribal, regions of Afghanistan and its border regions where they have perpetrated horrific violence.
The fantasy of Taliban stability is deceiving otherwise sincere stability stakeholders into believing the Taliban desire peace and actually want to achieve regional stability. Even the Chinese appear to be falling for the fantasy.[viii] However, the difficult social-cognitive realities of Afghans should seriously spook investors who believe that the Taliban want even to provide the long-sought-for bare-minimum stability required for laying gas pipelines and mining mineral resources out of the Hindu Kush. Although the Taliban are primarily responsible for shattering the humpty dumpty of Afghan tradition and traditional moral authority and, therefore, of stability in Afghanistan, they can no more put him back together again than we can. Indeed, they'll be quite happy to cleanse the bloody shards from what's left the country they have broken. But at least they understand what they broke and why.
Let us review what we know (or should have known) about the traditional honor-shame dynamics of societies like Afghanistan and how they influence social cognition: The bare-minimum we should have understood about the Afghan mind.
Tribal Honor-Shame Dynamics: Once Upon at Time in Afghanistan
The renowned anthropological expert on honor-shame culture, Philip Salzman, explains how tribal and clan honor-shame-debt dynamics function as societal stabilizers in their environment of evolutionary adaptedness. That is, they're adaptive only in societies that are tribally in-tact:
Tribes are regional defense organizations in which small descent groups are balanced against other small descent groups, and large against large, and peace is kept, when it is, by the deterrence of potential retaliation. There are no rulers, police, or judges. Every man is a warrior, if only part-time. Tribesmen are jurally — that is legally — equal. Most decisions are made democratically and in a decentralized fashion. Individual families have considerable autonomy.[ix]
Salzman's generalized description applies aptly to pre-Taliban Afghan honor-shame society.[x] Robert Oprisko usefully note, "Honor has lost its way. The primary methodological difficulty within the study of honor is that the word means many different things and that, because it means many things, its value as a word becomes relatively meaningless. We use multiple concepts interchangeably when speaking about honor, disregarding conceptual differences." [xi] Thus, in order to talk about honor in pre-Taliban Afghanistan with conceptual rigor, we need to recall that war-fighting males born into an in-tact, unbroken, traditional honor-shame society are typically expected from the git-go to negotiate a very complicated network of unpaid, unsettled clan honor debts.
It is the honor-debt system that binds together all families, tribes, and clans in an honor-shame society.[xii] Social identity is conceived as loyalty -- now understood by cognitive scientists as a compulsive commitment to an "honor and shame program" that is coded directly into the nervous system of clan members -- to the whole honor-shame debt system. That "loyalty" is known as limbic captivity, a captivity to limbic-system behavioral motivators that bind competing clans together into a honor-shame society.
All clan groups in the system (especially those blood feuding) are enchanted by the same network of invisible loyalties to a mutually understood “payback plan.”[xiii] "Getting revenge and settling scores" is a kind of meta-loyalty system within which an individual who's a limbic captive of the honor-shame system can locate himself in relation to other clan and tribal members and calculate (social math) what he owes them and what they owe him by way of respect, deference, cooperation (mutual altruism), or revenge. Loyalty to the debt system of honor itself is what, somewhat paradoxically, structures and stabilizes the social identity and political economy of honor-bound, shame-phobic Afghans.[xiv]
Although this is a bit of a simplification, Winston Churchill's famous quip, which resonates with Salzman's participant-observer insights, about Pashtuns (often quoted by Afghans themselves) remains instructive:
The Pashtun tribes are always engaged in private or public war. Every man is a warrior, a politician and a theologian Every large house is a real feudal fortress....Every family cultivates its vendetta; every clan, its feud.... Nothing is ever forgotten and very few debts are left unpaid.
To iterate for the edification of stakeholders who are invested in stability in Afghanistan: It is to the trans-clan honor-shame debt ledger itself that even rival clans remain "loyal," psychologically committed, limbically captive in in-tact honor-shame societies. That debt ledger stabilizes the society from the family level up to the tribal assembly, the jirga. Although that debt-ledger does drive clan-on-clan conflict, it also places healthy restraints on that conflict, effectively prohibiting "total war."
But what happens when the broader honor-shame society of the tribe becomes shattered, as it is has been in Afghanistan by the Taliban? What happens when family, village, tribe, and clan leadership can no longer accurately keep the "debt ledger"? When they can no longer calculate what they owe others (by way of socially accepted behaviors) and what they owe them?
As we know from the vast research of conflict studies, ethnic and clan cleansing often erupt. As a leading expert in the anthropology of war, Keith Otterbein, reminds us,
Genocide can be the result of war; it can also result from one ethnic group or segment of a polity attempting to take exclusive control of the government and the state and, in the process, killing as many members as they can of the ethnic group that had ruled the country.[xv]
So, why are many Afghan analysts, even those critical of the Taliban, blind to the Taliban's program of ethnic and clan cleansing? Because they have not taken the Afghan mind seriously. They have not bothered to investigate the bio-cognitive resources of Afghanistan's tribal, clan, honor-shame cultures.
