Small Wars Journal

Some Considerations for Planning and Executing a Military-Political Engagement in Afghanistan

Mon, 05/03/2010 - 6:42am
Some Considerations for Planning and Executing a Military-Political Engagement in Afghanistan

by William S. McCallister

Download the full article: Some Considerations for Planning and Executing a Military-Political Engagement in Afghanistan

This paper supplements the Tribal Engagement Workshop (TEW) Summary Report. The intent is to provide an alternative mental model for planning and a sample template for executing military-political engagements in Afghanistan.

Much intellectual energy has been expended on whether to label our outreach efforts in Afghanistan as tribal or community engagements. This paper therefore does not attempt to settle the issue as to the primacy of tribal- and/or community- or interest-based identities. Suffice it to say tribal identities exist in Afghanistan but community and/or interest groups may not necessarily organize themselves based on these tribal identities. What matters most is that we engage the locals within their own cultural frame of reference.

This paper highlights a number of planning consideration in the development of a military-political campaign in which tribal engagements and/or community outreach initiatives represent tactical actions. It introduces the planner and operator to a different mental model for analyzing and assessing tribal and/or community engagements and their role and function in support of a military-political campaign. This paper introduces planners and operators to three frontier tenets, four basic strategies, five tactics and a sample template for preparing and participating in a military-political engagement/campaign.

Download the full article: Some Considerations for Planning and Executing a Military-Political Engagement in Afghanistan

William S. "Mac" McCallister is a retired military officer. He has worked extensively in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. While on active duty, McCallister served in numerous infantry and special operations assignments specializing in civil-military, psychological and information operations.

About the Author(s)


Dave Owen (not verified)

Fri, 05/21/2010 - 1:30am

MAC, it's nice to see you are still making friends. Good read, I'll pass it on to my son so when his turn in the barrel comes up he will know the score. When you are finished intellectually pissing in everyone's water source drop me a note.

As with most social contracts and human endeavors, emotion often intevenes against rational thought to make any objective insight counter-intuitive.

For everyone's viewing pleasure, when peace settlements (conflict/dispute resolution) do more harm than good (H/T Adam Elkus, the Harvard boys and girls, and the Wicked Problems crew).

Rethinking Rebellions: A New Approach to ending Civil War.

Monica Duffy Toft…


"Negotiated Settlement to Civil War May Cause More Harm than Good. Civil wars ending in negotiated settlements are (1) more likely to recur; (2) no more likely to lead to democracy than other types of settlements; and (3) do not deliver increased prospects for economic prosperity.

Rebel Victories Lead to Greater Stability and Democratization. Victories that allow combatants to fight to a decisive political outcome tend to result in ended wars that stay ended. Rebel victories in particular, lead to greater stability and democratization as compared to the status quo ante.

Giving War and Peace a Chance. Rather than simply shift to a willingness to support rebels in achieving victory, third parties should pay greater attention to security-sector reform during negotiations. Such settlements, which could credibly guarantee both benefits from cooperation and harm from defection, are likely to hold out better prospects for enduring peace, liberty, and prosperity following a civil war."




Wed, 05/05/2010 - 4:30pm


As a fellow traveler who has been dropped off in various places with a few duffle bags and perhaps an idea or two I appreciate your paper.

Joshua (Go Buffs!),

Registan is a worthwhile read. I for one would be interested in a compare/contrast with British Political Officers vs. today's approach or a comparision with a more relevant model if such a thing exists. At one time, if I remember correctly, either your site or Ghosts of Alexander had a post regarding Soviet Agricultural Advisors TTP's which made for an interesting read.


For some of us out here who are 'getting it done' know that we are looking for answers as well as criticism. Criticism only advances things so far, and it's value is greatly dimished without the presentation of credible alternatives.

Anonymous (not verified)

Wed, 05/05/2010 - 3:35pm

Maybe we should first of all really look back and see what if anything was actually accomplished in Iraq which was our first solid encounter with tribes.

After just how much of our tax dollars, and just how many wounded and KIA have we come to the point that after seven years in Iraq an Iranian styled Shiite government is being installed with our blessing in Iraq and yet we are pounding every day Iran in our media.Seems to me to be double standards in effect.

