Posted by: Editor | January 3, 2009

Playing with Fire: Arming the Southern Tribes Against ‘Taliban’

The Karzai administration has proposed arming the tribal people of the South to help combat the Taliban. Seen in this picture is Mullah Abdul Salam, a Helmand warlord installed by the British in Musa Qala last year to stabilize the region.

The Karzai administration has proposed arming the tribal people of the South to help combat the Taliban. Seen in this picture is Mullah Abdul Salam, a Helmand warlord installed by the British in Musa Qala last year to stabilize the region. Image courtesy of Times Online.

Some tribes of Southern and Eastern Afghanistan will be armed against the Taliban to help combat the increasingly brazen insurgency. This is the latest security plan, apparently proposed by the Government of Afghanistan and backed by the U.S., the U.K.  and the United Nations.

The plan is inspired by similar tactics used in Iraq, where the Americans armed and financed Sunni Arab groups to turn them against the insurgency. It succeeded in Iraq, and strategists think it will succeed here in Afghanistan. They maybe right at first glance; there are some similarities between Iraq of two years ago and Afghanistan of today. Like in Afghanistan, Iraq’s nascent government struggled for writ and support, its defense forces were often plagued by divisions, and many disenchanted Sunni Arabs had joined the insurgency.

But these comparisons are simplistic, perhaps in part inspired by the Western World’s lumping of Afghanistan with Iraq in the blurry ‘Middle East’ region, and viewing them as sharing a common ‘culture.’ The ground realities in Afghanistan are much different. Divisions here are not merely sectarian; rather, they are sectarian, ethnic as well as tribal. Arming one group to turn it against another would only exacerbate the situation.

And as much as the Karzai government would like everyone to believe, the insurgency is not entirely comprised of hit-and-run Pakistanis from across the border. The ‘Taliban’ in the South, the bastion of the insurgency, consists of the disenchanted Pashtoon tribal groups who feel left out.

Power in Afghanistan in the past couple of centuries has mainly stayed in the hands of the Durrani, one of the two main branches of the Pashtoons. The Ghilzais, the second branch, have had very little governing power. The same tribal division plays out in Afghanistan today: Some Durrani clans call most of the shots, while the Ghilzai clans in the South feel marginalized. These are the clans that were the actual Taliban, and the ones that today fuel the insurgency.

But the new plan aims to arm “local communities and tribes” to help them protect what they consider to be their “traditional homes.” If the local tribes means the Durrani clans, this can fuel further resentment with the current establishment among the Ghilzais. Conversely, the arms given to Ghilzai tribes may end up being used against the government, the international forces and civilians of the different ethnic group.


The new security plan may revert the gains of the DDR and DIAG, disarmament programs that used hundreds of millions of dollars. In this picture, a soldier stands on a pile of destroyed guns and artillery confiscated from warlords during the DDR in Mazar. Image copyright Hazaristan Times.

However, whether the Durranis are armed or the Ghilzais, these armed tribal militias will essentially be autonomous, not under control of any recognized authority. This takes Afghanistan back to the pre-DDR and DIAG days, where hundreds, even thousands, of armed militia groups roamed free outside government control. This new plan can reinvigorate warlordism, wasting the hundreds of millions of DDR and DIAG dollars that brought a great measure of stability, particularly in the North and northwest.

That stability may become history when the former Northern warlords see that not only there are no consequences for rearming, but that the government itself is arming their counterparts in the South. And since there’s only a delicate ethnic balance in many parts of the country, the potential rearming spree may actually leave Afghanistan in far worse condition than now.

Karzai must understand that his new security plan will result in the creation of homegrown militas, more loyal to the insurgency than the government. The international community must realize that Afghanistan is not Iraq. Together they must stop juggling with fire before it completely engulfs Afghanistan.



