iOS app Android app More

Kathleen Wells, J.D.

Kathleen Wells, J.D.

Posted: March 9, 2010 01:52 AM

Afghan Prince Says U.S. and Coalition Forces Making Big Mistake

What's Your Reaction:

Prince Abdul Ali Seraj is a direct descendant of nine generations of Kings of Afghanistan. He is also the President of the National Coalition for Dialogue with Tribes of Afghanistan - a grassroots trans-tribal movement that has had much success in unifying all the tribes - and an organization that works towards the goal of eliminating the deprivations suffered by the Afghan peoples in the past and continuing into the present.

Part 1 of our interview we discussed the women of Afghanistan. This interview, Part 2, we are discussing the significance and relevance of the tribes.

LISTEN NOW - 34 minutes

Kathleen Wells: I am speaking with Prince Abdul Ali Seraj. He is speaking with me from Kabul, and he is the head of the National Coalition for Dialogue with Tribes of Afghanistan. Thank you, Prince Seraj, for taking the time to speak with me.

Prince Abdul Ali Seraj: Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity. Isn't technology wonderful? We are halfway around the world. At least you can see me and I cannot see you, but we are talking to each other over the computer. It's wonderful.

Kathleen Wells: Yeah, I think it's fantastic. Well, you know that in Part I of our interview, we discussed the role of women in Afghanistan. So today, Part II, I'd like to focus on the role and significance of the tribes in Afghanistan.

Prince Seraj: Absolutely! That's my favorite topic ...

Kathleen Wells: That's your favorite topic?

Prince Seraj: ...after the women of Afghanistan, because as you know that our family lost the throne of Afghanistan because we supported the women of Afghanistan some 90 years ago. So I am glad that we are talking about this, my second favorite topic, which is the Afghan tribes.

Kathleen Wells: First let me start with an overview. Give me your position on the US military presence in Afghanistan.

Prince Seraj: US military presence in Afghanistan is a welcome situation. Afghans and Americans have been friends for a long time. If I were to give a description of an American, I would draw a big heart because Americans, like Afghans, speak with their hearts.

Just to go on the sideline for a minute, there are a lot of similarities between us -- the Afghans and the Americans. We are the only two nations in the world that have fought the British and gotten our independence from them. We are the only two nations in the world that fought communism in Afghanistan. We were the soldiers, and you were actually the generals, so to speak. You supplied the weapons and we supplied the manpower to bring the Soviets - the Red Army -- down to its knees and get rid of world communism. And third, we are the only two nations to pick up arms against the al-Qaeda and the Taliban when the United States came to Afghanistan in the end of 2001 after the 9/11 incident. There were no other nations supporting the United States. It was the people of Afghanistan on the ground and the US Air Force together that got rid of the al-Qaeda and Taliban of Afghanistan and freed Afghanistan from the al-Qaeda disaster.

The Afghans, when you greet them, they put their hands on their hearts and the Americans are very, very giving people. When there is a problem anywhere in the world, they open up their purses and their hearts to help. So there are a lot of similarities between the strongest nation in the world, which is United States, and the weakest, right now, which is Afghanistan.

So when the United States troops arrived in Afghanistan, we greeted them as heroes, because, since we always looked upon the Americans as our friends, we really appreciated that they have come to our help once again, to help rid this country of the al-Qaeda and the foreign Talib threat. So, even today, with the amount of problems that the US troops are facing in Afghanistan and the amount of misunderstandings and the collateral damage -- which I don't believe in very much -- which has taken place in Afghanistan, there is still a soft spot in the hearts of Afghanistan -- of the Afghan people -- for the Americans.

So I hope that answers the question -- I took a long way but I just want to make sure that there is no misunderstanding. The Afghan people do not have anything against the Americans except good feelings.

I worked in Lash Kargah long time ago when the Americans were helping build the Helmut Valley Project and we had all Afghans, from all ethnic groups, working side by side with the Americans.