From today (see below)---after reading the initial two paras it seems the above discussion is a total waste of time as one simply does not have a long term plan for Afghanistan nor does anyone really know if there is a plan what the final results are going to be---some would argue we are simply delaying the return of the Taliban.

BAGHDAD - An agreement signed by the two main Iranian-backed Shiite blocs seeking to govern Iraq gives the final decision on all their political disputes to top Shiite clerics, according to a copy obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday.

If the alliance succeeds in forming the next government, the provision could increase the role of senior clergy in politics. The provision would likely further alienate Iraq's Sunni minority, which had been hoping the March election would boost their say in the country.

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Wed, 05/05/2010 - 3:02pm

Dearest Ian,

Shrieker parts??? Wow, sarcasm and ridicule... and dismissive to boot.

You seek to introduce a dispute-resolution system??? That's great (imagine that I am holding a coffee cup and hovering around your cubicle). No need to explain the what and how "cuz you aint gonna" explain nuthin... Did I get that about right?

Please lighten up Ian. You seem very serious and angry and if this condition is not managed properly will drive you to drink or worse, run for public office. I never proposed that the Arbakai is THE solution... you read way too much into things.

You also attribute to me non-existing motivations (I actually thought giving you the last word because we are all very busy was intended as a courtesy but it only riled you - my bad).

You also have a very bad habit of grossly misquoting and distorting my comments in your counter-arguments. The "bigger thing" visual has NOTHING to do with being challenged on substance and everything to do with Brother Josh describing both of your vast experience in all things Afghan. The unspoken implied being that you and he are the professionals from Dover and therefore have no need to justify or explain anything. Being the arrogant Alpha male that I am, I of course took this comment as a challenge to my scholarly manhood. Not to mention a gross marginalization of my life experiences. This is where the big thing reference comes into play... now do you understand??? If not, should I explain it differently? I apology greatly for my hip-shoot response and apologize that I might believe that the comment was self-explanatory...but then...when I call you on misquotes and distortions you tend to dismiss the challenge as irrelevant or with a redirect.

Case in point: White brains and their brown brains??? WTF??? I wrote that there are cognitive theorists that assume that there exists an evolutionary basis for stereotypes... . not my studies... and now the redirect... are you now implying and by implication accusing me of being a racist??? I hope not for that would upset me!

Name calling and labeling is a technique. I personally find it intellectually dishonest, shallow and quite boring really... but... am not above using the technique myself :-)

I guess that all is fair when strenuously disagreeing with someone is it not? You have grown into quite the post-modernist provocateur: bitter, sarcastic and dismissive. Good for you.

Please tell me Ian that you get to count coup among your posse (or whatever the young kids are calling it nowadays) or that you receive kudos from those you are trying to impress for engaging and taking me on in this manner... This would really make me feel good about myself... for when it is all said and done, isnt feeling good about ourselves what our love/hate relationship is all about?

One last thought. Could this exchange be all about you defending the right of everyone, everywhere to criticize without providing cogent arguments ("cuz they said so") or alternative solutions. The battle cry for this movement could be "explain nuthin". There was a "know nothing" party once...

I give you the "explain nuthin" party. Rest assured, your right to criticize remains safe with me.

... and now I promise to stop acting the bully because I fear that there are some who might interpret my responses to you as mere abuse and dialogue unworthy of serious consideration. Come to think of it, this conversation actually is unworthy of serious consideration...

I accused you of making passive-aggressive arguments... I'd like to take this label off the table, for I am actually a much worse offender of this practice than you are. Mirror imaging, nothing more.

...and yes, I do enjoy our verbal banterings when you are not misinterpreting comments and developing counter-arguments based on misquoted statements :-)

Do you want the last word on this exchange? I offer only because I am actually getting tired of all this fun.

Many, many, many man-hugs,



Change One. Ungoverned spaces to be defined as ungoverned by the central gov't. Local leaders will continue to govern via customary law (consensus, reparations, etc) unless they are assasinated, coerced, or intimidated. If it reaches that point, a governance vacuum exist which others will attempt to fill.


