What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The issue of the (Ghilzai Pashtun) Baluchi valley

Just a brief post this mourning before I have to head off for work today. Here's a detail of a page from a presentation on Uruzgan given by Dutch officers at the US Atlantic Council (ACUS) last year. It makes it fairly easy to understand at least some of the tribal background to the conflict between ISAF and the Taliban specifically in the area of the Baluchi valley (shedding light on other, less visible conflicts), very relevant in light of the recently commenced Operation Spin Ghar.
So while the people of Tarin Kowt belong mostly to the Populzai, Barakzai and other tribes, and so to a clearly Durrani Pashtun majority, in the two strategically important valleys that provide approaches towards the town from the east and from the north, you have a lot of Ghilzai Pashtuns living (belonging to tribes like the Khotak, the Tokhi or the Kakar). And the Taliban, while it clearly was a movement that aimed to transcend all tribal conflicts, had many of its leaders from among the ranks of the Ghilzai Pashtun, even more specifically from among the Khotak tribe. But while that is the case, it is important to see that this doesn't mean that these areas automatically are hostile to the Kabul government or ISAF. ISAF does have some useful influence in the areas to the north of Tarin Kowt, among the Tokhi tribesmen living there, through some of their leaders.
In the Baluchi valley and in areas near it that sort of influence is largely missing. The Dutch FOB Poentjak is already in rather risky territory, near Surkh Murghab, on the "Jordanian side" of the river that runs through the valley (I mean, just joking, I'm referring here to the so-called East Bank area [see this map]). At the other end of the "tunnel," however, you again find friendlies predominantly, again Durrani Pashtuns, living in the area of Chora.
So you may have an idea what it means that in June the Taliban converged on the surroundings of Chora, to mount an attack on the area. An attack it had to be indeed. The locals defended their villages. For them it wasn't a question of sympathising with the Taliban or not. For them it was the opposing side in a group conflict approaching their homes, threatening their families. And the prospect of being run over hasn't exactly meant for them just the minor stake of whether they'd have to serve nan bread to some new guests the next evening (rather that of whether they'd make it till the next evening). The Taliban's violence, on the other hand, can be explained by the fact that the Baluchi valley is part of their main supply route. The Chora area for them is a strategic obstacle, over which they must have some bitter feelings, one can safely conclude.
So for the Netherlands to give up Chora would have been both assisting in bringing about a humanitarian disaster and a strategic mistake at the same time, the latter affecting the situation not just in Uruzgan, but in the neighbouring provinces as well. Read this article from the Australian press with that in mind, and reflect on it while reflecting on all the recently voiced criticism regarding what happened in June there, on which I'll still post more details of course.

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