The thing that concerns the Afghans more so now than before is that they have asked me -- especially the people from the south, from Helmand -- they have told me -- they said -- why have the Americans abandoned us? They came to the Helmand Valley; we worked together. Then they build the Kajaki Dam; they build the Gereshk Power Plant; they build the roads; they build the highways. We worked together as brothers. How come they abandon us and allowed the British, our old enemies, to come to Helmand and rekindle the Second Anglo-Afghan War?

So they are very unhappy about that. But as far as the people are concerned, their feeling is quite positive. But the mistake that has been made in Afghanistan, not only on the part of the Americans troops, but also on the part of NATO, is that we are disregarding the people of Afghanistan. We talk about the people of Afghanistan in the third person. We talk about the al-Qaeda; we about the Talib; we talk about suicide bombers; we talk about IEDs and all that; but nobody talks about the mother who comes to my door to sell one child so that she can feed three other children. Nobody talks about the children of Kabul rummaging through the garbage every night to find food for their family. And that's the mistake being made, Kathleen, is that we are disregarding the thirty million people of Afghanistan, the majority of whom are living in sub-level poverty.

Kathleen Wells: How can this be rectified? How can this be addressed?

Prince Seraj: Well, we have to change our philosophy. We have to make the question I've asked of my friends at NATO -- the Americans, the Canadians, and the Europeans -- "What is your plan for Afghanistan?" I still have not -- I don't have -- I haven't had somebody sit down and tell me that this is the plan for Afghanistan, and this is what we want to do.

When Mr. Bush decided to send the U. S. troops to Afghanistan and within three weeks we got rid of the Taliban and the al-Qaeda and Afghanistan became "free," we were promised the Marshall Plan. It never materialized. We were promised all kinds of development. People were waiting for their lives to get better. People are waiting to get jobs. People are waiting for the economy to get better. But none of that happened. Afghanistan is an agricultural country; nobody is paying attention to the agriculture. Thirty years ago, we not only fed our own people, but we produced enough food to export out of Afghanistan. Today, we are importers of food.

Kathleen Wells: Why is that happening? Why are promises or no plan being instigated or effectuated? What is the motivation for that?

Prince Seraj: Because they started getting on the wrong foot. When the Taliban were driven out of Afghanistan, unfortunately, Iraq happened. When Iraq happened -- before Iraq -- Mr. Bush said, "We will not forget Afghanistan like we did the last time. We are going to complete the job, and we're going to make sure that everything is fine." But that was good so long as Iraq was not there. The minute Iraq happened, Afghanistan was put on the back burner. Afghanistan was left to fend for itself, and nothing much was done in the form of development. Sure, we built some highways; sure, we built schools and clinics; but schools and clinics and highways do not feed people. We started building our house from roof -- tried to build the roof first before we go to the foundation. We forgot that the house without the foundation does not stand.

And so the policies now -- finally they are coming to the point that "Oh, we must." You see, Afghanistan's problem is four-fold. We have got tribal; we have got economical; we have got social and political, in that order. In Germany, when at the Bonn conference, the powers to [that] be at the time (at that time the United Nations and the Americans and the British that were involved) -- they turned the whole thing around because, to them, tribes did not mean anything. They didn't know anything about tribes. They didn't know anything about Afghan society. But they knew about politics, and they knew that politics needed money.

So they turned the whole thing around upside down. They went for politics, and they figured that, if we could throw money at politics, Afghanistan is going to have a stable political system; therefore, it will correct itself. That was a mistake. The foundation was a mistake.

We should have gone in trying to unify the tribes of Afghanistan. Through the unification, we should have started economic development immediately next to that. This would have created jobs, which should have bound the society, and then politics would have taken care of itself.

Kathleen Wells: For there to be success and stability in Afghanistan, this four-prong approach -- which is tribal, economic, social, and political -- needs to be addressed. So speak to me about the relevance and significance of the tribes in Afghanistan.