Tue, 05/04/2010 - 7:17pm

I'm not sure if there any ungoverned spaces in Afghanistan. Customary law has been pretty resilient and fills the gap of state/Islamic law.

Arbakai, as I understand it, are a southeastern Afghanistan phenomenon and are only commonly used in one part of SE A'Stan. I'm relying on <a href="">this document</a>. If there are better references, please let me know.

Ian (not verified)

Tue, 05/04/2010 - 6:58pm

I'm gonna wade past the shriekier parts, okay?

I see you saying that arbakai, which are the violent expression of local disputes, and even though they may vanish before our eyes before, yes before, the withdrawal we can all live with is complete, is a great way to proceed. I'd say not. In the place of this idea, I'd propose a dispute-resolution system that's probably not to the liking of the civilians now in charge of instituting[/imposing] "rule of law," which resembles rule of law like Soviet Afghan socialism resembled socialism. Don't accuse me of not outlining a fully-fledged dispute-resolution system in this comment cuz I ain't gonna. Maybe later. Anyway, I strongly disagree that arbakai are a solution, and if you want to ignore the data pre-2001, there's plenty of data post-2001 and even post-2009 (viz. the Shinwari tangled mess).

On principle I can't agree with a paragraph that says we both agree with Edward Said and then goes on to promote the idea of evolutionary psychology that says our White Brains and their brown brains are just differ'nt. This is bizarro-world theory. Pashtuns, as I have said, are humans, not frontier rules-based thinking units.

What this comes down to, and I regret that you have declared my word the last (but you love discussing with me!!), is that my criticisms of your statements have been received as judgments on the size of the guy's "thing". That is not remotely my intent; my intent is to disagree strenuously with your ideas.

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Tue, 05/04/2010 - 12:46pm

Dear Ian and Josh,

Josh, I truly appreciate the kind way you insult my scholarship in the way you hint, hint that I need help in understanding Afghan social structures and community organizations :-) My argument with those who only criticize is that I have yet to see a sample of a cogent, locally appropriate plan. When the likes of me proposes one of these plans we are confronted with naysayers quoting some mythical, universally accepted knowledge of how stuff works in Afghanistan and it aint the way the likes of me imagine it to be. This may actually be the case but I need to see it.. "show me".

We are kindred spirits; I too have a reasonable command of at least several decades of research into how the country works, who and what its people are, and how its governments have tended to function. Ive been studying the place for thirty-one years and counting; ever since the Soviet Union invaded the country in 1979. Ive also rounded out my study with a heavy dose of regional history and a stint in country with a local mentor. Ill therefore wager that my thing is as big as anyone else with similar experiences (please note that I said similar experiences as mine) when it comes to an appreciation of the country. Ill also wager that I can contradict any source with sources of my own. In my many and on-going years of self-study I have learned that academia is divided on everything and that there exists no one true answer to anything or a simple formula for social understanding. Thank God for that or what a boring world this would be... intellectual tyranny. On the other hand, this fact doesn't help our military who actually have to develop plans of action and are unable to indulge themselves in intellectual masturbation when it is time to brief the CONOP.

It appears that we agree with Edward Said who accuses Western scholars of bias, preconceived archetypes and an inability to differentiate between fantasy and reality aka 1001 Arabian Nights. While I actually believe that we can differentiate between fantasy and reality I also accept that there exist distinct Western and non-western biases, and preconceived cultural archetypes. There is actually an evolutionary basis for perceiving archetypes and stereotypes. Brain scholars continue to study the phenomena. Interesting stuff and well worth exploiting when conducting psychological operations. It is therefore very difficult to get around our inherent Western biases, patterns of behavior and all that stuff. I also accept that not everyone is as enlightened as the vanguard of the educated or intellectually gifted or (fill in the blank) and that we must therefore accept the constant bickering over definitions, terms, concepts etc, etc, between the intellectual classes and the hoi polloi or soldiers and Marines who are tasked to execute grandiose concepts of social re-engineering. We do the best we can with the resources and understanding at hand.

