Shadow Government

A front-row seat to the Republicans' debate over foreign policy, including their critique of the Biden administration.

The Pashtun sources of democracy

By Christian Brose  Further to my post on democracy and Afghanistan, a Shadow Government loyalist writes in with some learned and interesting observations: The invocation of "ancient tribal customs" as an obstacle to a democratic political order in Afghanistan is similarly a red herring — and a particularly misinformed one at that. Yes, there is the concept ...

By Christian Brose 

Further to my post on democracy and Afghanistan, a Shadow Government loyalist writes in with some learned and interesting observations:

The invocation of "ancient tribal customs" as an obstacle to a democratic political order in Afghanistan is similarly a red herring -- and a particularly misinformed one at that. Yes, there is the concept of the "khan" in Turkic culture. But among the Pashtuns, the notion that every man is created equal is very deeply held. Indeed, this is a core concept of Pashtunwali and the entire reason for the Jirga system, whereby just about decision requires the participation of all members of society coming together on an equal basis to hash things out. In fact, this is how the first ruler of Afghanistan was chosen in 1747 -- not because he conquered or subjugated his fellow Pashtuns, but because they elected him through an assembly of tribal leaders in Kandahar.

By Christian Brose 

Further to my post on democracy and Afghanistan, a Shadow Government loyalist writes in with some learned and interesting observations:

The invocation of "ancient tribal customs" as an obstacle to a democratic political order in Afghanistan is similarly a red herring — and a particularly misinformed one at that. Yes, there is the concept of the "khan" in Turkic culture. But among the Pashtuns, the notion that every man is created equal is very deeply held. Indeed, this is a core concept of Pashtunwali and the entire reason for the Jirga system, whereby just about decision requires the participation of all members of society coming together on an equal basis to hash things out. In fact, this is how the first ruler of Afghanistan was chosen in 1747 — not because he conquered or subjugated his fellow Pashtuns, but because they elected him through an assembly of tribal leaders in Kandahar.

Now, this may not be Jeffersonian democracy. But the notion that the solution to our problems in Afghanistan is a good strongman is not only, as you point out, utterly contradicted by polling data of what contemporary Afghans say they want; it’s also completely at odds with the actual tribal customs of the people we’re trying to pacify.

Yes, what he said.

Also worth reading is Dave Kilcullen’s recent testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Dave does a far better job than I of explaining how our efforts in Afghanistan are inextricably linked and dependent on one another — U.S. national interests to counterterrorism to Afghan population security to a legitimate, accountable, and ultimately representative political order. Again, what he said.

Christian Brose is a senior editor at Foreign Policy. He served as chief speechwriter and policy advisor for U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice from 2005 to 2008, and as speechwriter for former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2004 to 2005.

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