CSRC Working Paper 7

"Tribes" and Warlords in Southern Afghanistan, 1980-2005
Working Paper No : 7 (series 2)
Author(s) : Antonio Giustozzi and Noor Ullah
Date : September 2006

The paper seeks to distinguish different 'ideal types' within the ranks of non-ideological non-state actors, such as warlords and strongmen. While both are charismatic leaders who build a personal following, warlords are characterised by the fact that their leadership is exercised over the military class; in other words, their strength is their military legitimacy. This, together with their control over a territory, gives them in turn a political role, but without the benefits of political legitimacy. By contrast, strongmen do not have a military background, although they have armed followers whom they mainly use to coerce obedience from the surrounding population. They may have a degree of political legitimacy, since they may come from notable families or might claim a 'traditional' role (i.e. tribal leader etc.) and thus accept at least some of the accompanying social constraints. In examining warlordism and the importance of the above distinctions in Afghanistan, the paper also analyses the so-called 'Pashtun belt' where warlordism did not find a fertile ground. Throughout the years of jihad and civil war, few warlords emerged in this area, and few of those who did lasted very long. Since the general conditions brought about by the war in this area were similar to those of the rest of the country, the author considers that the weak presence of warlords must be due to local factors and his paper examines the structures of tribal leadership and political influence in the area. He concludes that within the context of Pashtun social structures, warlordism could find little space and was ultimately re-absorbed into tribal society.