Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Published by Foreign Policy/Afpak Channel ( A special project of Foreign Policy and the New American Foundation) on July 14, 2010
Despite only having recently taken over the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus has already come into conflict with Afghan President Hamid Karzai over the U.S. military program to equip and train local militias against the Taliban. While Karzai objects to the plan as possibly building "private militias" according to the Washington Post, the argument hints at Karzai's long-standing opposition to strengthening local institutions at the expense of the central government, despite consistent U.S. pressure to improve local governance. But despite these objections, increased support for provincial and local government is necessary if the United States wants to bring stability to Afghanistan.
For the last three decades, Afghans have not had a government that has enabled them to live conflict-free, and therefore have become accustomed to siding with anyone -- the Taliban, international forces, local warlords -- with whom they find temporary support. That support includes protection from other criminal gangs or quick services like dispute resolution mechanisms. In my January trip to one of the most far-flung districts of Wardak province, I met a family who travelled for three days around Ghazni to find one of the Taliban commanders from their area, looking for a resolution of an ongoing land dispute between two families. In half a day the commander was able to resolve a dispute that had lasted years, and the ‘winning' family was able to grow crops on their fields again.