Afghan Interior Ministry Arrests Tribal Elders Who Mediate With Taliban

Ministry accuses mediators of cooperation with terrorists

In all but the largest cities, Afghanistan is organized around a strong sense of tribalism, with tribal elders holding a position of prominence almost everywhere. It is not an exaggeration to say that in small villages, the elders are more influential than the government.

After decades of war, and Afghanistan being what it is, many groups have come to rely on tribal elders to mediate local disputes with the Taliban, or to organize aid operations and prisoner exchanges that otherwise aren’t possible.

And this being Afghanistan, someone’s going to ruin a rare perk that has been discovered in the war-torn mess. The Interior Ministry has begun arresting tribal elders for their role in mediation, arguing it amounts to cooperation with terrorists.

As a practical matter this is a reaction to recent military defeats, and individual bases negotiating safe withdrawals rather than waiting to be overrun militarily. In the face of huge casualties and large numbers of captured troops, it’s unsurprising that forces are looking to negotiate pullouts where they can, especially where it’s clear there are areas where reinforcements just aren’t coming.

The Interior Ministry’s response seems meant to curtail these safe redeployments of their own troops, suggesting the Ghani government prefers the idea of leaving remote military outposts to fight until the last man if they don’t opt to reinforce them.

In Afghanistan, the tribal elders will always have influence, and a government tries to undercut them at their own peril. The attempts to eliminate mediation simply can’t work, and Afghan officials on the base level will continue to look to the elders when they can’t defend their bases and want to withdraw.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is senior editor of