Written prior to 9/11, the article outlines four of the main reasons why Afghanistan was struggling as a nation and how a door was opened for the Taliban to exert control. The following is an executive summary of the article....
The emergence of a strong state following the Afghan-Soviet conflict has been quite difficult which has prevented rebuilding a strong nation in Afghanistan. The four main factors are:
- Population is characterized by deep cleavages
- Religious framework based on many different interpretations of Islam with local customs
- Social system is based more on local loyalties
- Rugged topographical features
Afghanistan became formally independent from British control in 1919, after that it has rarely been fully unified. It has been a collection of disparate groups divided by ethnic, linguistic, religious and racial lines. There are 25 distinct ethnic groups in Afghanistan, these are broken up into 5 major groups. Pashtuns are the largest at 45% of the population, Tajiks who are 25% of the population, Uzbeks are 10%, Hazara are 10%, and Aimaq who are 10%. None of these groups is entirely indigenous and overlap across borders of neighboring countries. The most significant of these is the Pashtuns which has significant overlap into Pakistan.
Afghanistan has had a high propensity for violence between the various ethnic groups and seems to unite only when there is an outside threat. After external threats are gone they tend to rapidly return to their regular patterns of warfare.
Afghans have a complex and often contradictory attitude toward their sources of religious authority. The primary religious figure is typically the village mullah (preacher). Local authority is typically exerted by the local Khan (landowner) and/or Maliks (village headmen). The core of the social system is the local communal group, known as a qawm which is typically governed by the Shura or Jirga which is a council of elder males.
Afghanistan has some of the world’s most forbidding terrain including the Kush mountains and the High Pamirs which average 15,000-20,000 feet high with some peaks as high as 24,615 feet. Many remote valleys exist that are virually inaccessible to the outside world, there is no railroad and only one major road.
These combined factors have undermined state building throughout Afghanistan. Despite this Kabul had been able to extend some governing power over most of the territory until the war with the Soviets eliminated or damaged nearly all government institutions. Following the war, the only country wide faction has been the emergence and empowerment of the Taliban. Their emergence has included some unsavory elements including ethnic cleansing of northern minority groups and a harsh social policy toward females.
In conclusion, Afghanistan is a fractured society with individual loyalties focused on small local tribes and clans.