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Ad.-and Disadvantages Arbaki

[15.Mar.2018 - 14:26]

Advantages and Disadvantages of Supporting a Community Force

The History of the Arbaki System and Its Use in the Present Context of Afghanistan

White Paper 

By: Shahmahmood Miakhel 

“Over the centuries, trying to understand the Afghans and their country was turned into a fine art and a game of power politics by the Persians, the Mongols, the British, the Soviets and most recently the Pakistanis.  But no outsider has ever conquered them or claimed their soul.”  

 

“Playing chess by telegraph may succeed, but making war and planning a campaign on the Helmand from the cool shades of breezy Simla (in India) is an experiment which will not, I hope, be repeated”. 

 

Background of Arbaki and Conscription in Afghanistan:

 

Since the establishment of modern Afghanistan in 1747 by Ahmad Shah Durrani (Abdali) in Kandahar, tribes have played an important role in installing and in deposing different Afghan rulers. The tribes have also played an equally important role in establishing order in the country, especially in those areas where the reach of government in terms of security and governance was low or non-existent.   The tribe, or qawm, has had this dual role in Afghanistan. On the one hand, it has prevented the central government from promoting its modernist agenda; on the other hand, it has provided crucial “social capital” for the resilience of Afghan society to survive external shocks, such as war, drought and failed governance. 

 

At the same time, the egalitarianism and decentralization of tribes have impeded their ability to act in a coordinated fashion because of competition for resources and power.  One indigenous institution that has worked against this tendency is the arbaki system. Arbaki is only common in the Loya Paktia (Paktia, Khost and Paktika provinces) region; where it was used as a “police” force by tribal councils (jirga) to implement their decisions or to respond to specific threats against the community or tribe. Arbaki is more defensive force and not common in other part of Afghanistan. 

The Arbaki system is also called tsalweshti or tsalwekhti (Forty).  This refers to the rule that one man out of every forty in a tribe would be selected to serve on the Arbaki.  For example, if a village would have 200 men, it would introduce five people to serve as Arbakis.  The arbaki was also divided into forty person units that would have a leader called arbaki masher or Kiftan  (Arbaki leader). At the tribal level, each big tribe such as Zazi, Mangal, Sabari and Zadran would have one leader supervising the arbaki and, in situations of threat to the tribes as a whole, one person would be selected as overall Arbaki leader. In Loya Paktia, the last person who was selected as overall Arbaki leader was named Shari Mangal (شړی منگل). Shari Mangal is still alive and still refers to himself as the Arbaki leader of Loya Paktia, even though the structure is changed now. 

 

One important feature of the arbaki system is that members of the arbaki force were never paid by the government, and only their leaders were recognized by the local and central governments and would participate in the ceremonies of national observations or other important meetings in the region. Additionally, the leaders of Arbaki or other tribal leaders would be recognized by rulers in Kabul, who occasionally would give them some monetary rewards. 

 

In 1929, when King Nadir Khan took power through the support of Paktia tribes, to show his gratitude, he exempted Paktia tribes from conscription in the military and police forces.  Instead, to maintain law and order in Loya Paktia, if a need arose for tribal support, the tribes would provide support to the local or national governments through the Arbaki system. However, unlike the Mujahideen government of the early 1990s, which gave official positions to Mujahideen commanders even when they were illiterate and unqualified, King Nadir Khan didn't give official positions to tribal elders. Instead, the King gave honorary ranks to some tribal elders in Loya Paktia and would give them yearly stipends according to their ranks.  Such privileges continued until the end of King Zahir Shah’s reign (1933-1973), but people of Paktia continued to be exempted from conscription during the reign of President Daud Khan (1973-1978) as well. Under communist rule (1978-1992), due to the popular uprising then sweeping the country, the government was also not able to enforce conscription in Loya Paktia. People of Paktia would only get national ID cards voluntarily if they needed them for admission to school, to buy lands, to obtain passports, or for some other similar reason. Even though, exemption of Paktia people from conscription was considered a privilege in that time, in fact they were deprived of their civic sense and duty or esprit de corps. Also, they remained backward in term of education and other developments.

