Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Irfan Husain, "Hell in Helmand," openDemocracy, July 18, 2006. (first printed in Dawn, May 20, 2006.)

In American Empire and the Fourth World, Tony Hall asks, "At what what point might it become no longer feasible for the United States to claim all the rights and privileges of a global empire without assuming in more predictable, codified, consistent, and verifiable ways the large respoinsibilities that go along with an imperial role in planetary governance?" (xv)

In this article, Husain explains part of the British system in Pakistan:

In an earlier era, the British used a judicious mix of diplomacy, bribery and force to control the Pathan tribes inhabiting the badlands that constitute the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Now they are trying to achieve their ends through force alone, and are finding that this might not be such a good idea after all.

It was the Brits who created the system of "political agents" who were posted to remote tribal areas a century ago. These amazing civil servants (often military officers on secondment) laid down the law in some of the toughest conditions in British India. The annual purse for each chief was fixed, and while he was allowed to control his own tribe according to tradition and custom, he was basically paid to keep the peace.

The political agent had a small militia recruited locally to deal with minor problems, but further away were a number of strategically located army garrisons from which punitive expeditions were launched when necessary. At independence in 1947, Pakistan inherited this structure, and has retained it unchanged.

...westerners often overlook is how little the average Afghan tribesman has to lose. Most live in conditions of unimaginable poverty. If a young Afghan is told he will be paid $500 if he kills a British soldier, and the same amount would go to his family if he dies, this sum represents a fortune he would be unlikely to see in his lifetime.Recommend this Post

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