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Tribal politics key to building bridges in Afghanistan
Mon Dec 1, 2008 9:20pm EST
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By Golnar Motevalli
BALA MORGHAB, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Building bridges in Afghanistan requires more than bricks-and-mortar.
It requires deft diplomacy and an appreciation of tribal politics, especially if the bridge in question is to survive sabotage attempts by the Taliban.
That is why the commander of NATO-led forces, Afghan military leaders and government officials traipsed up to this isolated town in northern Afghanistan at the weekend to meet men whose cooperation they sought; eleven bearded elders from Bala Morghab.
"That bridge is just one small bridge but it's a symbol to the people who live here that if security improves we can bring improvements to the people here," General David McKiernan, commander of 50,000 NATO-led troops in Afghanistan, told Reuters.
"You sit around and speak to scholars, village elders and leaders and that's the way business is done," he said. "We're going to sit down at a shura. It's certainly more effective than trying to impose a foreign way."
Afghanistan's tribal heartlands are administered by a traditional system where elders, respected senior male figures within communities, resolve disputes and make decisions by forming a "shura" -- a consultation.
It is a system which the coalition wants to work with to gain the trust of influential decision makers in remote areas where insurgents can find a foothold.
While pleasantries were exchanged between the turban-clad, elders and the Kabul-based officials dressed in military fatigues, the fate of 17 Afghan soldiers captured by Taliban militants nearby on Thursday, hung in the balance.
Thirteen more soldiers and police were killed in the ambush.
"The village leaders, they know what's happening in their communities, so hopefully they'll have a voice to those Taliban that have these soldiers and hopefully secure their release," McKiernan said.
A BRIDGE TOO FAR?
While most of northern Afghanistan is relatively peaceful compared to the volatile south and east, Bala Morghab and the neighboring district of Ghormach have seen a rise in violence this year with Taliban militants finding fertile ground for their insurgency among minority Pashtuns, excluded from power locally.
Fighting in the area has held up completion of the northern section of a ring road that would provide an alternative route for goods coming from Iran to the capital, Kabul, without passing through the areas with the most fighting on the southern loop.
"Three times we have asked construction companies to help build the road here, but no companies want to come here for the lack of security. If you want to you can do it, you can stop the enemy," Afghanistan's Minister of Public Works, Sourab Ali Safari, told the elders at the shura.
Better roads are essential not only for the economy -- so that farmers and merchants can get produce to markets more easily and importers can bring vital foodstuffs into the landlocked country -- but also for security, since police and the army can get more quickly to remote unstable areas. Continued...
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