Carl Forsberg has just written a report on Politics and Power in Kandahar for the Institute for the Study of War. The report provides an extremely useful background to the declining influence of the tribes in the Kandahar region, which is one of the most strategically decisive areas for the so-called Quetta Shura Taliban, the Karzai family and ISAF counterinsurgency campaign. While most of the actors in Kandahar call themselves tribal leaders, few influential leaders in Kandahar derive their influence from this position. Control over guns, money and foreign support have become more important as sources of power. To some extent, this change was expected since the Soviet invasion drove out most of the tribal leaders and the jihad increased the strength of the Islamic parties. The result is that it is now rare for an entire Afghan tribe to take collective action on a given issue. Sub-tribe and clan divisions are more relevant for Pushtun politics than are broad political groupings as these are the levels on which important rivalries and blood feuds develop. Traditionally, Pushtun tribal leadership is decentralised and semi-meritocratic. Tribal authority is held by tribal elders but this authority is limited and based upon their reputation and demonstrated prudence. These elders traditionally play a role in organising communal defence and monitoring social order by resolving disputes but decision making is generally collective and an individual tribal elder has limited command and control. The basic division in Kandahar is between the majority Durrani tribe and the Ghilzai Hotak with the Popalzai (Karzais tribe) and the Barakzai having royal ancestry (after 1842) and providing the leading politicians and largest landholders, while the Ghilzai (Mullah Omars tribe) form a relatively less affluent class of small landholders or farmhands. The second major point in the report is that Ahmad Wali Karzais influence over Kandahar is the central obstacle to any ISAF governance objectives. This is because he has used his informal power and his connections to the Afghan state to give him shadow ownership of the government of Kandahar. The local population sees the government as an exclusive oligarchy devoted to its own enrichment and closely tied to the international coalition. Anti- government sentiments are exploited and aggravated by the Taliban. Many of the local power brokers who are excluded from the Karzai network see the Taliban insurgency as the only viable means of political opposition. Tribal based networks however still remain an important political force and since 2001 have gained power over two dominant sources of revenue; contracts from foreign organisations and the opium trade. The historic patterns of social relations were thrown into turmoil after the Communist Revolution of 1978. The educated tribal aristocracy was thus supplanted by a new set of commanders led by the mujahideen. Abdul Latif assumed control of the Barakzai tribe and after his assassination in 1989 the mantle of leadership fell to his son Gul Agha Sherzai (currently Governor of Nangrahar). The rise of the Taliban in 1994 was enabled by the overwhelming popular resentment of the mujahideen, and the Taliban mullahs were able to fill the vacuum for the maintenance of social order and the provision of justice. Six out of 10 in the Taliban supreme Shura were Durranis. However, for the past eight years Ahmad Wali Karzai has built a political and commercial empire in Kandahar. His father was a significant figure in the administration of King Zahir Shah and the family joined the Mujjadadi group during the jihad. Hamid Karzai served as aide to President Mujjadadi and as deputy foreign minister to Rabbani. When the Taliban took Kabul in 1996 they offered Karzai the 'permanent representative post in New York but were rebuffed. The report erroneously uses this as evidence for the Taliban assassinating the 'elder Karzai but in the complex and treacherous politics of Kandahar no clear suspect was found. While the Karzai family reconstituted their old relations with the tribes and the mujahideen commanders this also led to some groups asking for Taliban protection creating an environment for a low grade Taliban insurgency starting in 2003. . Ahmad Wali Karzais role in the disintegration of the Alokzai tribal leadership and the Taliban takeover of Arghandab in 2008-09 is particularly telling of how the alienation of key provincial constituencies contributes to the insurgency. Moreover, it has been common practice for police units to generate additional revenues through extortion of the population through the checkposts on the highways and roads; a practice which was one of the major grievances on which the Taliban rose to power. Ahmad Wali Karzai also neutralised the Kandahar Shura by co-opting its leadership and appointing his brother Qayyum Karzai as the director. Rather than viewing the Taliban as an existential threat the Karzais policy was one of trying to co-opt the Taliban leadership. However, experience suggests that their ambitions are unrealistic and Taliban fighters continue to cross back and forth from the insurgency. In 2008, an attempt was made to bring the senior leaders of the so-called Quetta Shura Taliban to the negotiating table through Saudi mediation. Even though Mullah Baradar is also from the Popalzai tribe the reconciliation policy has an element of escapism and a refusal to accept that a large portion of the population of Kandahar has substantial objections to the government. The report concludes that as long as the perception remains that a small elite is using the coalition forces and national defence services to further their own power at the cost of significant constituencies it will be difficult to reconcile much of the population with the government. Afghans will not tolerate a small clique that has exclusive access to hundreds of millions of dollars in graft moving through Kandahar and that uses its political and military power, as well as coalition forces, to enforce control over Kandahar. The writer is a former ambassador.