As the debate intensifies within the Obama administration over how to stabilize Afghanistan, one major problem is conspicuously missing from the discussion: the growing alienation of the country’s largest ethnic group, the Pashtun tribes, who make up an estimated 42 percent of the population of 33 million. One of the basic reasons many Pashtuns support the Taliban insurgency is that their historic rivals, ethnic Tajiks, hold most of the key levers of power in the government.
Tajiks constitute only about 24 percent of the population, yet they largely control the armed forces and the intelligence and secret police agencies that loom over the daily lives of the Pashtuns. Little wonder that in the run-up to Thursday’s presidential election, much of the Taliban propaganda has focused on the fact that President Hamid Karzai’s top running mate is a hated symbol of Tajik power: the former defense minister Muhammad Fahim.
Mr. Fahim and his allies have been entrenched in Kabul since American forces overthrew the Taliban in 2001 with the help of his Tajik militia, the Northern Alliance, which was based in the Panjshir valley north of the capital. A clique of these Tajik officers, known as the Panjshiris, took control of the key security posts with American backing, and they have been there ever since. Washington pushed Mr. Karzai for the presidency to give a Pashtun face to the regime, but he has been derided from the start by his fellow Pashtuns with a play on his name, “Panjshir-zai.” [continued…]