Our failure to understand the upheaval in Afghan social cognition that results from the breakdown in honor-shame dynamics emerges largely from our ignorance about the cognitive anthropology of honor-shame cultures in the first place. Our subsequent ignorance of how the Taliban have exploited honor-shame proclivities of the Afghan mind goes way beyond the theory blindness that often burdens academic research, which Daniel Kahneman defines:
Once you have accepted a theory and used it as a tool in your thinking, it is extraordinarily difficult to notice its flaws. If you come upon an observation that does not seem to fit the model, you assume that there must be a perfectly good explanation that you are somehow missing. You give the theory the benefit of the doubt, trusting the community of experts who have accepted it.[xvi]
Too many ISAF, NATO, and international NGO analysts have failed to understand both how the inherited social-psychology of honor-shame dynamics had for centuries structured Afghan identities and how the Taliban have both exacerbated and profited from the breakdown of these traditional dynamics. Why? Because ISAF, NATO, NGOS regional analysts often truculently dismissed any discussion of how these dynamics influence Afghan cultural cognition as racist.[xvii] Salzman and other experts who took the Afghan mind seriously on its own, difficult-to-understand terms were excluded from policy debates.[xviii] Their analysis was marginalized. They were called racist neo-imperialists.
But what's truly racist? Assuming that other cultures think about their experience the same ways you do? Or trying to figure out how they really do think about the regions of their experience that feel the most compelling and important to them: Family, tribe, clan, honor, shame -- warrior. We appear to have studied every region of Afghan experience except those regions that actually mattered to Afghans. We were so prepossessed with our own cognitive experience of war, of COIN, of CT, killing UBL, that most ISAF personnel today can recall Afghanistan only through the scents of cordite, mosquito repellent, and, if unlucky, their own hot blood, instead of through the flavor of jalebi or the scent of the corydalis afghanica, a small flower that blooms along the Salang River Canyon.
Our anthropological retardation in Afghanistan is the result of our own cognitive solipsism. We assumed that Afghans feel and think and explain their experience of feeling and thinking about reality, exactly the way we do. We narcissistically assumed we could liberate Afghans from limbic captivity to ancient honor-shame dynamics and warrior compulsions simply by giving them cell phones, dressing them up in standardized uniforms, and calling them "bro." Instead of addressing traditional Afghan values (like the honorable warrior) and helping them defend their most sacred moral traditions from tradition-destroying predators like the Taliban, we projected our own "progressive," liberal values onto Afghans, seeing them by turns as incipient free-market entrepreneurs (the Bill Gates of the Silk Road) or incipient democrats, (The Thomas Jefferson's of Central Asia)[xix]. They were neither. They were Afghan, Pasthun, Paschai, Hazara... .
Yet, the not-so-recent insights of cognitive science teach us that honor-shame warrior codes carve Afghan emotions at the functional joints of clans and tribes.[xx] With the exceptions of extraordinary unconventional warriors like Major Jim Gant and Gary Schroen, very few of our COIN experts in Afghanistan have appreciated, let alone applied, what we actually do know about the cultural imperatives of honor and shame to understand (so as to work effectively alongside) Afghans.[xxi]
Flashback to 2008 when Secretary of Defense Robert Gates prompted ISAF Command to field an on-the-ground capability in order to gain deep-brain intel about the honor-debt calculus and honor-shame cognitive dynamics of Afghan clans as they themselves feel compelled by those debts.[xxii] In his speech to the Association of American Academics, Gates emphatically reminds us:
Understanding the traditions, motivations, and languages of other parts of the world has not always been a strong suit of the United States. It was a problem during the Cold War, and remains a problem. In Iraq and Afghanistan, the heroic efforts and best intentions of our men and women in uniform have at times been undercut by a lack of knowledge of the culture and people they are dealing with everyday – societies organized by networks of kin and tribe, where ancient codes of shame and honor often mean a good deal more than “hearts and minds.”
The U.S. military has therefore combined hard earned trial and error with the assistance of anthropologists and other experts to get a better sense of the cultures in which they’re operating. The Human Terrain program – which also includes economists, historians, and sociologists – is still in its infancy and has attendant growing pains. But early results indicate that it is leading to alternative thinking – coming up with job-training programs for widows, or inviting local powerbrokers to bless a mosque restored with coalition funds. These kinds of actions are the key to long-term success, but they are not always intuitive in a military establishment that has long put a premium on firepower and technology. In fact, the net effect of these efforts is often less violence across the board, with fewer hardships and casualties among civilians as a result. One commander in Afghanistan said last year that after working with a Human Terrain Team, the number of armed strikes he had to make declined more than 60 percent.