Prince Seraj: Throughout Afghanistan's history, Kathleen, certain things we know that, unfortunately, the West has overlooked. First of all, Afghanistan is a five thousand-year-old country. We are the only nation in the world that has not been colonized. We have been occupied for four years, five years, a year, or two years. But the greatest of the greatest armies that have come to Afghanistan -- they have left their dead behind. Afghanistan has become their graveyard. From the time of Genghis Khan to Alexander the Great -- three wars with the British and the Russians -- but throughout our history, it is the people of Afghanistan -- the tribes of Afghanistan -- that defended their country and maintained its independence and its freedom.

2010-03-09-OldCravanseriHerat2008.JPG

Old Cavanseri, Herat, 2008
Photo credit: Ken Guest

It was the tribes of Afghanistan that fought against the British in first Anglo-Afghan War in 1838-42 under my grand-uncle The Prince Akbar Khan. It was the tribes of Afghanistan, in the second Anglo-Afghan war of 1878-79 under my grand-uncle Sabdar Ayyub -- the battle of Maiwand -- where the British lost an entire regimen. And the battle of independence -- the War of Independence of 1919-1920 -- when my uncle was the king and at the age of 26 declared a war against the strongest nation of the world at that time -- the British Empire -- and we defeated the British, and we got our independence.

But in all of those wars, we did not have a national army. It was the tribes of Afghanistan who stood behind their king, behind their leader, and they rallied around him, and they went to the battlefield and got their independence and their freedom and kept their freedom.

Kathleen Wells: That still holds true today? How many tribes are there in Afghanistan?

Prince Seraj: There are -- The tribes and sub-tribes go for over a hundred -- but there are something like 80 ... 80 plus major tribes in Afghanistan -- Pashtuns and non-Pashtuns. Let me make a correction over here. When I say tribe, I say -- I use this word tribe for lack of a better word. But of late, I have learned that the Afghan people -- the tribal people in Afghanistan -- we are very much like the Scottish clans. They are of the mountains; we are of the mountain. When we have nobody else to fight, we fight among ourselves as the Scots did. When we find a common enemy, we all combine together and attack the common enemy. So let's use the word clans as opposed to tribes. Tribe -- you immediately think of Chief Sitting Bull and Wounded Knee and Custer being surrounded by Indians.

Let's talk about the clans - Afghans. Afghanistan is made up of various clans. Majority of the clans in Afghanistan are made up of Pashtuns; that's about 60 percent of the population. These are the original inhabitants of Afghanistan 5,000 years ago. Then over the years -- because of the different wars and changes of the area -- when we became part of the Persian Empire; then Persia was part of the Afghan Empire; then we were part of the Indian empire; then India became part of the Afghan empire. So going back and forth, the geography changed and people started moving into Afghanistan.

As you know, Afghanistan was on the Silk Route and was called the "gateway" between the East and the West. So when people moved through Afghanistan, they left something of their culture and of their language and of their people behind. Central Afghanistan, for instance, has got almost 10 million -- it has almost 10 million Mongols, who are descendants of Genghis Khan. Then we have the Tajiks and we have the Uzbeks and we have the Arabs and we have got even the Tartars.

So these are the other clans in Afghanistan besides the Pashtuns. The Pashtuns were the ones that, for the most part -- they were the ones -- the Pashtuns and also the Tajiks -- were the ones who were the soldiers of Afghanistan. These are the tribes that really fought against the foreign invaders in Afghanistan. And, unfortunately, when the West came to Afghanistan in 2001, they disregarded the tribes. The first thing that they did was to disarm the tribes because they wanted -- they feared -- the tribes. But that was a mistake, especially among the Pashtuns. Their love affair with their gun is so strong that I always joke. I say, "When a Pashtun goes to bed he leaves his gun on one side and his wife on the other side. He kisses his gun, but not his wife, when he goes to sleep." [laughter] And in the morning, when he gets out of his house, he would put on his band of bullets and take his rifle, as that was a sign of manhood.