By the way Ian, please re-read the priority intelligence requirement section referencing the Arbakai. I quote:

9.2 On average, how long can we expect the local security element to be active before disbanding?

The implied in this statement is that the local security element is organized for a specific function and that it is active for a period of time and then disbands. Could this statement actually describe an ephemeral grouping? By asking and answering this question, could decision-makers at the strategic and tactical levels be lead to believe that a local security element or Arbakai might be organized in an ad hoc fashion when required for a limited amount of time? If we overlooked this critical piece of information in an initial reading, what else was missed? I fear that we are so locked into our respective debating positions that critical information is missed, especially information needed to argue ones case. Attention to detail brother... but then you and I both know that a person can do everything right and still draw the third eye... right?

The character assassination comment was in reference to SF Major Jim Gant. The collective we couldnt argue against experience so we targeted motivation. In my opinion, most of the arguments against Major Gant were actually examples of ideology wrapped in theory. When ideological arguments didnt work we accused him of seeking to reenact a "Man Who Would Be King" scenario and personal aggrandizement. I understand and concur with the Quiet Professional persona but publicly and personally attacking Major Gant for his views while hiding behind anonymity pissed me off. I venture to say that very few would have said the same to this man in person. I didnt mean to imply that you, Ian, participated in this process since you did call for an end to the idiocy.

Come to think of it... "The Man Who Would Be King" might actually be a viable course of action (the Military Decision Making Process requires that a viable COA be suitable, feasible, acceptable, distinguishable and complete) to accomplish a stated mission such as establishing stability in Kunar and departing the province with a semblance of our frontier prestige intact. There will always be conflicts and rumors of conflicts in Afghanistan. Yes, yes I know, the term "acceptable" has different connotations in the military and political realms.

Alright fellas, you guys get the last word.

Man hugs all around, especially you Mike.

v/r yall



Tue, 05/04/2010 - 9:42am

Having come to this blog a only year ago, I guess I must have missed some of the Mac/Ian love/hate-fest, and would enjoy reading previous iterations. Can anyone refer me to other threads.
My totally unimportant two afghanis worth:
I agree completely with Joshua. No one is defending a doctoral thesis here (I don't think), and if you have to proffer a complete alternative everytime you disagree with someone, then 98% of the disagreements would never see the light of day--which I do not think would be a good thing.
On the specific issue of the arbakai, what I have picked up from working with the MOI is: a) they are per se (as opposed to other types of posses/local militias) only raised in a few distinct areas; b) as noted, ephemeral, and c) anathema to the MOI because they are not under central control and often used to fight local feuds, as opposed to the "taliban".

Hi Mac,

Glad y'all got all the man hugs and kisses done before I jumped in. To borrow from Zack de la Rocha and RATM, I'd classify this essay as "another bomb McCallister track." Generally, I understand some of Joshua Foust and Ian's critique, but those debates over institutional definitions and can we go from micro to macro are past me. I have neither the background nor expertise to engage; however, I will attempt to expand on Jim Gant's praise and provide my own considerations to your considerations into an institution that I am intimately familiar. My two cents as it were.

Going back to Big Army, words mean things when used in proper context, and I'd submit that you introduced two terms that better describe and define the environment for those centurions about to enter into the breach: Frontier and Manage.

1. Frontier. Recon guys, defense analyst, and luddites like me prefer to name ungoverned spaces as denied areas or enemy safe havens. This classification worked well in Iraq, but as I continue to learn, no small war is the same. Afghanistan brings a whole new measure of gray past the black and white that we so often seek for clarity. Sometimes, theyre neither with us nor against us, they just might not want us intruding. Down in SWC land, Steve Blair has pounded endlessly into my head that Astan is more akin to 1800s Arizona than Vietnam. So, for the young practitioner about to actually practice, your words are timely and relevant.

