Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Sitting in meetings with the local elders is a necessary part of the job. The elders want to talk about local projects and things we can give them. We want to talk about security and whether they are doing their part to help us keep the security situation under control. When talking about security, it’s always hard to get very far with these guys. The elders are pros at shifting blame and responsibility. You’ll hear things like, “Those attacks were perpetrated by people from the adjacent valley – we have no control over them.” I should mention at this point that whereas in the US communities are divided into neighborhoods and municipalities, Afghan communities are divided by the landscape itself; each separate valley has its own little subculture and ruling elders. I’ll also mention that if you go far enough up any valley in these parts, you’ll run into a lot of trouble. The hinterland areas of high elevation far separated from population centers and paved roads are where many insurgents hide out, and we have little to no control over vast areas like these.
If the elders are not blaming bad guys from the nearby valleys for attacks, then they’ll blame people from an adjacent province. If that doesn’t work, then the Pakistanis are an easy target for all Afghans. It’s difficult to get anyone to take responsibility for the security in their area. While the local elders are the traditional power brokers, now that a government has taken root and a local governor or sub-governor exists and resides nearby, the elders will tell us to talk to the local governmental official about security. But the government officials probably do not really have any connections or power in a particular area. It’d be great if he did because we’re trying to develop governmental authority, but for now that’s not the case.
I wrote a similar blog entry titled “Elders” awhile back that concluded the elders probably just don’t have the power to control what’s going on. That conclusion was specific to that particular valley, which happens to be one of the worst, that is, if your concept of ‘bad’ means that there’s shooting and fighting going on every day – some of my fellow marines consider such a living situation to be ideal for them personally…. In that valley (referred to as “The Tiger Valley” by local people from nearby valleys), the US Army and ANA are the government because there are no government buildings, no police, and no civilian government officials. Now that I’ve seen some other places my perspective is broader, and the elders in the better areas would appear to have the ability to be an asset to us in our push to provide security…but it’s certainly hard to get commitments or concrete results out of them. So in the end, we do the same dance every week, where the elders come to ask for help with projects but don’t really bring anything to the table in return.