So when the US came over here and they decided to come up with this DDR [Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration] program from [the] United Nations to disarm all Afghans, the first group of people that they disarmed, very easily, were the very people who had defended Afghanistan for centuries, which are the Pashtuns. And instead of utilizing the Pashtuns to defend their regions as they have done in the past, they totally disregarded them, and they went in there and said, "You don't know how to fight. We will fight your war". Why?

Kathleen Wells: So you're saying to me that there's been no serious attempt to integrate the clans as opposed to tribes (I will use your term - clans) with the military strategy currently enforce today?

Prince Seraj: No, none. They decided to come up -- We have a conscript military service, Kathleen; I'm a member of the conscript military service of Afghanistan. I am a tank commander. I served the military when I finished my university, and I went there for six months. People with high school went there for a year, and people without high school, for one-and-a-half years. We have a standing army of several hundred thousands of soldiers that we could call upon at any given time.

They came in here, they did away with the conscript military service, and they introduced a national army -- the national army. Just as the mistake that was made in Iraq by disbanding the Saddam Hussein army and trying to rebuild it from ground up without using -- Every member of the Saddam Hussein military, I'm sure, was not a radical or a terrorist. They could have utilized the large number of the officers and soldiers. But no, they dismantled it completely, and they started rebuilding from the ground. And this is what they did in Afghanistan.

So, I kept telling our friends in the Coalition and NATO: utilize the tribes. Their statement to me was, "Oh, if we arm the tribes, they are going against the government." Excuse me, the tribes have their arms buried in the ground. And if they want to go against the government, they will pick up their arms tomorrow as they did against the Soviet Red Army and will declare a jihad, which means a holy war against the government, and there is nothing that anybody can do to stop them. The fact that they are not doing that and the fact that they are sitting back-- laying back -- that means that they want peace; they do not want war, but they are ready to help. They're ready to get involved in defending their own country.

Nobody -- I'm the president of National Coalition for Tribes of Afghanistan. I represent every tribe in Afghanistan. Why doesn't someone come and ask me if I want to defend my nation? Nobody's asked me if our people want to defend their nation.

2010-03-09-HeratiButcher2008.JPG

Herati Butcher,2008
Photo credit:Ken Guest

Kathleen Wells: Okay. What will be the result of this failure to integrate the tribes in the military strategy of the US forces? What will be the result?

Prince Seraj: The result is that if they do not -- if they -- let me give you one example. I'm sure you heard on the news that the Coalition forces, together with certain part of the Afghan army, attacked this one district in Helmand called Marjah. You've been hearing this on the news. Well, Marjah was supposedly one of the strongholds of the Taliban. The Coalition forces announced two weeks beforehand that they were going to invade Marjah, hoping that the Talib would pack up and leave, most of them the Afghan Talibs.

There are three types of Talibs that operate in Afghanistan. For better understanding, we call them the Black Talib, the Gray Talib, and the White Talib. The Black Talib are the ones that come from Chechua, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Uzbekitstan. These are the murderers, and these are the killers who have no political agenda or a religious agenda. All their agenda is murder, mayhem, and making money on drugs in Afghanistan. These are the people that we all have to defend ourselves against -- Americans, Europeans, Canadians, and us -- because these people do not care how many they kill so long as they get what they want.

The second group, the Gray group, are Afghans -- tribal people. They are mercenaries. They render services for money: guarding the highways, guarding the convoys, so on and so forth. But these are our own people from our own tribes.

The majority are the White Talibs, and these are Afghans. Because of poverty, lawlessness, hunger, and so and so forth, they have picked up guns against the coalition -- against the government -- because they have no place else and nothing else. No place else to turn to and nothing else to do, so they have picked up the arms.

The Gray and the White, we can absorb very easily if we try to create an economic situation where these people can have a life, where they can have food in their stomach, where they can have shelter over their head, where their children are not raped and murdered and kidnapped and their insides is not ripped open to have their own organs stolen. Where their wives and daughters are not raped, and they can have peace. These are people that we can bring into the fold; but to bring these people into the fold, we have to work with the tribes.

