To Create a Stable Afghanistan: Provisional
Reconstruction Teams, Good Governance, and a Splash of History
The coalition and NATO face the complex challenge
of establishing a legitimate functioning government in Afghanistan
that can withstand the withdrawal of Western forces. To meet this
challenge, they might look to earlier
British efforts to manage the northwest Frontier along Afghanistan's
eastern border.1 Proven methods the
British used in the frontier districts could generate a coherent
four-step plan for Afghanistan's reconstruction. Indeed, as resources
shrink, new, imaginative measures-plus tried and true ones-will
be needed to control Afghanistan's geographically dispersed tribes
to prevent the reemergence of terrorists or armed insurrection.
The northwest Frontier linking central and
South central Asia, an ethnic Pushtoon area where tribesmen cross
freely from Afghanistan and back, was one of the British empire's
most challenging territories.2 A negligibly
small British administrative and military apparatus routinely and
successfully controlled this extensive area using a mix of incentives
and force to encourage tribes to control themselves.
From the 1890s to 1947, British control relied
heavily on a small number of highly trained British officers and
officials who embraced many of the structures the east India company
established during the previous century.3
these frontier officers, part of the Indian Civil Service or Indian
Political Service, were highly educated, committed, conscientious,
and hard working. Many had studied Indian law and history and spoke
some of the local languages. They had a deep sense of duty and a
strong national identity. All required a great depth of administrative
competence and judgment to wield successfully the extensive powers
that lay at their disposal. They contributed significantly to the
province's security and stability. The political officer and Indian
political agents were particularly valuable in navigating the intricacies
of tribal politics.4
Despite the frontier officers' unquestionable
ability, it was impossible for British officers alone to administer
such a large geographical area. Educated and trustworthy Indians
were recruited into the ranks of the Indian civil Service.5
Recruitment standards were high, with emphasis on integrity and
ability. These Indians were invaluable, and many shared the same
ethics and principles as their British counterparts, which they
gained during their education in England. Their participation was
essential (for balance and legitimacy) and inescapable. a small
number of geographically dispersed Britons, unaided from within,
could never have successfully governed such a diverse population.
The same organizing principle was true of the
army. While a relatively small British army force remained in the
northwest Frontier (acting more as a cohesive, reliable reserve
than a force of first use), the majority of forces came from the
Indian army. The Indian army's main duty was to protect the peaceful
border inhabitants from hostile tribesmen and, on occasion, to conduct
punitive operations. In the main, volunteer British officers commanded
these units, which served as a large, capable standing force. However,
for more routine activity, frontier scouts normally controlled tribal
territory, and the frontier constabulary normally controlled settled
areas. Both came from the local Pushtoon populace.
Lessons learned from the British experience
of the northwest Frontier remain pertinent and are transferable
to settling the conflict and furthering the national reconstruction
Lessons from the British Experience
The coalition's mission to defeat the ongoing
insurgency in Afghanistan has focused on eliminating guerrilla forces
through conventional military attrition in the southern and eastern
areas of the country. Little emphasis has been placed on securing
and stabilizing the countryside beyond Kabul. The absence of security
has diminished the trust of the population in the central government,
impaired relief efforts, prevented nationwide reconstruction, and
rendered aid agencies vulnerable to guerrilla actions. Guerrillas
capitalize on the situation by targeting relief workers and projects
and government officials in an effort to impede stabilization and
progress.6 The absence of government
control has resulted in the growth of local militias and the influence
of warlords. Opium production remains inextricably linked to nationwide
The British recognized that military operations
alone could not effectively stabilize the region. Simultaneous social
and economic development and political reform had to accompany the
military's stabilizing effort. To integrate civil and military efforts
within an all-inclusive strategy, these activities should have a
common objective and a unity of command.
A flawed strategy? The coalition and the international
community have focused on strengthening Afghanistan's central government,
seeing strong control as a principal means of achieving security
throughout the country. However, corruption, inefficiency, and political
divides-fueled by ethnic rivalries-plague the advancement of the
central government into a modern democratic state. Peace, order,
and domestic security remain elusive. Personal interests and connections
are common throughout President Hamid Karzai's regime and erode
popular support for the administration.
The absence of security outside Kabul has resulted
in continuing reliance on local powers for security and administration.
