Empires throughout history held their holdings together by negotiating with the local warlords and strongmen for their support. They faced the same problems we do in Afghanistan: the tyranny of distance and a population untouched by the printed word. It is time we take up these medieval methods once again. We need to drop our Westphalian, nation-state paradigm obsession and face up to the tribal reality of Afghanistan/Pakistan at all levels.
Incidentally, I need to revise my earlier prediction on the Iraq-Afghanistan-Mexico progression of the nation-tribal paradigm. (http://americanmohist.blogspot.com/2009/01/paradigm-shift-us-foreign-and-security.html) It does not look like the military is "getting" the nation-tribal paradigm they picked up from the Sunni Awakening. They're not implementing the bottom-up lessons of Iraq (formalizing the tribal militia of Afghanistan, eg). So we're not going to "get" Afghanistan anytime soon.
Mexico is even farther away, what with the recent "anti-assault weapon" pronouncement endorsed by the "Bi-National Task Force". http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/10/13/AR2009101303996.html Its blatant and willful ignorance of the illegal arms flow from the Mexican government to the narco-insurgents means that the foreign policy "elite" has yet to face up to the reality of the world, where people (gasp!) do not obey laws and policies.
Somalia is the crisis on the horizon right now, with the collapse of the TFG there. Perhaps our limited presence there will make a virtue out of necessity, forcing us to start taking Somaliland and local tribes more seriously, as we struggle to understand Al Qaeda and possibly Iranian influences there.