2. Manage. From West Points Reception Day onward to assuming command, we are taught to control ones environment; we are accountable and responsible for all decisions that we make or fail to make. Lies of omission are as bad if not worse than those of commission. This indoctrination extends to routinization as lines are drawn on acetate or FBCB2, and were given areas of operation and responsibility. These graphic control measures present an illusion of control that we must solve the problems through force of sheer will, determination, and resolve. In reality, that notion is more estranged. We can only hope to manage through our duality of our personal and professional reslationships by, with, and through advising, assisting, coercion, and influence. Manage is a more appropriate term to describe ones lack of control in forcing our policy onto others within the limited means at hand.

Lastly, I as consider to ponder and reflect, can these attributes of a good counter-insurgent and advisor be taught or must they be learned through trial and error? In my own experience, I learned more from the times that I failed to listen or catch the subtle signs than I did from the classroom. I dont know. Maybe its similar to the leadership debate- Is it an innate gift or one taught?

Big Bear hug and high fives here... .Keep on keeping on.



Ian (not verified)

Mon, 05/03/2010 - 7:59pm

We're good, we're good. I am just as sickened by character assassination as anyone, and if you look back at whatever post where we last met, someone pulled that nonsense against Major Gant and I was the first one to condemn it. I applaud people who put themselves out there with their ideas. I can't and maybe at some point that will change, but in the meantime here I am with only my first name. The former life I led was in an environment where folks wasted little time on patting their colleagues on the back, in favor of cutting to the chase and poking the soft spots in an argument. That's all I'm here to do, and it's in the interest of the whole mission.

The reason I won't try to debate the theoretical assumptions behind the word "institution" is because I don't see that as the core of the question. The core is: are we going to stake our tactical community engagements on militia groupings that dissolve when we turn our heads away? This is the traditional form of arbakai: it only lasts as long as it lasts. If decision-makers at the strategic and tactical levels think that arbaki aren't ephemeral, they going in blind.

When we come up with a model of engagements, I think it's very easy to over-emphasize "rules-based" thinking, especially since there's a whole industry of pseudo-anthropology that sells Pashtunwali as if it were the Klingon Code of Honor. Pashtuns are also humans. Some of them break promises and have affairs with their neighbors wives and steal irrigation water. We can idealize nanawati and badal and all sorts of exotic words, but they are competing with the realities of a war zone.

Last, and this is our fundamental disagreement, I think Afghanistan has built up an immunity to imposed social fantasies over the decades. It confuses me when you say we need to work within the assumptions of Afghan culture, and then in the same breath say that we need to alter the assumptions of Afghan culture if we need to.

I think the right approach here is to ask questions, many of the questions at the end of the document are exactly what we need to know the answers to. But, we also might as well benefit from previous experience and not limit ourselves to what we see with our own eyes.


We're still good. Here's the big difference. I can't speak to Ian's background, but I don't know jack about the MDMP or how to properly plan something, or even what considerations would be specifically appropriate for planning operations in Kandahar that would be relevant to SWJ's primary audience.

What I do know, however, is Afghanistan, and I think both Ian and I have a reasonable command of the last several decades of research into how the country works, who and what its people are, and how its governments have tended to function. So when we criticize a conception or model of Afghanistan, it's coming from that place - not criticizing for the sake of criticizing, but correcting the foundations of that planning process you're laying out.

Without a good foundation, any set of concepts and considerations will fall flat. Ian is correct to point that out. As non-military types, I don't think either of us could meaningfully contribute to specific planning issues (most of the SWJ's readership would be correct to laugh at me if I were to try). What we can contribute to, however, is providing those with proper training in crafting plans--like you (hint hint)--with the appropriate and accurate foundation in Afghanistan's social structures and community organizations so that you CAN put together a cogent, locally appropriate plan.

Which brings us back to why neither Ian nor I are obligated to provide a complete set of alternatives. We can't. But we can discuss the foundation of those alternatives, in the form or properly conceiving the operating environment. Neither Ian nor I are after your job, nor do we pick these things apart for the hell of it. I think I can speak for him when I say we want it to be right. But it has to be <i>right</i> in the basics first.

Not sure where character assassination came into play.

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Mon, 05/03/2010 - 6:19pm

Dear Ian.... and Josh,

Are we still good?