"The saddest words of mice and men, are the words it could have been...". We know now that the HTS program was the most brilliant idea the Army ever had, implemented in the stupidest, set-up-to-fail manner.
In his 2015 report for The Strategic Studies Institute, in which he sums up the "operationally relevant social science research of the Human Terrain System," Christopher Simms does not mention, reference, cite a single report, study, data stick by any HTS program or HTT that offers any information, analysis, report, or brief about the honor-shame cultural dynamics or the social-cognition of honor-shame warrior culture among Afghans.
In other words, what's considered operationally relevant in Afghanistan today still has nothing whatsoever to do with understanding tribal or clan social cognition (pre- or post-Taliban) or honor-shame moral motivations and warrior compulsions of Afghans as they themselves experience, feel, understand, articulate those compulsions. That is to say, US operations in Afghanistan as of 2015 were still being "undercut," as Gates described in 2008, "by a lack of knowledge of the culture and people they are dealing with everyday – societies organized by networks of kin and tribe, where ancient codes of shame and honor often mean a good deal more than “hearts and minds.” Today, the worst analysis merely confirms Taliban biases.
However -- as Gates urged us to understand, and as HTS social scientists along with every other ISAF analyst ought to have understood -- knowledge of the social cognition of honor-shame dynamics among Afghans was key to success (measured by regional stability) in that specific 4GW battlespace. When derived from local indigenous trust partners, knowledge of the moral motivators of local populations, especially young, would-be warriors, is precisely what enables VSO operators to predict loyalty vectors, another key to working effectively alongside any local security force, be it in Afghanistan, Somalia, or Kurdistan.
The exact opposite of our typical cognitive solipsism is expressed here, at the Tribal Analysis Center, as the guiding rationale of an anthropology based in cognitive realism:
There is a potential criticism of our mission that seems to hold that any research on tribal societies outside of purely academic parameters is inappropriate, especially if it contributes to national or foreign government project planning in tribal territories. This critique can take as a point of departure the efforts of British and French imperialists in the 19th and early 20th centuries to study tribesmen in order to colonize them more efficiently. It could be argued that modern anthropology grew out of a colonialist agenda. Nonetheless, after weighing the pros and cons, we conclude that it would be unethical not use anthropological insights in these situations. Knowledge is better than ignorance. Our view is that tribesmen themselves benefit if outsiders descending upon them have an appreciation for tribal culture and a willingness to adjust their actions accordingly. We assume that it is exceedingly rare nowadays to find a pristine setting where tribal people can live without interaction with the outside world. Our hope is to make that inevitable contact as productive as possible for both sides.
Had that realistic rationale prevailed among Afghan regional analysts, ISAF/NATO Command, and Afghan policymakers, Afghanistan would not be under threat of ethnic cleansing by the Taliban today. Ivory Tower academics reviled honest engagement of the Afghan mind as neo-imperialistic. So much was to be expected. Yet, even from within many ISAF circles honest anthropological engagements with the Afghan mind were dismissed as a form of neo-colonialism.
Even many of our best ISAF military trainers of the ANA approached the fundamental cognitive problem of educating the Afghan soldier's warrior imperatives -- which, when solved also solves the broader problems of integrating, de-clanning, and professionalizing the national army -- from outside an honor-shame clan paradigm. Far too many ISAF personnel, usually recently promoted Captains, involved in building up and training the ANA after 2009 were as highly prejudiced as NGO "peace-builders" against any Afghan warrior archetype. Sometimes quoting Franz Fanon or Edward Said, they typically dismissed such notions as "neo-colonial discourse" and waxed eloquent about replacing the clan-militia mentality with a "professional" army; American "professionalism," they sermonized, would replace ancient Afghan "warriorism." Afghans would finally be liberated from limbic captivity to archaic honor-shame dynamics.
As a result of our studious cognitive solipsism, instead of educating the innate warrior impulses of young Afghan males from within the dynamics of an honor-shame culture, we catastrophically ignored or even sought to pacify the innate warrior desires of Afghan males. [xxiii] ISAF, thereby, made the Afghan males to whom we've provided weapons and tactical training (but no authentic moral anchoring in Afghan traditions) highly vulnerable to the ploys of Taliban recruiters who ingeniously put themselves forward as the mature warrior, the moral authority for which many of these young men had been seeking but failed to find in the ANA.[xxiv] (Note in passing: Late last year the Pakistan Army began training the ANA. Nearly one year later, the Taliban are stronger than ever.[xxv] A coincidence?)
