We and others in NATO are sending more troops to Afghanistan to continue the battle in the “right war.” We are told this is necessary to provide security to the country, principally in the provinces outside of the capital, Kabul. There the Taliban Pashtuns are regrouping in an attempt to regain their lost control.

Afghanistan has been populated by tribal societies for millennia. Why don’t we just pull out and leave them to their own battles? Why waste anymore lives in AfPak (Afghanistan/Pakistan)? What is the West going to change in Afghanistan? Al-Qaida has warriors in many other areas of the Middle East. Our enemies in Af/Pak are not the countries themselves. Our enemies are a group of believers in Wahabiism jihad (holy war), such as al-Qaida and their sympathizers, the Taliban Pashtuns.

Wahabiism is a conservative Islamic movement emanating from Saudi Arabia that includes al-Qaida, led by Osama Bin Laden and his Egyptian pediatrician sidekick Ayman Al-Zawahiri. They oppose the infidels of the West and they are waging jihad against those infidels; 9/11 really brought them into focus for us. The ruling Afghan Taliban, while they were in power in the 1990s, gave sanctuary to Bin Laden. Following the U.S. attack in late 2001, the Taliban helped Bin Laden and his followers escape from Tora Bora into the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in Pakistan. In addition, defying a very porous and disputed Af/Pak border, the Taliban Pashtuns have resided for centuries in the Waziristan provinces in north western Pakistan.

The Pashtuns are the largest tribe in Afghanistan: a little less than 40 percent of the population. Not all Pashtuns are members of the Taliban. The Taliban, led by Mullah Muhammad Omar, is a member of the Ghilzai, a subgrouping in the Pashtun tribes who are believed to be poorer and more conservative than the Durranis, the other major subgroup. (Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, is a member of the latter subgroup.) Mullah Omar is currently believed to reside in Waziristan.

So how can additional NATO troops secure a victory in a fight with such an evanescent enemy? Yes, we have drones. Yes, we have CIA agents. But the enemy can be present and then dissolve into the wastelands. Also drones kill civilians, and this does not win the Afghan heart for the West. The war is costing us a wad of money and this is a time of economic turmoil for the United States. And, yes, al-Qaida can regroup and continue its jihad against the West from other venues.

The tunnel seems long; but a light has begun to shine, as illuminated in an article by Ruhhullah Khapalwak and David Rohde in the New York Times “Week in Review” section from Jan. 31. It is titled “A Look at America’s New Hope: The Afghan Tribes.” It is must reading for those who are concerned about al-Qaida and its Taliban protectors in Af/Pak.

The last week in January, the Shinwari Tribe, a subgroup in the Ghilzai Pashtun tribes, agreed to work with the Afghan government and oppose the Taliban and help win over other Pashtun tribal subgroupings. For millennia, tribes in the Middle East in what is now Afghanistan have been effective in governing their people. It is part of their culture and may seem foreign to those of us in the West who are unfamiliar with their history and culture. When studied, their tribal form of governance seems somewhat similar to parliamentary systems in the West.

Tribes take form along kinship lines and are led by councils of elders. They offer their members various kinds of support: economic, judicial, governmental, protection and punishment. When they convene concerning an issue, they do not dissolve until there is unanimous agreement on a solution. A meeting of such a grand council is termed a Loya Jirga, a Pashtun word: Loya (great/grand) and Jirga (council/assembly/meeting).

The Shinwari Tribe could be a beginning and others could be persuaded to join them in opposing the Taliban. This would have lasting value for the people of Afghanistan who would see their leaders as the ones who have saved their country. If the additional NATO forces were viewed by the Afghanis as supporting their grand councils in reorganizing their country and assisting it economically and governmentally, that would have lasting and beneficial effect.

That tunnel seems very long; but there does seem to be a glimmer at the end. Keep an eye on it.

Tom Putnam is a retired pediatric surgeon who lives with his wife, Barbara, in Rockland. He serves on a variety of nonprofit boards, as well as municipal committees, and is a communicant of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.