As I've mentioned to my friends at NATO, I said, "After you go and clear a region from the Taliban, how -- what guarantee do you have that you're going to keep the Talib out? Because the Taliban -- especially the Black Talib -- they are like locusts. You go to point A; they'll fight for point A to point B. And then you chase them to point B; then some of them will come back to point A. The others will go to point C, so we are playing this hide and seek.

Kathleen Wells: Do you foresee Afghanistan being a democracy?

Prince Seraj: Afghanistan was not ready for democracy. Kathleen, democracy comes to a nation where you at least have 50 percent educated, literate individuals. In Afghanistan, we have 90 percent illiterate people. How can an illiterate individual have democracy when he can't even read what the candidate stands for?

Afghanistan was a monarchy. Afghanistan should have remained a constitutional monarchy. We should have had a parliamentary system like the British, where the king should have been empowered to unite the tribes and the prime minister should have been there, elected to run the business of the government.

Unfortunately, today in Afghanistan, we have a system of government where we have a square and a circle. And we are trying to push the square inside the circle and it doesn't fit. On the one side, we have the American system of presidency, and the other side, we have British system -- a parliamentarian. We don't have a prime minister, we have [a] vice president, but we have a parliament. It's such a hodgepodge that even that is confusing to everybody.

But now that democracy has come to Afghanistan, we have to preserve it, and we have to protect it; but we cannot preserve it by making people detest democracy, because people now tell me, they say, "Eight years of democracy in Afghanistan has given me nothing. I'm more poor. I'm more hungry. I'm more insecure. So what is democracy doing for me?" If we want to have democracy in this country, then let us make life easier for people. Let us create jobs for them. Let us develop the agriculture. Let us bring back our economy to Afghanistan so people can have food and they can have jobs and they can have decent lives.

If we are a democracy and we really want to promote democracy, then we should work with each other not across to each other. We must form teams. In Afghanistan, we need to have three teams at this time. We need to have a team which is government and a team which is the tribal elders and the team which is the coalition. These three teams must work together as one. We must have cooperation and coordination between the three. But, unfortunately, today in Afghanistan we don't have cooperation and coordination among the NATO forces and the United States. Each one is going on his own will, trying to do his own thing.

Kathleen Wells: Is your position that it would -- that Afghanistan would do better without the Coalition forces in Afghanistan?

Prince Seraj: If the Coalition forces where to leave Afghanistan tomorrow, Afghanistan will fall within 72 hours.

Here's the situation, Kathleen. Everybody talks about black and white, but everybody disregards the gray in between. It doesn't have to be black, where we're going to pack up our gear and we're going to leave, or white, we are going to do whatever we want to do and to hell with you. The gray in the middle is the people. We need to bring - empower -- the people of Afghanistan. We need to tell the people that they have to take responsibility for their own lives, for their own families, for their own regions and that we will be there to help them.

Kathleen Wells: How can specifically that be done? How can the people be integrated and effective? And is that something that your organization, the National Coalition for Dialogue with Tribes of Afghanistan -- is that something that you're being effective in implementing?

Prince Seraj: We have been the most successful movement in Afghanistan because something that everybody said could not be done, we have done, which is to unite the people. We have got offices in 34 provinces. When we have meetings, every ethnic group comes and sits together; and it was the group -- the tribes of Afghanistan -- who came up with the name of National Coalition for Dialogue with the Tribes of Afghanistan. They hate political parties. They told me that political parties are the ones -- the things that have destroyed Afghanistan. They wanted a national movement of tribal unity. They want to unite. They are united, but nobody is listening to them.