Where are our trust partners in Afghanistan today? Where are those who men and women represent the few remaining traditional moral authorities and moral leaders on the ground in Afghanistan who can command respect from young Afghan males? Most have been assassinated. Stability investors are fooling themselves if they believe the Taliban's new "moral authority," rooted in narco-Salafism, will provide the stability required for pipelines and mines. [xxvi]
Moral authority in Afghanistan may be utterly decimated due to Taliban confusion operations, but the imperative among young Afghan men to fulfill the now highly indeterminate terms of the "honorable Afghan warrior" remains compulsive. ISAF/NATO should have understood those compulsions and helped local moral authorities educate them toward traditional, honorable ends, as Major Jim Gant succeeded in doing in his VSO in Mangwel.
To continue in the dubiously useful mode of the hypothetical past-contra-factual, it could have been otherwise if, while training the Afghan National Army, we'd bothered to identify, locate, win the trust of, and then help local Afghan moral authorities regain definitional control over the terms, forms, expressions, collective narratives, and institutions of the Afghan honorable warrior. Instead, we failed to make the Afghan National Army the legitimate embodiment and expression of the honorable warrior for young Afghans because we began to believe, sometime around 2010, that taking the Afghan mind and soul and its traditional moral expressions seriously on their own terms (in their irreducible alterity) was somehow racist. Nobody in Washington at the time wanted to hear anything about "cultural incompatibility," lethal or otherwise, between Afghan forces and US/NATO troops.[xxvii] Except for Gant and a few other extraordinarily honest operators, we did not address the warrior compulsions of young Afghans because we started calling ourselves racists for taking the primary personality and cognitive needs of Afghans seriously, on their own evolutionary terms.
A leading Afghan ANA analyst saw that tragic handwriting on the crumbling walls of Jalalabad, Kabul, Herat in 2014:
As Western troops withdraw from Afghanistan, the Afghan National Army (ANA) has been tasked with securing the country. Having broken the system that was in place, the US and NATO are now leaving Afghanistan to face Taliban elements, criminal warlords, and private militias which disrupt any efforts to pull the nation together. Yet the ANA arose under foreign tutelage and will remain dependent upon foreign support for the foreseeable future. Thus it can only be seen by the majority of Afghans as a legacy of the occupation and not a 'national' institution. The ANA is shrinking by the day.[xxviii]
The ANA cannot now compete for the loyalty of Afghan warriors, cannot match the "moral" authority of the Taliban, because ISAF failed to understand, let alone engage and educate, the traditional warrior ethos of Afghans. Misguided by BA-level "economic analysis" like that cited above and entrapped in our own cognitive solipsism, we failed to perceive let alone implant traditional Afghan moral authority in the then-pubescent, now-defunct institutional memory of Afghan security forces.
Again, stability stakeholders will want to take this historical fact to the boardroom: All traditional pre-Taliban Afghan moral authorities -- Mullahs, Jirga elders, maliks, senior warriors -- condemned suicide bombing, the use of child soldiers, war rape, looting, and the killing of women and children as shameful and dishonorable, as anathema to the honorable warrior. In-tact Afghan honor-shame cultures contained mechanisms that prevented total war, let alone genocide and ethic cleansing, as Salzman and others have amply noted. The Taliban have shattered those mechanisms. The Taliban hacked into the moral base codes of the Afghan soul and redefined the Afghan warrior so that "honorable" could contain all of those grisly acts and more; drug trafficking and child-slaving have now also become honorable occupations of Taliban "warriors."
We are now completing the moral legitimization of the Taliban by sitting down and talking to their so-called leadership. Why have stability stakeholders been fooled into believing that the Taliban is the only way to protect their gas-pipeline and mineral investments? Because they do not understand how completely the Taliban have hijacked and recoded traditional Afghan concepts justice and jurisprudence.
Recall, the fist cultural mechanism Taliban sought to gain control over was dispute resolution in Afghan villages, because they understood Afghan notions of justice: the trans-clan debt ledger by which both genetic relatedness and political/status relatedness are carefully tallied in honor-shame societies. They knew, probably intuitively, that dispute resolution is what why the cognitive evolution selected for honor-shame cultures--to limit inter-clan bloodshed in remote regions.
To iterate: Within in-tact honor-shame societies, loyalty is conceived and embodied not only as neurologically compulsive commitment to the clan’s specific forms and expressions of an honor code but as an involuntary limbic captivity to the whole honor-shame debt system that binds competing clans together. All clan groups in the system (especially those blood feuding) are enchanted by the same network of invisible loyalties to a mutually understood “payback plan.” Honor debts and shame dynamics feel extremely irrational to observers from individual contract cultures. From the outside -- etically -- clan loyalty to “debt repayment schedules” appears highly irrational, unpredictable. We never bothered to take those debt ledgers seriously, and largely assumed that Afghan notions of justice (and debt) are the same as our own.[xxix]
Honor-shame debt "ledgers" paradoxically perpetuate ongoing, low-grade clan-on-clan violence, but they also simultaneously limit the scope of the violence and who gets to commit acts of "honorable" violence upon whom, when, and where. From the perspective of debt collection and payment, honor-shame economies are as rational as any Harvard MBA zero-sum calculus. That's why traditional honor-shame societies do achieve a baseline of stability, certainly enough to establish multinational gas and oil pipelines. Saudi Arabia would not be where as wealthy and relatively stable today if that were not an anthropological fact. We should have been on the side of Afghan tradition itself.
