The idea of arming people in Afghanistan to counter the problems stemming from having armed the people of the country for so long is quite worrisome, and to run the point home yet another time, I'll reflect here, in a two-part mini-series, on that most cynical way of putting this that one hears sometimes with regards to what happened in Iraq. Empowerment? Some will say the Sunni tribes were empowered in Iraq.
This first, brief post here offers an excerpt of Antonio Giustozzi's 2007 book (Koran, Kalashnikov and Laptop: The Neo-Taliban Insurgency in Afghanistan), to show the potentially rather chaotic consequences of such empowerment. Other examples could be made, other narratives presented, but let this one suffice for this basic post. (The next one will focus on what "empowerment" could mean if interpreted in a more sophisticated way.)
Quote from Giustozzi's pp. 67-69. (OMG, I'll have to type it in...)
"Soon Amanullah Khan, a strongman from (Shindand), emerged to unify, in part, tribal opposition (to Ismail Khan in Herat). Throughout 2002-4 Amanullah Khan survived all attempts by Ismail Khan to overcome him and even launched occasional counterattacks. His mere ability to survive politically and militarily turned out to be a winning card. He began to attract the support of disgruntled Pashtuns throughout the province and beyond. Hundreds of Pashtuns from Ghuryan and other districts joined his ranks. In Farah a former Taliban commander, Mullah Sultan, supported him. At the decisive moment he succeeded in mobilising support from as far afield as the southern provinces, obtaining the help of Gul Agha Shirzai and other strongmen, who sent hundreds of volunteers to fight in his ranks as well as money and weapons. By the summer of 2004 he was able to field a force of a few thousand motivated fighters, many of whom had suffered at the hands of Ismail Khan's men. With some support from Kabul, at least according to Ismail Khan, Amanullah Khan emerged as the leading player in an offensive organised with other disgruntled strongmen and warlords of the region, which in the summer of 2004 weakened Ismail Khan sufficiently for the central government to sack him from the position of governor of Herat. Following Ismail Khan's removal, tension and incidents continued in the region, as the anti-Ismail alliance proved unable to control the situation. The fact that there were no active remnants of the Taliban in the province until 2005 slowed the attempts of the insurgents to exploit the situation, but in that year the first reports of Taliban infiltration emerged with the capture of some emissaries in Herat city. Soon a terrorist campaign started in and around Herat. During 2006 the first manifestations of guerrilla activity emerged in Adraskan and Gulran districts, both populated by the most disenfranchised Pashtun communities. The alliance with Kabul of Amanullah Khan might have contributed to prevent the Taliban from infiltrating the countryside more effectively, but the killing of Amanullah in a tribal conflict in October 2006 removed the last barrier to Taliban penetration and the deteriorating security situation in the district forced the police to deploy new security posts there. Open warfare reached Shindand in April 2007, when following the killing of an American soldier a major operation was mounted, leading to the killing of over a hundred Afghans, including many civilians. Judging from the subsequent wave of protest, it would appear that local opinion was turned decisively against the foreign troops as a result of the violence."
I hope this one excerpt does it as a suitable analogy. In this particular plot, Ismail Khan was something like the insurgent/challenger and Amanullah Khan the "empowered" (already strong man) supported by the centre and allies of the centre such as Gul Agha Shirzai in Kandahar. AK got guns and men, and he was successful. Then he was killed and his coalition submerged in infighting. With his killing, political power fragmented to a level where it can only be micro-managed now, and not entirely satisfyingly. And let's not forget that the Taliban took gains. Look at this as a scenario of the possible.