Tribal Security System (Arbakai) in Southeast Afghanistan.


Forms of community policing known as Arbakai have existed in Southeast Afghanistan for centuries, their survival facilitated by the particularly weak state presence in this region. This paper examines the Arbakai in the light of existing literature about community policing and explores their relationship with the Afghan State.

Limited literature exists on this subject. Thus the author here presents highly original research findings using data collected during interviews, focus group discussions and his own experience working with the Arbakai between 2001 and 2006, after the fall of the Taliban regime. Qualitative open-ended interviews took place with three government officials and seven people from the region – three tribal leaders, two civil society members and two retired regional government officers. The author also distributed a survey questionnaire to nine people from the south-eastern, eastern, central and southern regions.

Underpinning this study lies one question: how can the state security sector engage with the Arbakai? In order to answer this, the paper will first analyse the current situation, and then the context of the region in which the Arbakai are currently active. Following this, the specific failure of the security sector reform will be discussed. Much of the paper is dedicated to explaining how the Arbakai institution works, and how it is distinct from militias and those hired by private security companies. The potential expansion of the system to other regions of Afghanistan will be discussed with a particular focus on the difficulties of introducing a community security system from above and the possible consequences of doing so. In this light, the clash between Pashtunwali, as the legal source for Arbakai, and the civil law adopted by the state will be explored. A case study of the Mangal tribe will be used to illustrate the role of the Arbakai in the counter-insurgency effort.


Mohammed Osman Tariq. Tribal Security System (Arbakai) in Southeast Afghanistan. Crisis States Occasional Paper No. 7. Crisis States Research Centre, London, UK (2008) 21 pp.

Tribal Security System (Arbakai) in Southeast Afghanistan.

Published 1 January 2008