However, emically understood, as the Taliban understood them, honor-debts compel a feeling, a compulsion, a hot emotional response to honor symbols, gestures, acts of dis-honor in clan members, especially in young men seeking warrior status. That feeling is shame. And, as analyzed earlier, honor-culture shame exploits the limbic system’s highly contagious nature to spread itself horizontally throughout the clan. In this regard, honor-shame binds individual neural networks into one collective neural network or limbic unit. The Taliban have broken up smashed the Afghan hive to pieces. [xxx] They do not represent the "return of the clan." They represent the demise of tradition in Afghanistan.
Stability stakeholders who want to negotiate with the Taliban typically insist that the Taliban's system of justice is coherent and reliable. They often echo Michael Sandel's preposterous, insidious claim:
Finally, we turn to theories that see justice as bound up with virtue and the good life. In contemporary politics, virtue theories are often identified with cultural conservatives and the religious right. The idea of legislating morality is anathema to many citizens of liberal societies, as it risks lapsing into intolerance and coercion. But the notion that a just society affirms certain virtues and conceptions of the good life has inspired political movements and arguments across the ideological spectrum. Not only the Taliban, but also abolitionists and Martin Luther King, Jr., have drawn their visions of justice from moral and religious ideals.[xxxi]
Once upon time, it would have beggared belief to find a Harvard professor of law comparing child-sex-slave mongers (the Taliban) to the leader of the US Civil Rights movement. Today, we expect this kind of glib analogy. That's part of the reason Afghan stability stakeholders cannot see the blood in forest or on the trees of Afghanistan. Boardroom-bound stability stakeholders actually do listen to their IV-League consultants.
MLK built atop and promoted traditional, Southern Baptist values, themselves sourced in deeper Judeo-Christian values--moral institutions that interpenetrated local culture. By contrast, the Taliban have systematically shattered traditional Afghan moral authorities, local adjudicators, and replaced them with disgust manipulators. Taliban justice is neither ontological, deontological, nor teleological. It is ad-hoc and capricious, as obsessed with managing disgust as with protecting its economic mainstays: drugs, guns, human-slaves. The Taliban "justice system," neither in principle nor practice, is certainly not a driver of stability in Afghanistan. Taliban justice is both opportunistic (regarding its sources of revenue and power) and bio-deterministic, intuitively manipulating the honor-shame compulsions of Afghans.
As I noted in an earlier report, Taliban group-forming master narratives effectively hack into disgust biocognitive programs already activated in most Afghan Muslims by their formative, normative Islamic community via the hallal-haram dichotomy. To illustrate with a metaphor borrowed from a leading cognitive anthropologist of the region:
Jonathan Haidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis and his “Elephant and the Rider” construct is helpful in understanding some of the insula impact. “Grooming” in a madrassa places “peanuts” in front of the elephant. Tossing in “bandwagoning” and applying a “deadline” like “end days” leaves very unsophisticated novice “riders” astride a very powerful mental “elephant.”[xxxii]
Those novice riders astride the Afghan elephant today are both Taliban deep-brain disgust manipulators and regional analysts who have become limbically captive, via availability heuristics and cognitive solipsisms, to their masternarrative.
Stability stakeholders now invested in the Taliban will want to pay close attention to this social-cognitive reality: The members of honor-shame cultures tend to remain neurologically captive (hypersensitive) to both shame and disgust triggers and symbols even when meta-social awareness has become myopic, even when the honor-shame debt ledger has been burned. This meta-loyalty system is also a meta-social awareness system.
Symbols, whether transmitted through the internet or through local narratives and rituals, and their attendant magio-religious “logic,” perpetuate limbic synching and, therefore, do contribute to the kind of "clan-on-clan" violence that erupts into ethnic cleansing.[xxxiii] The Taliban now control the field of symbols in Afghanistan.
Their propaganda works. Ours doesn't.
That's because the Taliban well understood that loyalty to the debt system of honor and shame itself is what gave stability to Afghanistan's overlapping honor-shame cultures.[xxxiv] It is that meta-loyalty system that the Taliban have systematically broken to pieces. They've replaced it with their own with narco-traffickers, human-slavers, rapists, and gun-runners dragging as Salafists -- the various Taliban groups across the table from whom it is rumored that Mattis is getting ready to sit down and deal out the future of Afghanistan. If true, Afghanistan will soon be run by bunch of "El Chapos" rather than by Mirwais Hotak.
