It is such traditional loyalties existing below the level of the state that historically both Marxist and liberal intellectuals, in their efforts to remake societies after Soviet and Western democratic models, tragically underestimated. A realist like St. Augustine, in his City of God, understood that tribes, based on the narrow bonds of kinship and ethnicity rather than on any universalist longing, may not constitute the highest good; but by contributing to social cohesion, tribes nevertheless constitute a good in and of themselves. Quelling anarchy means starting with clans and tribes, and building upwards from those granular elements.
From the archives:"The Lawless Frontier"
The tribal lands of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border reveal the future of conflict in the Subcontinent, along with the dark side of globalization. By Robert D. Kaplan
The tribal nature of Pakistan is even more pronounced than in Iraq. Pakistan, divided among geographically based ethnic groups, is a nuclear Yugoslavia-in-the-making. Our troops are already in Afghanistan. So it is highly conceivable that we will have boots on the ground in Pakistan’s border area with Afghanistan. This is the true frontline in the war on terrorism, where presumably the leadership of al-Qaeda is ensconced. Our troops will find there a deathly volcanic landscape of crags and winding canyons and alkaline deserts 1,000 miles long and 100 miles wide. In this high desert, the tribes rule: Dravidian Raisanis, Turko-Iranian Baluchis, and Indo-Aryan Pushtuns. Neither the British nor any succeeding Pakistani government has managed to subdue them.
The tribes of Baluchistan and the Northwest Frontier Province don’t require Western institutions because they already have institutions of their own. What we call warlords are often, in reality, tribal elders who settle divorce cases, property disputes, and other civil conflicts for which we resort to the courts or government. If the American military deploys to these badlands in numbers large or small, it will follow the Anbar example of working with the tribes, greasing their palms for information on al-Qaeda, while accepting their social and political way of life.
There is nothing wrong or cynical about this. Where democratic governance does not exist, we must work with the material at hand. We have inherited our Anglo-Saxon traditions of liberty and democracy just as other peoples, with different historical experiences and geographical circumstances, have inherited theirs. And these other peoples yearn for justice and dignity, which does not always overlap with Western democracy. Throughout the Arab world, old monarchial and authoritarian orders are now weakening. Keeping societies stable will depend largely on tribes, and the deals they are able to cut with one another. In the Middle East, an age of pathetic, fledgling democracies is also an age of tribes.
When George W. Bush first ran for president in 2000, he spoke about the need for “humility” in foreign affairs. Now that our troops are practicing what he preached, after years of failure we’re finally seeing some tenuous results. In striving for a new, post-modern order in the Middle East, we have awakened a medieval one, from which we must now build something permanent.