Bottom line, while I enjoy these exchanges, we are not going to agree on the ground rules. I gather that you assume that you only need to point out inaccuracies while I believe that a person should also develop cogent arguments for why or why not.

Josh argues that you are under no obligation to provide an alternative definition when terms, definitions and concepts are used incorrectly. If this is the case, please provide me with the "official and universally accepted terms, definitions, and concepts dictionary".

So which definition for "institution" is the correct one? Are institutions rules and norms that regulate the behavior of actors and does this definition also apply to ephemeral groupings or could the term also define and constitute the actors themselves or is it something else altogether? You see, I dont own a dictionary of universally accepted terms, definitions and concepts.

Since Josh entered the fray Ill target him next. I actually believe that there is an obligation to provide an alternative and if there are no good alternatives, then you do the best you can. What else can one do? What is the alternative? Oh, I apologize; according to Josh, people who criticize are under no obligation to provide alternatives.

Brother Ian, I fear you misinterpreted the intent of my comments in our past comments-section exchanges. I did not wish to imply that discussions concerning terms, definitions, concepts, differences in education and life experiences, proposals, courses of actions, etc, etc, shouldnt be up for discussion or criticism (something that appears to be the case on the other side). What I responded to initially was what I perceived to be a constant barrage of criticism of one mans conclusions and recommendations based on his real world experiences and successes and his attempt to create a bit of flexibility in the existing institutional mindset. I just happened to unleash my bile after one of your posts. Your post, although I have no personal animosity toward just happened to be the trigger, that's all.. nothing personal. It was a timing thing.

It is the constant barrage of criticism and character assassinations that I believe hurts the boys on the team. How in the hell are you going to get anyone to propose anything if they are only met by criticism and personal attacks or worse a choir of NO. If you should misinterpret my sentiments as weakness please think again. I am more than willing and able to engage in muckracking and actually enjoy the intellectual fight but why go there? I am actually calling for the overthrow of the intellectual elites and their monopoly on good ideas (attempt at humor... or is it?). You are correct... words mean things.

Josh, crawl back under your rock :-)

More man-hugs and cheek kisses,

v/r to both Ian and Josh

Ian (not verified)

Mon, 05/03/2010 - 3:56pm

Mac, I apologize. I thought my pointing out your inaccuracies was fairly straightforward and not at all "passive-aggressive." I also fail to see where I implied that you would be causing failure; what I meant was, that this kind of thinking about community engagement(/reshaping) is so influential that it appears to be taking place on the tactical level even as we snipe, so the origins of the success or failure of it can be read by future historians right here at SWJ.

I took away from our past comments-section exchanges that you think these things shouldn't really be up for discussion, because a) it hurts the boys on our team, and b) it's pointless to discuss the minute semantic differences between community and tribal.

Like I said to Dave, I'm afraid I can't do anything but repeat that the things you wrote specific to Afghan culture are not very accurate. It's an awkward position and I wish I could do something else.


I'm avoiding the specific Ian-MAC ritual bickering. I just want to point out that Ian is under no obligation to provide an alternative, if he is correct in noting that terms and definitions and concepts are being used incorrectly. Saying you have to provide alternatives for guys on the ground is great, but what if there aren't good alternatives? I know that's not really what this discussion is about, but it's worth considering.

By the MAC standard, you can never criticize something if you don't have a completely alternate COA, fully formed and quickly explained for a comments section. It's just another form of the chickenhawk argument, that you cannot believe a war is worth fighting unless you yourself are out doing the fighting. Both positions have the same logical underpinings, and neither makes much sense.

Now, go back to sniping about community organizations in Afghanistan.


Mon, 05/03/2010 - 1:10pm


Keep up the great work. Relevant, real-world and USEABLE on the ground.