As noted in a previous report, in order to maintain their version of moral authority, the Taliban require their influence operators to constantly manipulate the disgust triggers of adherents; they must keep them in constant fear of being contaminated in their Islamic souls by what the Taliban define as haram pollutants.
Another symptom of our own cognitive solipsism has been our obsession with development in Afghanistan. Even a cursory reading of Taliban propaganda since 2009 reveals how energetically and consistently they project disgust-triggering and shame-evoking themes upon all forms of Western development. Although that theme had been a part of the Taliban's theocratic vision since its inception in the early 80s, it took the prominent place in Taliban rhetoric, propaganda beginning around 2010. Development itself is thematized by the Taliban as disgusting and shameful. For pre-Taliban moral authorities, western development had been merely irrelevant, outside of the main concerns of traditional village life.
As early as 2009, at least one regional analyst predicted the current "broken-tribe" dispensation that now has a choke hold on today's Afghans, asking:
And what has been learned in the past five decades of development projects in Afghanistan? There are still plans underway to construct major dams, highways, industrial parks, and even a railroad in Nangahar Province, all of which will serve to strengthen the qalang at the expense of the nang tribes. It is entirely possible that development and urbanization in Afghanistan will gradually erode the tribal system, but if the past is an indicator of the future the process will continue to be quite violent.
Essentially, development activities will stabilize an area only if it is integrated locally and culturally. In order to be successful, a full understanding of cultural geography is critical and projects that simultaneously benefit both sides of the nang-qalang divide may be the best short-term solution. Development planners, many of whom sit in “task forces” far from Afghanistan, fail to understand that these very real problems exist and have no way to plan to minimize them. As a result, more large projects that are relatively easy to fund through contracting corporations are probably in the future for Afghanistan that will favor the nation-building qalang at the expense of the rural nang – and will either prolong the current insurgency or set the stage for the next one.[xxxv]
When there was still time to save Afghanistan, we should have realized that our notion of development was radically out of synch with the moral priorities of most Afghans, especially rural, village-dwelling, clan-bonded, honor-shame compelled Afghans. Had we heeded those insights into the "deep-brain" of Afghans, we would have pointed our strategic and tactical ponies down the path of weaponizing local Afghan moral authority, which path we did not take except rarely, as in the extraordinary example of Major Jim Gant. In our rush to foist our notion of development on Afghanistan, we categorically failed to understand Afghans, especially the strength of their captivity to the traditional limbic compulsions of honor and shame.
Weaponizing local Afghan moral authority, as the Taliban have largely achieved, was key to integrating, balancing, and even professionalizing all of Afghanistan's now defunct security forces.[xxxvi] Honest relationships with traditional moral authorities would have permitted us to figure out, village by village, qalat by qalat, how Afghan villagers themselves define development, as Major Gant diligently figured out with the villagers of Mangwel. His example proves that it was possible for us to effectively weaponize Afghan moral authority to honorable end of helping them defend their own traditional institutions, especially village-oriented moral institutions, from the Taliban's destructive perversions.
Except for benevolent outliers like Major Gant, we largely ignored how traditional, tribal honor-shame codes determine and influence and structure and stabilize Afghan social cognition. We fatally ignored Afghans. Even the most magnanimous reading of the SIGAR report must conclude similarly: It ignores the deep-brain reasons we ignored Afghans. Did we really take young Afghan's seriously as aspiring warriors? Did we even understand how neurologically compulsive is there need to become honorable warriors?
Yet, even as late as 2009, the Taliban were largely failing to gain secure hold of the hearts and minds of most young Afghans, winning only lip-service commitment from most low-level recruits and adherents. As long as Taliban leadership were preaching only a strict theology-centered version of Jihad, their propagandists could not speak to the deepest desires of young Afghan males--their warrior compulsions. However, the moment they started engaging traditional Afghan-specific, tribal-warrior legacies, distributing tribal-warrior narratives and symbolism, primarily in the medium of poetry, among young Afghans, they started winning large numbers of recruits all over Afghanistan, and they started winning the war (measured by regional control) in Afghanistan.[xxxvii] Taliban "honorable warrior" propaganda was, of course, merely a fuzzy lure, hiding the hook of drugs, rape, murder, looting--the sordid funhouse of socio-pathological criminality that is the true credendum of the Taliban's Salafi-nacrocracy.[xxxviii]
In sum, the Taliban have taken the bio-cognitive realities of the Afghan mind seriously. Thus, they figured out -- as we still have not -- how to activate, engage, exploit, and rewrite the honor-shame driven, compulsive warriorism of Afghan males. They became adept at manipulating and invoking feelings of self-loathing at contamination from Kuffar (working with ISAF/NATO). They replaced traditional Afghan honor with disgust and fear of shame with fear of contamination/haram. They weaponized traditional Afghan moral authority. Taliban Narco-Salafists have turned out to be better social scientists and anthropologists than we are. Blinded by our own cognitive solipsism, we could not see how Taliban leaders perceived a moral vacuum among their key war-fighting demographic let alone prevent them from filling it with something far more morally perfidious, cognitively insidious, and regionally toxic than the "puritan" version of Islam for which they have become infamous.
