Thomas Barfield suggest structural changes the US and Afghan governments can implement to avoid both the dissolution of the Afghan state and a civil war within in. Among these suggestions are the recognition of political parties – to weaken ethnic and regional networks who “owe their strength not to popular enthusiasm but to a simple lack of alternatives” – and the devolution of power to local authorities, akin to the democratic federal system in the US, as a structure to provide stability.
Barfield, a Professor of Anthropology at Boston University and one of the smartest observers writing about Afghanistan, also shares these thoughts on incorporating the Taliban into local governments:
Opening up provincial and district governorships to competition would provide the safest form of power sharing with the Taliban. Whereas non-Pashtun Afghans oppose granting the Taliban a role in the national government, they have few objections to former (or even current) Taliban members serving in districts or provinces where they have local support. Allowing the Taliban to serve in a democratic government would likely lead to beneficial fissures within the Taliban, since those who come to hold positions in local government would have less reason to remain loyal to the Taliban leadership based in Pakistan. Participating in a coalition government would put much different pressures on Taliban members from those they faced when they essentially ruled as dictators in the 1990s. The stated goal of the Taliban’s central command — seizing power nationwide — would immediately clash with the interests of these local commanders turned politicians. Similarly, the need for these governors to deliver services and patronage to their own districts would increase their incentives to cooperate with those who could provide such aid: namely, the government in Kabul and its international allies.
The article, “Afghanistan’s Ethnic Puzzle,” is also recommended for those, well, trying to understand Afghanistan’s ethnic puzzle. That understanding requires the acknowledgment of the ever-changing links and loyalties that unite and fracture Afghanistan’s regional, ethnic, and religious groups, and the avoidance of simple deductions and conclusions.