Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Afghanistan: Part III - The People


Afghani society is complex, and it is important to note it does not resemble those societies akin to North America; one major difference is their stratification of society.

Two Thirds of it's people are part of a tribal system that draws ordering lines over a large part of the society and defines boundaries within ethnic units (Source: p. 385 War and Boundaries in Afghanistan: Significance and Relativity of Local and Social Boundaries, by Bernt Glatzer). The largest tribal society in the region is the Pashtun tribe; each pashtun believes they are related to each other, perhaps distantly, but nonetheless they believe they belong to a huge kinship (Source: Glatzer, 386).

To strengthen the fact that the Afghanistan borders do not play any role in defining who Afghans are, not to mention the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan; it is interesting to note that a "people," an "ethnic group" and a "tribe" are all referred to using the same Pashtu word, "qaum" (Source: Glatzer, 386). In contrast to Canadians for example, who take extreme consideration of their borders, "from Sea to Sea," and British Columbia's flag's white and blue (symbolizing BC's natural borders) are a few reminders of that.

Most tribes in Afghanistan are not political entities, yet their tribal system has served as a road-map for political alliances. as they were convienent (Source: Glatzer, 386). In the next post I will delve deeper into the political structure of Afghanistan, illustrating that having a tribal system makes it difficult for a cohesive government, let a lone a stable one.

Returning to the point of tribes, in particular the Pashtun tribe, as it is of special interest as it affects NATO forces, within the tribe there is a bond that is uncommon at least institutionally to westerners.

Pashtuns use their tribal order to demarcate lines of conflict and solidarity. If I see two men fighting I am expected to side with the one who is "closer" to me, i.e. the one with whom I share the nearest common patrilineal ancestor. (Source: Glatzer, 388)

Now in Afghanistan, each region has differences in how the tribes recognize themselves. In the East, the Pashtuns have a much stronger tribal structure then the more western tribes; besides recognizing the ethnic and tribal identity, they go a step further and utilize a local identity that even trumps all others.

This foremost local identity contributes to a closer tie to place; indeed "the eastern Pashtun tribes and clans are clearly related to a place and also to a space, e.g. to a valley, even if a large number of the tribal members live elsewhere and may never have seen that place," (Source: Glatzer, 391). This is important because NATO is currently participating in battles in the eastern regions of Afghanistan; because of the Pashtuns undeniable and inherent link to their place, even if they are not from there, NATO faces a bigger and underestimated threat then they are currently involved with.

In more simpler terms, NATO is engaged in a fight against fighters in eastern Afghanistan, but in fighting against the Pashtuns, other Pashtuns are not only motivated to get involved because other members of their tribe are involved, but because NATO is fighting in their land which is inherently linked to who they are.

This obligation to their land to defend against or to attack NATO is strengthed in "the explicit Pashtun code of honour (pushtunwali),[as] one of the central terms is namus, the defence of which is the holy duty of a Pashtun; This namus encompasses both the female membership of the clan or tribe and the territory on which the clan or tribe live," (Source: Glatzer, 391)

Thus far I hope to have shown that the Afghans NATO is fighting extend beyond Afghanistan's borders; that the Pashtuns, including those in Pakistan are linked to each other and their shared homeland, and have a duty to protect both; therefore on these points I hope it is clear that NATO is in a situation where they can not win, unless as I mentioned in a previous post they were to extend beyond Afghanistan's borders into Pakistan but that would be an international impossibility.

I will go on in the next post to describe the political impact of the tribal structure.

(To Be Continued)

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