In the wake of the SIGAR report, which seems to have had the unintended effect of nudging many stability stakeholders toward the Taliban, it is not very likely we'll manage to muster the moral courage and political will to save Afghanistan from the impending ethnic/clan cleansing of the Taliban. Should we somehow manage to muster up that moral courage, we'd need to liberate ourselves from our own limbic captivity to the Taliban by locating analysis of the Taliban's decimation of Afghanistan's honor-shame society, analysis that is rigorously free of our typical cognitive solipsism. That analysis would have to take a cognitively liberated assessment of the consequences to Afghan society of the Taliban's decimation of Afghan traditional honor-shame dynamics and their attendant moral authorities. We would then need to fuse that analysis to our best practices of village stability operations -- that is assuming, of course, we be sincerely committed to achieving stability in Afghanistan.[xxxix]
[i] For an introduction to this science, see Steven Tyler's Cognitive Anthropology (Holt, Rinehard, Winston, 1979). For an update, see Robert Sapolsky's Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst (Penguin, 2017).
[ii] For an extended discussion of the cultural functions of tradition, see Edward Shils's classic work, Tradition (University of Chicago, 1981).
[iii] See The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/global/2011/sep/18/imran-khan-america-destroying-pakistan
[iv] Khan also called ISAF's targeted killing of Hakimullah Mehsud, in November of 2013, "absolutely deliberate — this was a deliberate targeting of the peace process." And, "Terrorism is winning the hearts and minds of the people."
[v] Dave Phillips.
[vi] For a reliable description of Afghanistan before the Taliban started destroying its traditions, see Louis Dupree's Afghanistan in the 1970s (Praeger, 1974).
[vii] I strongly suspect the author is a Taliban asset. See, Umer Rahman's Political Economy of the Taliban (Florida International University, 2010)
[viii] For the Indian's viewpoint, see this article at The Diplomat: https://thediplomat.com/2016/12/the-real-reason-bajwa-was-appointed-pakistans-chief-of-army-staff/
[ix] For anthropological analysis that is intelligently useful to 4GW tacticians, see Philip Salzman's Are All Cultures Equally Good? here: https://www.mindingthecampus.org/2018/07/30/are-all-cultures-equally-good/
[x] For recent research that confirms Salzman's insights, see Dignity, face, and honor cultures: A study of negotiation strategy and outcomes in three cultures at the Journal of Organizational Behavior, J. Organizational Behavior. 37, 1178–1201 (2016). See also, Culture as perceived context: An exploration of the distinction between dignity, face and honor cultures at Acta de Investigación Psicológica
Volume 7, Issue 1, April 2017.
[xi] For his examination of honor-bound, post-honor cultures, see Robert Oprisko's Honor: Phenomenology. (Routledge, 2012).
[xii] For the science that justifies that assertion, see Robertson, T. E., Sznycer, D., Delton, A. W., Cosmides, L., & Tooby, J. The true trigger of shame: Social devaluation is sufficient, wrongdoing is unnecessary. (Evolution and Human Behavior, 39(5), 566-573, 2018).
[xiii] For an introduction to social psychology, see Invisible Loyalties by Ivan Boszormenyi-Nagy and Geraldine M. Spark (Brunner/Mazel, 1973).
[xiv] More insight from up-to-date cognitive science: Sznycer, D., Lopez Seal, M. F., Sell, A., Lim, J., Porat, R., Shalvi, S., Halperin, E., Cosmides, L., & Tooby, J. Support for redistribution is shaped by compassion, envy, and self-interest, but not a taste for fairness. (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(31), 8420–8425, 2017.)
[xv] See The Anthropology of War (Waveland Pr Inc, 2009).
[xvi] Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow (Penguin, 2011).
[xvii] Those curious about the cognitive science of shame should see Sznycer, D., Takemura, K., Delton, A. W., Sato, K., Robertson, T., Cosmides, L. & Tooby, J. Cross-cultural differences and similarities in proneness to shame: An adaptationist and ecological approach. (Evolutionary Psychology, 10(2), 352–370, 2012) and Sznycer, D., Xygalatas, D., Alami, S., An, X.-F., Ananyeva, K. I., Fukushima, S., Hitokoto, H., Kharitonov, A. N., Koster, J. M., Onyishi, C. N., Onyishi, I. E., Romero, P. P., Takemura, K., Zhuang, J.-Y., Cosmides, L., & Tooby, J. (In press); Invariances in the architecture of pride across small-scale societies. (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2018); Adaptationism Carves Emotions at their Functional Joints (Invited commentary in Psychological Inquiry, 28(1), 56–62, 2017).
