Well, that didn’t take long. General David Petraeus has run up against the same resistance that everyone, excluding, perhaps, Stanley McChrystal, has faced in dealing with Hamid Karzai–and over the same issue: local militias. Karzai doesn’t like them, for good reason: Funding “local militias” is a nice way of saying “funding local tribal leaders” which is a nice way of saying, “funding warlords.” It is also a way of saying: We don’t have much faith in the Afghan National Army or police, so we’re going to try this from the bottom up.
Karzai’s worry is (a) that his power will be diminished and (b)that we’re going to fund tribes he doesn’t like, leading to (c) multiple, competing power bases in crucial areas like Kandahar Province. But Petraeus, and McChrystal before him, recognize this fact: there aren’t many Pashtuns in the Afghan National Army. It’s 90% non-Pashtun. The best way to get the Pashtuns to defend themselves against the Taliban is by doing it from the bottom up. That’s the theory, at least. The problem with that theory is that we don’t know enough to understand which tribes to fund–and which will use the money to arm themselves for illegal activities (often in loose alliance with the Taliban).
This was an easier proposition in Iraq, where the tribes decided to turn against the outside troublemakers–which I’ll loosely call Al Qaeda in Iraq, for the sake of brevity. But AQI was led by foreign fighters; the Taliban are indigenous.
In any case, the Petraeus-Karzai relationship is now front and center. We’ll see how it develops.