Afghanistan Through Time: Tribes, Trials, and Tribulations

An overview of the situation in Afghanistan and its neighboring tribal regions.

Background

Afghanistan is a predominantly Pashtun and Tajik central Asian country that has hosted many critical geopolitical sagas. The country has been historically plagued with scarce resources, tribal rule, landlocked borders, and a significant lack of infrastructure as a result of its location and impoverished fiscal situation.

Its economy is currently ill suited for the globalized marketplace and is also dominated by illegal opium trade and black market money.

Throughout its history, Afghanistan country has endured the rule of corrupt monarchs, the rise of the Taliban, and the tumultuous periods of dominance by the militaries of foreign nations.

All three recent attempts to pacify the country: by British in the late 1800s, the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and the United States in recent times, have been unsuccessful and exhausted the economic and military capital of each respective country. In the pattern of past foreign armies, the Russians and British have paid the consequences of failed regional intervention, and the US is not in an enviable position with its current involvement in Afghanistan. Given such a history, Afghanistan has been dubbed "the graveyard of empires”.

Primary factors that have added to the country’s instability include the same factors that have made it a battleground throughout modern history and more recently in the counter terrorism arena. These include the country’s tribal heritage, the opium trade, the strong influence of the Taliban, the unforgiving terrain, the influx ofterroristcells, and the country’s proximity to a meddling Pakistan.

Even after more than a decade of conflictand the nation-building process by a US-led NATO coalition, Afghanistan and its government remain corrupt, fragmented, violent, and filled with insurgents. As the US begins a slow drawdown, Waziristan, a tribal region of Pakistan, continues to be a source of Haqqani, Taliban, and other insurgent activity funneling into Afghanistan.

Why is Afghanistan and its surroundings relevant?

In light of Afghanistan’s tumultuous present, its tribal society, and the country's porous borders, it remains to be seen whether recent political and security gains will advance or even hold steady as NATO troops withdraw from the country.

Pakistan remains a crucial key to stability in the region, particularly since the Taliban’s activity seems to be rising despite military efforts to the contrary. However, the unstable nature of Pakistan’s government and intelligence agencies have hindered the progress on the counter-insurgency front and have deepened the divide between the US outlook and the confidence of Afghanis.

In light of the declining fiscal situation in Afghanistan, a debate wages over whether salvaging Afghanistan is worth it. On the one hand, many tout the importance of preventing a failed state that could further incubate extremism, human rights abuses, and regional instability. Perhaps the starkest danger is the potential that a chaotic Afghanistan may facilitate proliferation of Pakistani nuclear weapons to unseemly groups. On the other hand, realist thinkers see no geostrategic value threat in such a weakened state, and thus no significant cost in leaving it be. In the end, there is also American prestige and the all-important perception of US power that may wane with an unsuccessful withdrawal.

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