Coalition efforts have failed to erode the influence of regional
warlords, and militias continue to be the cornerstone of regional
power. Lieutenant General John R. Vines, while commander of combined
Joint Task Force 180 in Afghanistan, stated: "Militias are
part of the existing reality, some are legitimate, and some are
predators. We need to work aggressively to disestablish militias
who are not legitimate, but the challenge is, if you disestablish
a militia, who provides security? The vacuum can be filled by anarchy."7
Expecting either a strong centrist or Western
style administration to take hold immediately in a country with
no recent history of strong central government is unreasonable.
Ethnic, religious, and provincial diversity thwart progress. The
British recognized the need to delegate responsibility within the
northwest Frontier to achieve security, while still maintaining
political primacy. Strong central control alone, which the British
enjoyed, could not address the unique challenges of diffuse tribal
rule. A distinct bureaucracy in the form of separate administrative
districts, each headed by a civilian deputy commissioner, facilitated
control.8 Within the districts, the
irregulars or scouts provided primary security. These locally raised
regiments, commanded by British officers, maintained control of
the tribal areas. An analogous organization, the Frontier constabulary,
conducted similar duties in settled areas. The army of India had
oversight of both organizations. Such a delineation of responsibilities
proved effective, and regional security was maintained.
Rather than dismantling regional militias,
the Afghan government should consider co-opting and incorporating
them under government control for legitimate purposes. Arguably,
this is no more difficult than pursuing the current goal of establishing
strong central control, something that is alien to the people of
Afghanistan. Regional forces could be trained, equipped, and organized
into a nationwide security structure that is centrally paid and
has common operating procedures. Under such a structure, militias
could become a lawful cornerstone of security throughout Afghanistan.
Supported by a small cadre of Afghan National Army personnel or
coalition trainers and reinforced by a larger central force (the
afghan national army), these militias could perform the same role
as the irregulars of the northwest frontier. This system would provide
regional security under a recognized ethnic framework, offset the
requirement to establish immediate central control, and provide
gainful employment for personnel being demobilized (an additional
source of regional instability).
Warlords or deputy commissioners? The central
government does not possess sufficient muscle to eliminate warlords
who pose a danger to internal regional security and stability. To
date, Afghan government efforts to appease warlords through political
and military appointments have failed to restrain ambitions for
regional dominance. Warlords continue to rebuff central control,
and green-on-green disagreements between rival militias continue
to destabilize rural areas. Warlords' continued involvement in poppy
production and associated illegitimate activity is also divisive.
Notwithstanding these shortcomings, warlords play a pivotal role
in regional security. Their removal would create a vacuum of lawlessness
and disorder. In short, warlords are essential to enhancing stability
Accepting warlords as provincial governors
might be a solution to addressing the underlying issues of regional
control. With government approval and clear jurisdiction, warlords
could play a legitimate role in security and reconstruction. Their
extensive knowledge and respect within their local communities are
key attributes. Warlords are well suited to rendering local legal
decisions, determining land tenure, and providing relief. Many have
previously undertaken such responsibilities. By filling appointments
as provincial governors, warlords could maintain their militias
for legitimate purposes (albeit at a reduced establishment) and
preserve their status within the local community. this path might
prove to be an agreeable way to generate overt support for the central
Adviser to the province governor? Newly established
province governors would benefit from the advice of knowledgeable
advisers versed in the procedures of effective administration. Political
officers filled this role effectively within the Northwest Frontier.
They were central players around whom the entire local government
revolved and were highly respected. Their responsibilities included
overseeing tribal areas and supervising the collection of taxes
and distribution of allowances. They improved the economic life
of the people they controlled. Proficiency was based on education,
experience, and skill.
Placing highly trained advisers-such as seasoned
U.S. Army foreign area officers (FAOs)-at the elbow of provincial
governors would confer many advantages. The advisers could coordinate
regional reconstruction with aid agencies, monitor militia activities,
and provide an essential link to coordinate coalition activities.
They could help mentor the governor and shape the local administration's
development. They would also prove useful in gaining low-level intelligence.
Reintroduction of tribal police? The coalition
has made limited progress in dismantling the al Qaeda and Taliban
network in the southern and eastern areas of Afghanistan. Attacks
against aid agencies and the coalition have increased. Capturing
insurgents in remote areas is particularly difficult and hindered
by tribal traditions and strict interpretation of the Islamic faith.
Local intelligence has been almost nonexistent. Al Qaeda and Taliban
forces continue to conduct cross-border guerrilla warfare from the
tribal areas of the northwest Frontier.
