CLC’s Good, Arbakai Bad

Workin’ with indigs is a trip.  Always has been.  I’ve had that opportunity.  Some times it is really a National Geographic moment to treasure for the rest of your life.    Some times it is pretty disgusting.  Good times and bad, how Americans deal with the locals is pretty important.  It’s their country after all.  How our Allies deal with the locals is important, too.   We’ve got one Ally who has dealt with these locals before, on both sides of the imaginary line they drew.   They wanted to recruit poachers to be game keepers.  The Lord of the Manor doesn’t trust former poachers.  He rarely leaves the house and doesn’t go hunting anymore, but he wants Uncle Sugar to train him up some DNR Game Wardens to preserve his sport.  Uncle’s man on the scene is down with that.  So we are going to keep trying to teach 21st Century law enforcement techniques to Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, etc., inculcate them with a sense of loyalty to Karzai and Kabul, and send them forth to bring Pashtun miscreants to justice.  They are all Afghans there,  they all want what is best for the country as a whole, they are all pure as the driven snow and they just need to be empowered with more money, equipment and training.

 At times of danger, beating the drum brings hundreds of armed local men running from their homes – an instant army to protect the area.

It is the basis for a traditional system of village militias, known as the “arbakai”, that operates in only a few provinces of the east.

With Afghanistan’s fledgling national police deeply unpopular and insufficient in number to impose control in many areas of the country, Western diplomats and commanders have been exploring what they term “Afghan solutions” to counter rising Taleban violence.

Britain Sees Role for Afghan Tribes — Militias Would Help Fight
Taliban, but U.S. Reaction Is Split
  January 10, 2008

British military commanders in Afghanistan are pushing for the creation of armed tribal militias to aid in the fight against the Taliban, underscoring Western concern about deteriorating security in the country.

The British proposal takes a page from the U.S. military playbook in Iraq, where American forces persuaded many Sunni Arab tribes to join the fight against religious-extremist groups, including al Qaeda.

US general rejects UK militia plans, January 15, 2008

Cone, who is in charge of rebuilding the Afghan police force, is the second US commander to condemn the initiative. He said: “Anything that detracts from a professional, well-trained, well-led police force is not the answer.” Last month, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Britain would increase its support for “community defence initiatives, where local volunteers are recruited to defend homes and families modelled on traditional Afghan arbakai”. The arbakai system involves arming untrained men, who agree to come running at the beating of a drum if their village elders feel threatened.

ANALYSIS-Rifts widen on U.S.-British Afghanistan tactics Jan 16, 2008

The dispute has focused on Britain’s proposal to use untrained neighbourhood defence teams — known as ‘arbakai’ — to help improve security in the volatile south were it operates.In unusually frank and public criticism, U.S. officials and military commanders have said the idea will not work, could fuel fighting and that Britain doesn’t understand counter-insurgency.

Afghanistan’s tribal complexity –In the dark –Far more than two sides to the conflict, Jan 31st 2008

 And that means understanding Pushtun tribal culture. There are some 60 Pushtun tribes and 400 sub-tribes, many at odds with each other. Since the 18th century, supremacy has been held almost continuously by the Durrani tribal federation. The NATO invasion of 2001, toppling the Taliban, enabled the three main Durrani tribes, the Popolzai (the tribe of President Karzai), the Barakzai and the Alikozai (Dad Mohammad’s group), to reclaim their dominance. That angered both non-Durranis and some smaller Durrani tribes.

For their part, the Taliban have always held themselves above tribal politics. Indeed, they regard tribal custom as a deviation from sharia law. But where individual tribes feel badly treated, the Taliban are willing allies. Intriguingly, provinces where tribal structures are strongest, such as Paktia, Paktika and Khost, have proved most resistant to Taliban encroachment.

NATO commanders are now studying these areas hard. In Loya Paktia, as the region is known, the Taliban have struggled to gain ground against the ancient code of tribal behaviour known as Pushtunwali (literally, “do Pushtun”). It governs hospitality, honour and revenge. It has self-regulating systems of arbakai, tribal elders and arbitration. Loya Paktia remains startlingly egalitarian and determinedly suspicious of outsiders. Yet, tempting as it is to see such structures as the answer to the Taliban, Pushtunwali is also hostile to the central government and to Western ideals, particularly of education and sex equality. Feuds in Loya Paktia are still often settled by the exchange of women.

The above link is worth reading if you want to know how complicated Pashtunistan is.

Afghans claims UK planned to train ex-Taliban,  05/02/2008

The Afghan authorities denied any knowledge of the scheme to rehabilitate gunmen who defect from the Taliban in Helmand province. Officials claimed this was another example of Britain undermining President Hamid Karzai’s authority.

Allies warned over Afghan deals, 3 hours ago

“President Karzai lacks the authority to govern in all areas,” he said. “He has sought an accommodation with moderate Taliban as recognition of the fact that they have some political constituency. But he has been frustrated by other ‘deals’ brokered by international allies.”

All very complicated and very messy. Looks to me like the Brits are trying to turn some of the hostile Helmandians like the US Marines turned the hostile Anbarians. Maliki bitched about that and the Marines ignored him and Anbar is a great success. Karzai bitches and the Americans piss all over themselves to placate him and Helmand is a mess. “We”, meaning NATO/ISAF/OEF, could use some KATUSA-style indig augmentees to our boots on the ground. Turned Taliban are better employed than left unsupervised.

UPDATE:  Read  Employment of tribal securityCOIN and Irregular Warfare in a Tribal Society, pp. 64-67.


Filed under IW, The Forgotten War

8 responses to “CLC’s Good, Arbakai Bad

  1. Hello,
    I’ve just left a comment in response to yours over at MStFB.
    I basically agree with your conclusion, “turned Taliban are better employed than left unsupervised.”
    The thing that bothers me, is that this is only a second-best solution of course. Plus there are risks that come with it. But one can’t keep on calling for more NATO troops to hold ground endlessly.
    Regarding the “arbakai” – I wouldn’t take the use of that word too seriously. That only serves to put the stamp of tradition on this move, in a false way.

  2. I had never heard the term arbakai until the British Prime Minister used it. The traditional arbakai were like marshals who enforced the writ of the jirga. This may have worked well back before the Russians came, but 28 years of war have disrupted tribal life and there aren’t too many functioning traditional tribal maliks and khans and jirgas for the arbakai to work for.

    The Pashtun tribes on the Pak side have Khasadar Force, even more irregular than Frontier Corps.
    Don’t know if any of the tribes and clans in Helmand are ready for Awakening though.

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