Jim Gant

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Mon, 05/03/2010 - 10:36am

Dear Ian,

Firstly, thanks for your off-handed compliment. It appears that you are still angry with me. Secondly, I am not sure whether we disagree on fundamental levels since I have only been privy to a limited number of your public postings. You may be surprised, but I do not believe that we disagree fundamentally on anything, except maybe the following. While you may believe that I might not want you to personally "comment on these things because its pointless" I actually welcome an intelligent dialogue, discussion and/or debate. I therefore ask that you might reconsider the passive-aggressive rhetoric and focus on your main point which is that my scholarship and personal experience are not worth a second reading and best read as a gauge for why we failed in Afghanistan. See how much easier that is then just tucking on emotional heart-strings or scratching at emotional scabs? I fear that my arrogance has forced you to turn this intelligent dialogue, discussion, and/or debate of opposing views into mere emotions.

Secondly, for all your intellectual prowess, vast knowledge and immense personal and real-world experiences, you have not provided ANYTHING that our folks on the ground could use to conduct engagement activities. If you have, would you please direct me to a place where your recommendations to work the issues might be found. I could then publicly praise, condemn or ridicule your work. On the other hand, I do appreciate the kudos that I might actually be one of the main causes for contributing to the failure of American efforts in Afghanistan.

Why dont you give us something more up-to-date and relevant for how the current social system might actually behave? The passive-aggressive approach is getting old. I am not sure if your argument is an emotional one or one based on researched and experienced facts. Id like to believe you when you say that I am wrong, but you have shown me nothing concrete to prove your case. But lets be honest, even if you made the airtight case that I am the second coming of the anthropological and sociological anti-Christ, I would only accuse you of hiding behind your first name anonymity. Dismissal, ridicule and sarcasm are valid debate tactics when lifes ambiguities are kicking you in the rear end... are they not?

Aside from the unpleasantness that constitutes emotional debates... here is some food for thought on your comment that I misinterpreted the arbakai as an institution, when it is in fact an ephemeral grouping. There actually exist contending definitions for what constitutes and an institution. For behavioralists and sociologists, institutions are rules and norms that regulate actors behavior and this might actually also apply to ephemeral groupings. While for critical theorists institutions also define and constitute the actors themselves. Wow, what a complex world we live in.

Many man-hugs and cheek-kisses,


Ian (not verified)

Mon, 05/03/2010 - 8:37am

I appreciate the opportunity--unfortunately I'm not in a position to do that, so I have to leave it in the comments section. That way it's clear that the opinions expressed are my own.


Some excellent contrary comments. I am unfamiliar with your name and therefore your work. Perhaps you could post some of your thoughts in detail as a counterpoint to Mac's (still excellent in my opinion) analysis. I am sure SWJ will be happy to publish your paper(s). Thanks

Ian (not verified)

Mon, 05/03/2010 - 7:01am

Worth reading and studying, especially a hundred years from now by historians--I suspect this kind of document will go a ways toward explaining what happened in [or to] Afghanistan.

I know that Mac and I disagree on fundamental levels, and therefore he thinks I should not comment on these things because it's pointless, but:

The specifics he lists on Afghanistan's culture are not accurate. For example, these "behavioral rules" he lists are as much the invention of previous imperial bureaucracies as they are of Pashtun culture. They are not rules. They are only honored in the breach these days. No one who has lived in a Pashtun village in recent decades with social science training has reported that these "rules" work as rules. For another example, arbakai is misrepresented as an institution, when it is in fact an ephemeral grouping (ephemeral like almost all groupings in the Pashtun areas of Afghanistan). Arbaki are traditionally ad hoc responses to specific threats, usually perceived as coming from outsiders like a central government or a foreign army. Finally, we only have to look at Pakistan or Central Asia to see the "success stories" of impositions of simplistic identity by now-defunct empires on regional complexities. Why we should want to emulate that kind of success is beyond my comprehension.

"Mac" McCallister has few peers (if any!). What he writes is always worth reading and studying.

Ian (not verified)

Thu, 05/06/2010 - 2:24pm

I apologize for acting the bully, although I don't see in my comments any sarcasm or other meanie-ness. I disagree with your ideas about Afghanistan. I do think that the idea "there exist distinct Western and non-western biases, and preconceived cultural archetypes" is, for lack of a better word, pretty racist and absurdly tied to Edward Said by you. For the third time, I am not in a position to write a policy recommendation on this blog, though I do support the right to criticize things even when they're written by retired officers.