Carefully selected tribesmen, called "levies"
or Khassadors, were a central element of control on the northwest
Frontier. Khassadors were paid (but not equipped or clothed) by
the British to regulate their respective tribal areas under the
watchful eye of the political agent and irregulars. They also proved
to be excellent sources of local intelligence. The program was relatively
successful for routine matters and was cost-effective.9
However, the Khassadors were not always able to deal with major
disagreements, tribal disputes, or differences with the central
Establishing a network of tribal Khassadors
in the southern and eastern areas of Afghanistan might prove beneficial
in countering the insurgency. The focus of the network should be
on gathering low-level intelligence and providing early warning
of guerrilla attacks. Policing routine tribal issues should occur
simultaneously or once the threat has diminished. accepting initial
shortfalls and variances in standards will be fundamental to making
the initiative work in the long term. Khassadors would continue
to face numerous conflicts of interest, but the earlier British
experience shows that the overarching benefits significantly outweigh
Are Provisional Reconstruction Teams (PRTs)
the answer? Establishing PRTs is a revolutionary step in Afghanistan's
reconstruction. The program combines security and civil action to
facilitate regional development. Unity of command and effort is
central. The PRT initiative mirrors many of the functions the British
political and military structures of the northwest Frontier undertook.
PRTs present a distinct defense against an evolving insurgency in
Afghanistan. They can positively influence a significant proportion
of Afghanistan's rural population and provide regional stability.
They deliver services that directly affect welfare, income, and
quality of life-services often not provided by Afghanistan's central
A mutually supporting network of PRTs could
lead to enhanced security over the entire country. However, any
expansion must include efforts to train and equip local police,
a task some PRTs have neglected. Regional security is essential,
and local police will gradually replace coalition and NATO security
forces conducting such duties. They will provide stability and security
after PRT liaison teams move on to new areas. Local police should
investigate crimes against civilians to negate criticism that PRTs
have no mandate or training to investigate local crimes or human
PRTs should also develop closer working relationships
with regional leaders and warlords. Military liaison officers should
be assigned to work with these leaders, monitoring behavior and
activities. The use of embedded medical assets should receive attention.
Most PRTs contain a doctor, a dentist, and a number of highly trained
medical technicians. As most rural areas lack the infrastructure
to meet the population's basic health-care needs, medical assistance
could be an important factor for securing the middle ground.
The local population's educational needs must
also be taken into consideration. The spread of education throughout
the northwest Frontier was well received by the tribesmen. Education
also proved a useful counter to resistance, fanaticism, and extreme
sensitiveness to moral influences. Therefore, PRTs should also coordinate
regional educational and medical support as part of a wider reconstruction
Senior representatives from the U.S. Department
of State and other international equivalents are in charge of all
reconstruction work. Many serve for 2 years, providing continuity
and experience. They ensure the effective use and integration of
aid organizations into the civilian-led assistance coordination
program. However, integration, collocation, and closer working relations
with the PRT render aid agencies vulnerable to attack. PRTs must
convince the local population that aid and assistance will be withdrawn
should they fail to warn of or prevent attacks. This approach had
some success on the northwest Frontier.
Finally, thought should be given to civilianizing
some PRTs to help restore the perception of normality, return the
military to its primary mission, and perhaps, lead to a reduced
threat. For example, liaison officers or advisers to warlords or
regional commanders could be civilians with prior military service.
Qualified local Afghans should also be incorporated into key PRT
appointments. Graduates from the newly formed Afghan civil Service
academy should be assigned to the provinces. This would help with
perceived legitimacy and is a natural evolution of the PRT concept.
Roads and railroads. Complicating the work
of the PRTs and coalition in Afghanistan is an archaic transportation
network. The principal roads of Afghanistan are in a poor state
of repair. Two-and-a-half decades of civil war and a lack of infrastructure
investment have led to considerable deterioration. Rehabilitating
the roads is essential in order to provide increased access to clinics,
hospitals, schools, and markets.
The British established a robust road network
throughout remote areas of the northwest Frontier as a security
measure. The initiative was a success. Roads linked to garrison
forces allowed rapid deployment of assets across the frontier and
provided greater flexibility for government irregulars and the army
of India. Roads were an alternative to military occupation and a
much cheaper substitute. They contributed to the economy of the
region and facilitated trade. Moreover, roads were a principal means
of bringing tribesmen into contact with civilized India.
Investments should be directed toward improving
the existing road network and the construction of new roads, especially
in regions hosting PRTs. Better roads would allow PRTs and aid organizations
to cover a greater area in less time and improve access to government
services for tribesmen and their families. Such an initiative would
bolster the central government's authority in remote districts and
influence the middle ground in the coalition's favor.
