Ghosts of Alexander is a new blog focused on COIN in Afghanistan from an anthropological angle. Early posts suggest it will be worth keeping an eye on, particularly following the demise of Afghanistanica.
The most recent post examines the nature of local power structures in Afghanistan, highlighting the complex challenge these fluid entities pose to foreign military and civilian personnel operating in the country. Particular attention is paid to the difficulty of avoiding inadvertently influencing the often fragile ‘balance of power’ that exists between these multiple local networks, and between them and the central government.
So how to interact with these local authority figures and power/survival structures? Are NGO workers and soldiers to act as an agent of the central government, extending its authority to a more local level? Or are they to give more weight to the needs of locals? Or of local authority figures? And is there a way to conduct oneself that can be acceptable to both the central government, local communities and local authority figures? And how does one reconcile those with the goals and needs of the foreign military and international aid community? How do you avoid pushing the losers of local power struggles onto the insurgents’ side?
Also, for those without the time to read Barnett Rubin’s authoritative but weighty sociological study, The Fragmentation of Afghanistan, there is also a useful overview of the concept of qawm – a form of identity grouping key to understanding social dynamics in Afghanistan.