Asia Times Online reports an insurrection is brewing in Afghanistan, one that could leave Western forces stuck in the midst of a full-blown civil war beyond our control. This time it won't be the Pashtun Taliban in rebellion against Kabul but another rebellion by the northern tribes.
The ongoing insurgency in the Pashtun regions of Afghanistan rightly commands attention, but it obscures a critical second conflict in the country. Long-standing antagonism between the non-Pashtun peoples of the north and the Pashtun people of the south are heading toward fissure. Paradoxically, settlement of the insurgency, through negotiation or force of arms, could exacerbate this divide.
...The center of the demographic dispute is the size of the Pashtun peoples of the south and east, who, on only sparing evidence, purport to be about 52% to 55% of the population and have so claimed since the 19th century.
Other groups, however, disagree. They insist that the Pashtun are perhaps slightly more than 40% of the population, while disinterested assessments say Northerners constitute 45% to 50% of the population. The dispute is not merely a matter for demographers or even for the issue of moneys doled out from Kabul. It now centers on who will preside over Afghanistan - and indeed if there will be an Afghanistan as presently constituted.
For a century or more the question of Pashtun majority could sit on the back-burner as most Afghans had far more interest in local government than in events in faraway Kabul where figures reigned but dared not rule. But decades of war and inept or intolerable central governments have brought the matter to the fore.
Over the past nine years, however, northerners have seen their politicians pushed out of key ministries, especially the Ministry of Defense, which was once administered by the Tajik leader Mohammed Fahim. That portfolio is now in the hands of Abdul Wardak, a Pashtun who has used his office to reassert his people's predominance in key military commands and simultaneously vitiated the militias of northern warlords. Northerners have been reduced to the rank-and-file of the Afghan National Army and ceremonial positions such as the country's two vice presidencies.
Outsiders have criticized the presidential and parliamentary elections as fraudulent. Karzai is widely believed to have interfered with local polling stations and given himself and his supporters wide victory margins. Northerners certainly agree but insist that outsiders miss an important aspect of Karzai's fraudulence. He not only inflated the national support for himself and his supporters, he also suppressed evidence of non-Pashtun voters and their support for Tajik, Uzbek, and other peoples' candidates. Pashtun politicians counter by insisting that it is the northerners who are tampering with the ballot box to overstate their numbers.
It should have been obvious to anyone, and particularly to our political and military leadership, that since Western forces went into Afghanistan beginning in 2001, we were merely babysitting an unresolved civil war. We virtually guaranteed this civil war would eventually reconstitute when we decided, out of expedience, to perpetuate, even embrace, the dual scourges of warlordism and tribalism. No modern, viable Muslim state has ever arisen without first overcoming both warlordism and tribalism. By ignoring that reality, we reduced our war in Afghanistan to merely banging away on Afghans for no lasting good.
The time we could have done some good for the Afghan people is long past. It expired while those goddamned fools Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld failed Afghanistan in their blind rush to conquer Iraq.
All the King's Horses and all the King's Men...