Developing a railway network should also be
considered. Terrain, economics, concern over gauge standards, and
a past history of opposing railway construction have prevented Afghanistan
from constructing a railroad. The current government, recognizing
the economic and social benefits of improved communications, is
eager to address this shortfall. The 2004 agreement for Russian
Railways to build a circular railway, linking Afghanistan to neighboring
Iran and Pakistan, should be supported. Similarly, linking Afghanistan's
mineral deposits to any embryonic railway network should also be
Lack of cultural understanding. The coalition
also suffers from a deficiency of cultural awareness, regional knowledge,
and local language skills. Ignorance of tribal customs leads to
misunderstanding and alienation. While insurgents communicate freely
to gain intelligence, PRT members' inability to speak tribal languages
is a barrier to basic understanding and communication. Language
difficulty prevents tactical units from establishing working relationships
with village elders and receiving local intelligence.
A lack of continuity, produced by short operational
tours and compressed handovers between rotating forces, also compounds
the problem, further diminishing the coalition's ability to gather
vital intelligence. In contrast, a British officer serving in the
northwest Frontier often stayed in India his entire career. Years
of experience and a first-rate education produced individuals who
were well versed in the country's culture and people. Speaking the
language was essential, and the mastery of tribal dialects was a
matter of pride. Unbroken service produced officers acclimatized
to the northwest Frontier's unique weather and who possessed an
intricate understanding of the land and its people.
Creating a corps of Afghanistan specialists
should be considered, and the specialists should have a thorough
grounding in Afghanistan's laws and procedures, revenue system,
history, and the language of the province in which they would work.
They should also expect to operate exclusively in Afghanistan during
their career. Afghanistan specialists should not be limited to serving
military personnel. Retired service personnel or those with a particular
experience or skill should also be recruited and generously paid
for their term of service. These highly trained people could fill
appointments in PRTs (providing much-needed continuity and experience),
act as advisers to province governors, or directly support tactical
operations in southern and eastern areas of Afghanistan.
Recommended Course of Action
The challenge of creating an afghan state is
daunting and time consuming. Converting many of the existing structures
into government organizations is necessary for nationwide security.
Convincing the ruling elite of the advantages of such an approach
is central to any viable strategy. With social and economic growth
taking hold throughout Afghanistan, a coherent long-term assistance
plan is required. The plan would require a progressively stable
operational environment (with NATO taking an ever-increasing lead),
legitimate regional rule by local tribesmen, and coordinated international
assistance at the regional level. Here, the lessons learned from
the British northwest Frontier experience have applicability. Combining
the pertinent lessons learned into a coherent strategy would help
support a four-step plan for the reconstruction of Afghanistan.10
In step 1, NATO would expand throughout Afghanistan,
creating an extensive network of supporting PRTs. PRTs would continue
to be predominantly military (for security), but would be increasingly
supported by international agencies and qualified local Afghans.
During this step, roads would be enhanced or constructed and a railway
network established. PRTs would remain a cornerstone of regional
stability and provide an indispensable coordination function.
After the establishment of a network of PRTs,
step 2 would integrate regional militias (under close supervision
of NATO or coalition trainers) into the national military structure.
concurrently, warlords would be trained in centralized administration
in Kabul and subsequently return as qualified (and legitimate) provincial
governors. Military liaison officers, who would play an advisory
and mentoring role, would support the newly qualified governors.
This step would lay the foundations of legitimate province government.
Physical support would be required to create government infrastructure.
"Reinforced" PRTs would oversee and support regional activities.
In step 3, handpicked locals trained as civil
servants in the new civil Service academy would deploy to the provinces.
Their training would be progressive, thorough, and practical. To
ensure success, experienced faculty who understand the region would
be essential. Parallel instruction would also occur for Western
advisers within the same academy, allowing joint training where
possible. Such an approach would build esprit de corps and prevent
unnecessary separation. Particular emphasis would be placed on language
and customs training for Western advisers. Also, a corps of trained
Western specialists would be established that would employ European
and American volunteers (ideally, those nations contributing to
military operations in Afghanistan). Afghan specialists would be
qualified to fill a variety of civic and quasi-military appointments
on graduation. During this phase, PRTs would also oversee the establishment
of a network of tribal police.
Step 4 would involve two parts. part A would
see the realization of provincial administrations answerable to
Kabul. During this step, local structures (political and military)
would be mentored and monitored to maturity and assume all governance.
