To Create a Stable Afghanistan: Provisional Reconstruction Teams, Good Governance, and a Splash of History

By Roe, Andrew M. | Military Review, November-December 2005 | Go to article overview

To Create a Stable Afghanistan: Provisional Reconstruction Teams, Good Governance, and a Splash of History


Roe, Andrew M., Military Review


THE COALITION and NATO face the complex challenge of establishing a legitimate functioning government in Afghanistan that can withstand the withdrawal of Western forces. To meet this challenge, they might look to earlier British efforts to manage the North-West Frontier along Afghanistan's eastern border. (1) Proven methods the British used in the frontier districts could generate a coherent four-step plan for Afghanistan's reconstruction. Indeed, as resources shrink, new, imaginative measures--plus tried and true ones--will be needed to control Afghanistan's geographically dispersed tribes to prevent the reemergence of terrorists or armed insurrection.

The North-West Frontier linking Central and South Central Asia, an ethnic Pushtoon area where tribesmen cross freely from Afghanistan and back, was one of the British Empire's most challenging territories. (2) A negligibly small British administrative and military apparatus routinely and successfully controlled this extensive area using a mix of incentives and force to encourage tribes to control themselves.

From the 1890s to 1947, British control relied heavily on a small number of highly trained British officers and officials who embraced many of the structures the East India Company established during the previous century. (3) These frontier officers, part of the Indian Civil Service or Indian Political Service, were highly educated, committed, conscientious, and hard working. Many had studied Indian law and history and spoke some of the local languages. They had a deep sense of duty and a strong national identity. All required a great depth of administrative competence and judgment to wield successfully the extensive powers that lay at their disposal. They contributed significantly to the province's security and stability. The political officer and Indian political agents were particularly valuable in navigating the intricacies of tribal politics. (4)

Despite the frontier officers' unquestionable ability, it was impossible for British officers alone to administer such a large geographical area. Educated and trustworthy Indians were recruited into the ranks of the Indian Civil Service. (5) Recruitment standards were high, with emphasis on integrity and ability. These Indians were invaluable, and many shared the same ethics and principles as their British counterparts, which they gained during their education in England. Their participation was essential (for balance and legitimacy) and inescapable. A small number of geographically dispersed Britons, unaided from within, could never have successfully governed such a diverse population.

The same organizing principle was true of the army. While a relatively small British Army force remained in the North-West Frontier (acting more as a cohesive, reliable reserve than a force of first use), the majority of forces came from the Indian Army. The Indian Army's main duty was to protect the peaceful border inhabitants from hostile tribesmen and, on occasion, to conduct punitive operations. In the main, volunteer British officers commanded these units, which served as a large, capable standing force. However, for more routine activity, frontier scouts normally controlled tribal territory, and the frontier constabulary normally controlled settled areas. Both came from the local Pushtoon populace.

Lessons learned from the British experience of the North-West Frontier remain pertinent and are transferable to settling the conflict and furthering the national reconstruction of Afghanistan.

Lessons from the British Experience

The coalition's mission to defeat the ongoing insurgency in Afghanistan has focused on eliminating guerrilla forces through conventional military attrition in the southern and eastern areas of the country. Little emphasis has been placed on securing and stabilizing the countryside beyond Kabul. The absence of security has diminished the trust of the population in the central government, impaired relief efforts, prevented nationwide reconstruction, and rendered aid agencies vulnerable to guerrilla actions. …

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To Create a Stable Afghanistan: Provisional Reconstruction Teams, Good Governance, and a Splash of History
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