 

In other parts of Afghanistan, before regular conscription for military and police were enforced by the central government, each district would be conscripted on the basis of hasht nafari,  which meant that one person would be sent to the military for every eight men in a village. The people would have the choice of selecting which individuals would be sent as conscription soldiers, and the other seven persons who were not sent would have to pay some money to support his family during the period of his service with the military or police. This kind of conscription was divided by sections (wand), sub-tribe or qarya (village) in each district. The people from the districts, tribes or sections would pay for those individuals whom they wanted to send to serve in the army or police force. 

 

When regular conscription started in Afghanistan during the time of Prime Minister Hashim Khan (1933-1945), it became mandatory for all males who reached the age of 22 to spend two years in the military or police forces, but, as noted above, the people of Loya Paktia were exempted from this rule because of their support for King Nadir Khan when he took power. During the time of President Daud Khan (1973-1978), the period of conscription for those who had graduated from high school became one year, for those who had graduated from college, it became six months, and for others, the term of enlistment became two years.

 

It is worth mentioning that during the Soviet occupation (1979-1989) and through the time of communist rule (1978-1992), conscription was one of the factors that drove young people and their families to escape from Afghanistan and become refugees in Pakistan and Iran. Those people who didn't have the option of escape or who were loyal members of the communist party stayed in Afghanistan and served in the army or supporting regime. There were no other motives for ordinary Afghans to serve in the army and police or support the communist regime, especially given the high casualty rates. 

 

In 1980s, in response to the shrinking pool of eligible men and boys, the communist regime of Afghanistan tightened up the conscription laws in order to get the requisite number of recruits. The length of military service was increased from two to three years in 1981, and to four years in 1984. Military call-up age was lowered from 22 to 18. In Kabul, men could be recruited directly from schools and offices, where the government had records of their presence. In addition recruits were obtained by means of cordon-and-search operations and press-ganging, with all young men appearing to look to be the right age being taken by force.  In fact, some of the young men taken in this fashion were only 15 at the time of their “recruitment”. 

 

Faced with deterioration of the government military forces, between 1978 and 1992, the communist regimes responded by creating local militias, called Revolutionary Defense Committee (Komaita Defa az Inqilab), in different part of Afghanistan in order to fight against the Mujahideen. These militias were only answerable to their leaders and did not obey the laws. Most of them were involved in criminal and illegal activities. Dr. Khodaidad Basharmal, who was governor of eastern provinces in early 80s, talked about the creation of these militias in the eastern region and said, " When I was the first secretary of the PDPA (People Democratic Party of Afghanistan) in Jalal Abad in 1980, the then minister of tribes, Mr Faiz Mohammad, who was a very powerful member of the central committee of the PDPA and was from Paktia organized a militia group in the district of Goshta of Jalal Abad, Nangrahar. Mr Faiz Mohammad organized, one thousand (unit) of militia under the leadership of a popular tribal chief, Mr Raoof Khan. Mr Faiz Mohamamd stated to me at that time that this militia group will bring peace and security to Jalalabad. The militias were getting 2,000.00 Afghanis per person, which was roughly equivalent to $25.00 per month.

 

The militia group created insecurity for the province and a headache for me. The member of militia would arrange a fake enemy attack, spend some ammunition and sell a lot to the opposition and ask for more. I had to send boxes of ammunition to them every week and they still want more. They would state that they were attacked by the enemy and they had to defend themselves.

 

Mr Faiz Mohammad was a very powerful man in the central committee of PDPA and so was in the government. I was just a rank and file young member of the party at that time. I decided to disarm his militia. I sent a couple of battalions to talk to Mr Raof Khan, the head of militia, and ask him to voluntarily return the weapons which were distributed to them by the government. I also ordered the commander of the battalions if they did not obey my order then the commander of the troops has the duty to disarm them by force. For me to take a decision like that, against the will, of the central committee of the party was a very risky and dangerous decision, but I decided to go for it and I accepted the risk. After several hours of negotiations the militia obeyed the order and returned the weapons to troops. The so called enemy attacks were then completely stopped and security and peace returned to that region. While Mr Faiz Mohammad was going to make peace and organize militia in his province, Loya Paktia, he was killed by one branch of his own tribe.

 

The chief of militia in Goshta, Mr Raof Khan, was his relative and I do not know what would have been his reaction about my decision of disarming the militia he created.

