Whoa there. Don’t lump me in with anyone making comparisons between Iraq and Afghanistan. My longtime readers know I hold This War Is Not That War as a prime directive. And my skepticism of anything resembling a tribal-militia strategy is so long-established you can ask Gen. McKiernan about it.

But here’s what I want the Shinwari skeptics to address. What do you do when a tribe’s telling you it’s ready to cooperate against the Taliban? What’s a better strategy than saying, “$1 million in projects? That’s practically walking-around-money”? Nothing in that effort necessarily implies an uncritical embrace of the tribe and getting hijacked by its agenda. Nothing in that effort implies for a second believing that you’ve got yourself a friend for life. I wrote explicitly about supplementary steps to take if we’re going down this admittedly-perilous path in order to mitigate the dangers and — who knows — tie it back to the broader objective of improving Afghan governance in the provinces.

So if it really is the case that there’s a way of capitalizing on the Shinwari opening against the Taliban without paying them off, I’d love to hear how. In the absence of such a suggestion, I think we ought to give them the money; embrace a strategy of simultaneous partnership with the tribe to ensure it doesn’t actually burn people’s houses down while pressing the local government institutions to clear out their corrupt officials, thereby pushing both tribe and government closer together; and deny the Taliban its access to the area. If all you’re saying is “I want the anti-Taliban opening without sullying my hands working with the tribes” — well, you might as well ask for a pony while you’re at it. Nothing is free in this world, so think about fair pricing.

Now, I’ll take my own advice here. If it really is true that the Shinwari cannot be brought any closer to the government, then I’ll reassess whether it’s worth the effort.

Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman

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