[xviii] For an introduction to the methods and aims of cognitive anthropology, which I am practicing in this argument, see Stephen Tyler's Cognitive Anthropology (Holt, Rihehard, & Winston,1969).
[xix] For a representation of that view see, Frederick Starr's Rediscovering Central Asia in Wilson the Quarterly, Summer 2009.
[xx] For the standard introduction to evolutionary psychology, see Evolutionary Psychology Primer by Leda Cosmides and John Tooby here: http://www.psych.ucsb.edu/research/cep/primer.html
[xxi] For a textual source of Jim Gant's otherwise experience-based understanding of the importance of tribal moral authorities, see In Search of How Societies Work Tribes -- The First and Forever Form by David Ronfeldt, at RAND: https://www.rand.org/pubs/working_papers/WR433.html
[xxii] See his 2008 speech to the Association of American Universities here: http://archive.defense.gov/Speeches/Speech.aspx?SpeechID=1228
[xxiii] A big reason Major Jim Gant was so admired by and successful among the Afghan tribes with whom he worked is precisely because he both clearly defined and consistently modeled honor and warrior, both to his own men and to his Afghan allies. He himself was an honorable warrior, in the traditional Afghan sense. See American Spartan.
[xxiv] For a competent review of how the Taliban infiltrated the minds of ANA recruits and provoked them to commit green-on-blue homicide, see this report from the The Modern War Institute at West Point, Dress Like Allies, Kill Like Enemies: An Analysis of ‘Insider Attacks’ in Afghanistan by Javid Ahmad.
[xxv] Pakistan offers to train Afghan security forces by Gabriel Dominguez at IHS Jane's Defence Weekly (03 October 2017)
[xxvi] This study reveals the latest mutation of the social psychology of radicalization, the "refugee jihad," Body of victim, body of warrior : refugee families and the making of Kashmiri jihadists Cabeiri deBergh Robinson. (University of California Press, 2013) The jihad-as-body-protection phenomenon that Robinson describes as transforming Kashmir society from the ground up is similar to the Taliban's transformation of the traditional Afghan honor-compelled warrior into a disgust-avoidant sociopath obsessed with keeping "haram" bacteria infecting the orifices of his soul. "In thy orisons, be all my orifices remembered," should be the Taliban fighter's motto.
[xxvii] Emails with Jeffery Bordin confirmed my own first-hand experience of lethal cultural incompatibility between ANA and ISAF troops at FOB Fenty and elsewhere in Afghanistan.
[xxviii] Whose army: Afghanistan's shrinking army, war criminals, private militias and the future of civil war by Jalalziai Musa Khan (Algora Publishing, 2014).
[xxix] Even an analysis as generally informative as Mark Weiner's The Rule of the Clan: What an Ancient Form of Social Organization Reveals About the Future of Individual (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011) lacks any serious analysis of how the bio-cognitive motivators of clan honor-shame dynamics become economic, political, and jurisprudential mechanisms that stabilize honor-shame societies like Afghanistan.
[xxx] For a notable exception, see Michael Sandal Justice
[xxxi] Most of Michael Sandel's Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do? (Macmillan, 2010) is reliably informative. But he's utterly ignorant about the true nature of the Taliban their sense of justice.
[xxxii] Dave Phillips.
[xxxiii] This article is required reading on the subject, Sznycer, D., Tooby, J., Cosmides, L., Porat, R., Shalvi, S., & Halperin, E. (2016). Shame Closely Tracks the Threat of Devaluation by Others, Even Across Cultures. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(10), 2625–2630.
[xxxiv] See the collected scholarship of the anthropologist of tribal conflict, Napoleon Chagnon, in particular Noble Savages: My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes - the Yanomamo and the Anthropologists (Simon & Scheuster, 2014).
[xxxv] See Afghanistan's Development: An Instability Driver? at Tribal Analysis Center here: http://www.tribalanalysiscenter.com/Research-Completed.html
[xxxvi] For a saddening exposé of the dysfunction of the ANA today, see the 2015 documentary, Tell Spring Not to Come This Year.
[xxxvii] For exceptionally useful tool for understanding how the Taliban began to gain access to and exploit the warrior-compulsions of young Afghans, see Poetry of the Taliban edited by Alex Stick Van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn (Hurst & Company, 2012.)
[xxxviii] The current Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, well understands both the legacy of warriorism in Afghanistan and the consequences to that legacy of the Talibanization of Afghan society, see his 1993 study, Warrior Race: A Journey Through the Land of the Tribal Pathans.
[xxxix] For the best blueprint of those practices, see Major Jim Gant's One Village at a Time