An Afghan Awakening?

| Thu Jan. 28, 2010 10:17 AM PST

Dexter Filkins reports the beginnings of an effort to replicate the success of the Iraq's Sunni Awakening in Afghanistan:

The leaders of one of the largest Pashtun tribes in a Taliban stronghold said Wednesday that they had agreed to support the American-backed government, battle insurgents and burn down the home of any Afghan who harbored Taliban guerrillas.

....In exchange for their support, American commanders agreed to channel $1 million in development projects directly to the tribal leaders and bypass the local Afghan government, which is widely seen as corrupt....The pact appears to be the first in which an entire Pashtun tribe has declared war on Taliban insurgents.

But Filkins also warns that things could fall apart pretty easily:

But the agreement, though promising, is fragile at best. Afghan loyalties are historically fluid, and in the past the government has been unable to prevent Taliban retaliation. The agreement may also be hard to replicate, since it arose from a specific local dispute and economic tensions with the Taliban.

While the Shinwaris are now united against the Taliban, if payments from the Americans falter or animosities flare with the Afghan government, the tribe could switch back just as quickly.

Moreover, it is not clear that the elders, whatever their intentions, will be able to command the loyalties of their own members. After 30 years of incessant warfare, many of the traditional societal networks in this country have been weakened or destroyed.

The main reason the Sunni Awakening succeeded was because al-Qaeda in Iraq had become so oppressive that Sunni tribal leaders were finally willing to accept any means of fighting back against them, even if that involved American help. The Taliban hasn't yet gotten to that point throughout Afghanistan, only in a few specific areas, which makes a broader Afghan version of this strategy pretty difficult to implement. But at least this is a start.

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