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

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Arbakai

There is an excellent article by Tom Coghlan at BBC News about the Ahmadzai arbakai in Ahmadabad district of Paktia province. The arbakai in question are officially a part of the Afghan National Auxilliary Police (set up in 2006 by Karzai, because of the lagging build-up of the ANP, as well as to introduce some additional proxy forces to the southern theatre). They are a tribal militia basically, but not an ordinary standing militia. Being a part of the arbakai is an ancient institution. Sub-tribes or clans provide a tribal law (Pashtunwali) enforcement/guard element for a given period on a rotational basis, and in case there is a threat to be countered by uniting forces, they can call on the rest of the armed men of the tribe who will gather together in a short amount of time (ideally in only minutes) by the sound of battle drums used to send a call to arms.
The threat could be the Taliban coming, for instance. The Ahmadzai arbakai claim they are battle-ready for that contingency.
What could be a downside to this? This is community policing after all, some say, which even a modernist state-building project could tolerate within certain limits, couldn't it? But well, that's the problem. The limits. The Taliban may be coming with 107 mm rockets and mortars. To hold your lines against them you need a lot of weapons. Not just batons and rubber bullets. So your community police force has to have some war-fighting capability. And so does the neighbouring tribe's arbakai force. To make a guess as to what could follow from that, just go and read some Realist work from IR Theory. Look for the keyword "security dilemma" specifically. (Of course one should point out that divisible goods other than security may create incompatibilities of interests, too, like informal trade of whatever kind going on in tribes' areas, just for example...)
Anyway, the institution of the arbakai is something that "operates in only a few provinces of the east," as Tom Coghlan's article reveals right at the beginning. So it might seem like stretching it a little when PM Gordon Brown says:
" "One way forward is to increase our support for community defence initiatives, where local volunteers are recruited to defend homes and families modelled on traditional Afghan 'arbakai'," he said. "
So the arbakai, currently operating in a few places in the east, is so "Afghan" and "traditional" (the two words are synonyms, right?), that tomorrow even the Uzbeks, the Hazaras and the Tajiks should have such arbakai organised, I guess. Ok, I apologise for the exaggeration but it's a case of rhetorics against rhetorics, so fair enough, isn't it?
Moreover, the ever necessary final question here is of course how this all is supposed to fit into a state-building project's sequence of steps. Perhaps it doesn't, perhaps it shouldn't (opinions will differ on that), but then let's talk about this openly.
To finish on a lighter note, here's a happy arbakai member for illustration, from Ghazni province (2005) - about the only useful photo a Google image search got me:

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