 

There are several other examples of other militia groups being involved in thefts and other illegal activities in the city of Jalalabad. I had to disarm gradually all of them. After the militia groups were disarmed the problems were solved. My actions regarding militia are known to the people of Loy Nangrahar (Laghman, Kunar, Nooristan and Nangarhar provinces) and they have welcomed the decisions at that time." 

 

The communist regimes as well as previous regimes used the militia from one tribe against another tribe or ethnic group to serve their agenda. Creating militias served the immediate interest of the regime, but did not serve the country as a whole or help to strengthen security institutions. For example in 1978, the communist regime of Noor Mohammad Taraki, send tribal militias from Shinwari tribe of Nangahar to suppress the uprising of Safis and Nooristanis in Pech Valley of Kunar but they were very badly defeated . In the same token, during uprising of Paktia tribes, King Amanullah send tribal Lashkar of Mashraqi (eastern) tribes under leadership of Mir Zaman Khan of Kunari  to Paktia and they were able to suppress tribal uprising of Paktia against King Amanullah. These militia groups, such as Geneneral Rashid Dostam's (uzbek) militia, Geneneral Momeen's (tajik) Gelam Jam Militia in the north, Esmat Muslim’s (Pashtoon) militia in Spin Boldak of Kandahar, the Jabar (Pashtoon) Militia in Kabul, and other militia groups (or qawmi kandaks) in different parts of the country, greatly exacerbated insurgency and ethnic tensions in the country. With the gradual collapse of the communist government in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and its increasing isolation in the main urban areas, most of these militia groups continued to receive funding from the government, while working secretly with the Mujahiden. Finally, in 1992, when Dr. Najibullah's regime was no longer able to pay to these militia groups, some, such as Dostam and Momeen militias, played a major role in destroying the regime they had formerly served. Afghans have seen in the last 30 years that such militias were opportunist and change alliances easily in the events of more payments, power sharing and other promises by the opponents.

 

In considering the role of the arbaki system, it is important to emphasize that, unlike militias, arbakis were never funded or armed by the governments or rulers before1978, because those rulers knew that the tribes would use the government incentives or arms against each other for their personal or tribal interest and that it would then not be easy to exercise any control over them.

 

What will be the role of Arbaki or tribes in the present context of Afghanistan?

 

Due to the recognition that the tribes and the population in general are less and less supportive of the current government in Afghanistan, along with the perception that tribal strategies employed in Iraq were successful in reducing insurgency, a decision is being taken to enlist tribal groups against insurgency in Afghanistan. This decision, however, should be considered carefully, in light of local conditions, history and the significant differences between Iraq and Afghanistan.

 

In the present context, tribes can and will support the government only if they see that the government is strong enough to protect the people. If they see that the government cannot protect its citizens, then there is less likelihood that tribes will support the government, even if it offers to arm them or pay their elders. Arming or paying the elders will only further undermine good governance and will weaken popular trust in the government and government institutions. 

 

Comparing the present situation of Afghanistan with Iraq, as well as with the situation in the tribal belt of Pakistan, it is clear that there are completely different situations. In Iraq, al-Qaeda was an external force that, after targeting civilians on a massive scale, lost credibility. The Sunni Muslim Awakening Councils in Iraq worked because they combined several factors such as:

 

• Iraqis, who were previously relatively defenseless, were ready to obtain arms against outside elements because of the brutal activities of al-Qaeda;

• The quantity and quality of Iraq forces, as well as credibility of the Iraqi government, had improved;

• The Shia faction of Muqtada al-Sader had obeyed the ceasefire;

• The interference of neighboring countries had declined or been suspended due to political pressure; and

• All the above progress was combined with the surge of US forces; 

 

But still the main challenge for Iraqi government will be that how to integrate members of awakening council into regular institutions. If they are not integrated properly, then there might be a big challenge for Iraqi government in the future.