Western advisers would replace military liaison officers as mentors
to provincial governors, and trained civil servants would fill the
ranks of local government. Local militias would conduct security
activities to extend the reach of central government. Border teams
would be established to help control Pushtoon subtribes and prevent
crossborder raids from Pakistan. Particular emphasis would be placed
on developing effective, legitimate local police forces. PRTs would
become increasingly civilianized, with afghan specialists and qualified
local Afghans filling key appointments.
In step 4, part B, PRTs would cease to exist.
Local government would be mature, evenhanded, and effective. Military
support, in the form of district advisory teams, would be available
on request, but rarely called on. The threat from guerrillas would
be negligible, and international organizations would freely coordinate
their efforts with local authorities. Regional reconstruction would
The coalition and NATO have made a promising
start to the complex challenge of establishing a legitimate, functioning
afghan government. However, the country's future is by no means
a fait accompli. Notwithstanding international intervention, a resurgent
guerrilla campaign, the consolidation of warlords in tribal territories,
and a growing drug trade present significant threats to the fledgling
administration. Decentralized governance founded in regional realities
might be one solution to addressing many of these problems. Such
an approach has worked in the past, and many of the British lessons
from the northwest Frontier can be effectively incorporated into
a contemporary solution for Afghanistan.
Recommendations for Stabilizing Afghanistan
• Integrate regional militias as lawful
arms of Afghanistan's government. Trained, equipped, and incorporated
into a nationwide security structure under central authority, militias
could become a lawful, cooperative cornerstone of regional security.
• Accept warlords as provincial governors
(with government approval and clear jurisdiction). Separating the
duties of governor and militia commander is essential for success.
• Establish a network of Western advisers
to support province governors. Advisers could coordinate regional
reconstruction, monitor militia activities, oversee the collection
of taxes, and provide an essential link to coalition activities.
• Create an efficient civil service equivalent.
• Stand up a network of tribal police
throughout Afghanistan, but particularly in the southern and eastern
areas of the country, to address low-level intelligence shortfalls
and provide early warning of impending guerrilla attacks.
• Establish a mutually supporting network
of PRTs throughout Afghanistan.
• Invest in efficient road and rail networks,
giving particular consideration to regions hosting PRTs.
• Institute a corps of dedicated European
and North American Afghanistan specialists. Highly trained personnel
should fill key appointments in PRTs, act as advisers to province
governors, or directly support tactical operations in southern and
eastern areas of Afghanistan.
1. Andrew Roe, "British
Governance of the Northwest Frontier (1919 to 1947): A Blueprint
for Contemporary Afghanistan?" (Master of Military Art and
Science thesis, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort
Leavenworth, Kansas, 2005).
2. The distinctive Pushtoon
subtribes of the Wazirs, the Mohmands, the Mahsuds, the Afridis,
the Khattaks, and the Shinawaris occupy the mountainous area of
the Northwest Frontier. These tribes are identified by a proud and
uncooperative self-government, a part feudal and part democratic
ethos, and a rigid Muslim faith.
3. British involvement
in India dates back to the founding of the East India Company on
31 December 1600, when Queen Elizabeth I granted a charter to the
company providing exclusive rights to trade with the East.
4. Political officers
oversaw both the settled and tribal areas of the Northwest Frontier,
supervising the collection of taxes and distribution of allowances.
Political agents, who assisted political officers, were steadfast
and dependable tribesmen who had proved their unquestionable allegiance
to the British. They understood tribal customs intimately. Their
assistance and knowledge were indispensable.
5. A post in the Indian
Civil Service offered upper-caste Indians many opportunities. Senior
positions were seen as respectable employment in a hierarchical
culture, whereas business was rarely a realistic alternative for
an Indian from a good family.
6. Guerrillas inflicted
over 1,000 fatalities between January and August 2004, demonstrating
restored confidence and successful reorganization. See Jane's Executive
Summary, Afghanistan, 2004, on-line at <www4.janes.com>, accessed
7 October 2004.
7. Pamela Constable,
"Key Security Initiatives Flounder in Afghanistan Taliban Resurgent
as Development, Reforms Lag," Washington Post, 19 September
8. Overall control of
the Northwest Frontier was the responsibility of the civilian British
commissioner who delegated routine responsibility to six administrative
districts. Deputy commissioners, most of whom had extensive military
experience in India before becoming administrators, headed each
9. To provide some scale,
4,600 Khassadors policed the Northwest Frontier district of Waziristan
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