  1. In the name of bamiyan ……….
    fear of other ethnic groups of afghanistan is right ……but it seems more horrific and designed towards pakistan as war on terror is shifting on pakistani side and pakistani army has initiated an unnecessary fight with the so called taliban ….. these taliban were in this part of country from a long time but didn’t fueled any conspiracy there …the private militia as suggested will surely be used against pakistani nuclear installations and may be against china … the economic crisis showed us the strength of china ……
    Taliban are almost quite from some time ….and in presence of 30,000 more troops this militia seems demeaning where OSAMA bin Laden is not even talked about for whom this war was initiated else taliban has not theft the bicycle of america and never has thrown any boot towards George W bush ……pashtuns have realized that there is no future in north any more but in Gawadar and karachi which are in south …We as hazaras should be observing what is happening or going to happen and should make an interest stretigy instead of defance or compromise stretigy here the hazara population in Quetta can be benifited from …… We should focus on our progress than collecting any more arms becoz we have nothing to loose any more than a few dry mountains …….
    and a limited and weak economy as a nation ….
    this discussion can go on …..
    Ba amman e Bamiyan …..

  2. از یک طرف جمع آوری اصلحه مردم هزاره، ازبک و تاجیک و از طرف دیگر مصلح نمودن قبیلهء پشتون نشان دهنده یک سیاست تبعیض آور و نا خوشایند جامعهء جهانی در افغانستان می باشد.. آیا طالبان همین پشتون ها نیستند؟ چندین بار نیروهای امریکایی برای طالبان بطور مخفی اصلحه داده اند و اما حالا دیگر آن رویش برای مردم آشکار شده.. این برای به بهانهء دیگر طالبان را مصلح میکنید……
    دیده شود که چه میشود.. آخر کار

  3. Dear “Hazaristan Times” authors,

    My name is John Wilpers. I am the Global Blog Coordinator for GlobalPost, a new international news organization set to launch on Jan. 12 (see

    You may have received an e-mail from me or one of my interns last month, but I am so interested in getting your RSS feed onto GlobalPost that I thought I would risk being redundant with another letter.

    My job is to build a list of blogs that will appear on GlobalPost where we will have approximately 65 correspondents in some 46 countries. We are looking for enlightening, informative posts from bloggers writing (in English) in those countries.

    I am pleased to extend an invitation to you to have the most recent post of “Hazaristan Times” included on the Afghanistan page of as part of our “Global Blogs” service. (I have also posted this letter in the comments area of your blog to double the chances of reaching you before we launch next week. Please pardon my enthusiasm for getting your posts onto!)

    After reviewing thousands of blogs worldwide, we have found “Hazaristan Times” to be one that is thought provoking and gives readers your unique perspective on what life is really like in Afghanistan.

    The way it would work if you accept our invitation is that we would use your RSS feed to place your most recent post on your personal page on We would point back to your actual blog for comments and for archives, hopefully driving lots of traffic to your site. Each time you write a new post, it would replace the older one so only one post would appear on

    By appearing on Global Post’s exciting new international news website, your words, viewpoints, and pictures would gain worldwide exposure. Your posts would not only appear instantly on but also possibly on the sites of our partners, including the Huffington Post (7.8 million U.S. and 9.7 million global monthly unique visitors) and other news and information websites.

    You don’t need to do anything differently. We do request that you consider pointing back to us from your blog (we will send out logos shortly for your consideration).

    You should know that we have a few guidelines that we observe here at Global Post:

    1) We do not publish racist, sexist, or misogynist comments (unless those comments are the subject of the post).
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    John Wilpers

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  4. British gave the Murderous Name “Afghanistan” to the region, making Pashtuns enemy to all the rest and now they are again arming one factions of them! Knowing the fact that an ethnic group which lacks unity can be so dangerous at any time!!!!
    This time, we demand all shape givers to give a balanced shape to this Land. Respect the rest ethnic groups. And do good to Pashtuns. Today, due to Taliban, most of the regional ethnic groups dislike Pashtuns. The name Afghanistan is WRONF first of all. A British given name against Russia!!! World community must be very cautious next time. Wrong step has always wrong out comes. And Pashtuns, don’t forget, tomorrow is worst for you if you kept on getting used by the out siders. They created you, they will kill you. This is the fact. Or may be you(Pashtuns) would kill your creators ONE day. Or you both are destroyed!
    My request to Pashtuns: Don’t be so proud having the given name “Afghanistan”. If only you know the fact that we all are humans and capable, come down a bit.

    Best regards.

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