 

In Afghanistan, arming tribes is unlikely to work as effectively because of the following reasons:

 

• While the Taliban, have external bases in our neighboring countries, and are supported by foreign terrorist groups, they are also locally based and has internal network and support;

• While the Taliban are broadly criticized for their harsh tactics, such as beheading and punishing those who work or support the government and international community, the government has not been able to take advantage of the Taliban’s poor reputation because of its own bad governance practices and failure to improve the deteriorating security situation. Civilian casualties and heavy handed tactics on the part of NATO and OEF forces have further alienated rural populations and reduced support for the central government and therefore, it makes tribal groups less willing to fight against insurgency in Afghanistan;

• Since the government is not able to protect the public from the abuses of the Taliban and other rogue elements, ordinary Afghans are remaining neutral in order to protect themselves and their families and will not support the government until they are convinced that the government is able to defeat the insurgency;

• Historically, Afghanistan has witnessed the brutality of local militias during times of civil war and the tendency of militia leaders to act as despotic overlords in the villages and districts;

• In the last seven years, the international community vigorously beat the drum to implement the DDR and DIAG programs, and any new efforts to reverse this policy will further undermine trust in the government and arise fears of an increase in ethnic tension.

 

In sum, arming militias in Afghanistan or paying them is not a sustainable practice in the long term, and will further undermine good governance and the gradual improvement of government institutions such as police, ANA and judicial system. 

 

Efforts to improve the security situation in Afghanistan have been clearly hampered by some elements in Pakistan's government and military, which has played a double game. On the one side, they are fighting against al-Qaeda and those Taliban leaders who are fighting inside Pakistan, such as Baitullah Masood, Maulana Fazullah and Moulavi Faqir Mohammad in South Waziristan, Swat Valley and Bajaur agency respectively.  On the other hand, they are not helping to stop those Taliban leaders who are only fighting in Afghanistan, such as Haji Namdar of the Vice and Virtue Movement in Khyber or Haji Gul Bahadur, who leads the Muqame Taliban (local Taliban) based in Northern Waziristan. 

 

Several Afghans who have traveled back and forth from Pakistan to Afghanistan during 2008, especially through the Khyber and Bajaur agencies, mentioned that they have seen Taliban vehicles parked very close to Pakistani military and police check-posts. Those who live in Pakistan, know that without tacit permission of some elements in the government of Pakistan, it would not be possible for 200-300 Taliban to reach the Ring road around Peshawar, as occurred on the 7th of December 2008, when these Taliban burned 190 vehicles delivering supplies to US troops in Afghanistan.  

 

In comparison to Afghanistan, the Pakistan army and government are strong enough to be able to utilize tribes to assist them in meeting their security needs in the border areas. Most of the tribes that are located close to the border cannot go against the wishes of Pakistani government because all of their elders are on the payroll of the government through its political agents in FATA (Federal Administrative Tribal Agencies). Political agents give monthly Lungai (stipend) and permit (permission for food rations) to elders of these tribes, which have become economically dependent on Pakistan. Also, many of these tribal elders have property and businesses in settled areas such as Peshawar, Rawalpindi, Lahore and Karachi.  Afghanistan's governments in the past also would give such privileges to the tribes on other side of the Durand lines through the Ministry of Tribal Affairs which had eight tribal (qabayel) directorates in the border provinces. This structure changed after the interim government of Hamid Karzai took over in 2001. Now, the government has a qabayel directorate in each province of Afghanistan.

 

Analysis of the situation:

 

The tribes have never ever faced such widespread, sophisticated, nationally/regionally/internationally backed networks, and do not have the capacity to cope with them. Tribes in Afghanistan, like the government itself, have been weakened by thirty years of conflict. Internal unity was damaged by political factionalism, while many tribesmen became refugees and children from tribal areas were taken away from their traditional homelands, and many entered madrasas where they were exposed to extremist and fundamentalist ideologies.  Likewise, just as the coalition forces have found it difficult to combat the brutal violence of the Taliban and its foreign allies, it has proven equally difficult for the tribes to respond to tactics that so clearly disregard all tribal values and standards. Even on other side of border, when tribes have tried to become proactive against Taliban and Al-Qaeda, they have suffered greatly. Thus, in one incident in mid-October 2008, in the Orakzai Agency of FATA, during a Jirga, a suicide bomber blew himself up, killing 133 elders and wounding another 200.   

 

In the last 30 years of war, the tribal structure of Afghanistan or tribal leadership has changed dramatically. The established elders and their families do not have the same influence as they used to have. New elders, commanders or power brokers have emerged in different part of Afghanistan. MP Nader Khan Katawazai from Paktika province echoed the same concern in his interview with RFE/RL on 23rd November 2008 when he said that, in general, tribal structures in Afghanistan have been significantly weakened by war over the past 30 years. Afghans, he noted, have fresh memories of their suffering at the hands of private militias and warlords armed by their respective international backers in the 1980s and 1990s.

 

Arming militias will further exacerbate security problems in Afghanistan, and the tribal elders will become prime targets for insurgents, as they have in Pakistan. Therefore, the government and International community have to invest in governmental security institutions, especially police forces in term of quality and quantity to maintain law and order.  This is not to deny the problems encountered so far in developing governmental institutions, or to turn a blind eye to the corruption and inefficiency that is endemic in all levels.  But it must also be recognized how relatively meager the resources devoted to the lower level of the government.  At present, we have only one policeman or ANA soldier for every 6 or 7 square kilometers, which is a number ten times lower than that in Iraq. Most of these police being used as a personal bodyguard for the Uluswal and CoP, or to guard the District Administration Centers. They are not providing security for the population. With this limited capacity, the government has not been able to protect civilians or maintain a credible presence in many areas, and consequently, people have lost confidence in the ability of government and international community to protect them or to prevent the Taliban from re-entering after each operation in a specific area. Additionally, while corruption is admittedly endemic, it must also be recognized that this is not surprising given the meager salaries given to government officials and the frequent situation in which even these poor salaries are not provided.  When drug lords and Taliban are offering higher salaries than the government, it is not surprising that many local officials are tempted to betray the public trust, especially when they perceive that those higher up in the bureaucracy are doing the same. Another issue/factor is that when officials don't have confidence in the future, they are more likely to grab what they can in the present.

 

In order to solve the security problems in Afghanistan, the international community and government should not have a scattered approach. To win the insurgency in Afghanistan, there is strong need to apply a counter-insurgency formula which simultaneously clears out anti-government elements, holds areas from the return of these elements, and rebuilds administrative, economic and social infrastructure. In military terminology, the “shape” or engagement phase cannot happen in the early stage of clearing or holding. The shape phase can happen only after holding phase.

 

Conclusion:

 

In conclusion, Afghans have had a negative experience of militias for the last 30 years, and it is strongly recommend that arming militia by whatever name is not a useful solution.  Instead, the government of Afghanistan and International community should invest more heavily in developing government institutions. One of our colleagues mentioned that if a coalition of 37 countries (NATO, ISASF, OEF and all other US efforts along with those of the Afghan ANA and ANP), with all the present day technological resources and facilities at their disposal, cannot eradicate insurgency, then how it can be expected that tribal militias to accomplish this task. Also if the international community justify that these militias or tribal armed forces will be under the command of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), the other side of the argument will be if ANSF can not have capacity to control and monitor those forces who are in the system, how they can control and monitor those forces who are out of the system. If it is due to corruption, it is not possible to strengthen government institutions any time soon, and that it would therefore be a good idea to arm tribes to have quick fixes, it should be remembered that this idea was also tried three years ago in the form of the auxiliary police, and this did not work.

 

Investment in building a strong police force is a vital necessity because the cost of insecurity would be much higher than the cost of security for Afghans as well as for International community. Three years ago, there were problems in a few specific areas, and it was possible if the government had had a greater focus on local governance, it would not have the broad insurgency as such as today. But today, insurgency problems are in many districts and provinces of Afghanistan, and it cannot be solved these problems only with a bottom-up approach. There is no sub-national governance in Afghanistan, because even district level administration is representing the central government, and all district administrators (governors) are appointed by the President or by his authorized representatives. Afghanistan is unitary system and a bottom-up or grass-root approach should be linked with a top-down approach.

 

Also, the government of Afghanistan and international community should advance the stabilization process from Kabul and major provinces to create a center of stability and gravity, and then move on from these centers to the districts to stabilize and enhance the confidence of people in the government and the International Community to bring reasonable security so that ordinary people will feel that they are safe from both state and non-state actors.

- Shahmahmood Miakhel
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