The way to do this, as I said -- First we have to form a team between the three. Secondly, we have to stop calling this a war. It is a disgrace, and it's an insult to the man in uniform, to compare them to a bunch of ragtag murderers that have come from different parts of the world who [don't] know anything about military honor. All they know is about murder and mayhem. We should call this an extreme insurgency as opposed to a war. And we have to stop crying every five minutes and saying, "Oh, we are losing the war. If we do not do this we are going to lose the war." For God's sake, we did not lose the war against the mightiest of armies of the world -- which was Hitler's, the Nazis. How can we sit down here and put our tail between our legs and worry about a bunch of ragtag murderers who have come from different parts of the world?

The Taliban -- they do not have airplanes; they do not have helicopters; they do not have jets; they do not have heavy guns; they do not have cannons. So we cannot call them an army.

These are ragtag murderers. These are terrorists with some heavy machine guns; and their biggest, strongest weapon is the IEDs that they get and place on the side of the road to blow the cars. So we cannot call this a war. Let's call it an extreme insurgency. Why extreme insurgency? Why don't we follow the example of Malay, the example of 1914-16*, when the communists came over there and, instead of calling it a war, they called it an extreme insurgency?

Let us build a very strong police force, picked up from among the tribes in different provinces -- prevention policemen -- selected by the tribe elders, so that we can have control over them. Let's train them, give them a good salary, and put them on the front line against these insurgents. The national army -- whoever they are and whatever they are and what can be -- let us put them behind the police as a secondary wall. And let us put the Coalition behind the two. And if the national police cannot assume more power, they can ask for help from the national army. If the two of them cannot do, then the Coalition forces can step in to help. Let the Coalition do what they came here to do -- to rebuild Afghanistan and to put food in the stomachs and shelter over the people's heads, for God's sake, and money in their pockets.

Ninety percent of our young men -- educated, college graduates -- are unemployed. Every night, you see on the news educated Afghans running away from Afghanistan, and they get arrested in England and France and Athens, and then they are packed up and sent back to Afghanistan. They're all going out and looking for jobs.

Kathleen Wells: President Obama said that one of the stated goals -- or the stated goal -- of the U. S. Military effort in Afghanistan was to be able to put control of Afghanistan back into the hands of the Afghan security forces. So, is that not being accomplished? Is that goal not being met?

Prince Seraj: Kathleen, the Afghan security forces today number - maybe --numbers fly all over the place because they train them on the one side and then on the other side they go AWOL and so they have to bring in new forces -- maybe there are 70,000. Maybe there are 60,000. Afghanistan is as big as Texas -- two hundred -- and slightly bigger than Texas, although the Texans do not like to hear that.

Prince Seraj: We don't have enough manpower to be able to control the nooks and every nook and cranny of Afghanistan. These vermin, as I call them, the locusts -- they find their way. They can hide in the mountains of Afghanistan for months, and nobody will know that they are there. In order for us to succeed, we have to involve the tribes in protecting their regions. Because a person -- a tribe that lives near the mountain -- he knows exactly where these enemies are coming from. Because the enemies that come through the mountains -- they do not come over the mountain; they use the goat tracks. The tribal people that live along the border area -- they know exactly what tracks the Taliban and the al Qaeda are using. The American forces do not know this. The NATO forces do not know this. Our people living in the villages -- they find out ahead of time where the IEDs are being planted. But they cannot tell on the Talib because, if they tell on the Talib, the Taliban will come and kill their family.

Kathleen Wells: We're at cross-purposes here. You're saying that the Coalition forces shouldn't leave; they should stay because, if they were to leave, there would be [72] hours before Afghanistan would devolve into chaos. You're saying that the tribes/clans need to be intimately involved, correct? And you're saying that President Karzai is in a no-win situation.Give me an answer.

Prince Seraj: President Karzai will be in a win situation if we combine. You see, right now, as I told you before, there is no organized plan. Everybody is in their own direction, pulling in different directions, if we bring all of these units together as one. Karzai is a tribal man. Karzai wants to see the tribes prosper. Karzai wants to see the tribes have more of a say in their security. But because the West does not trust the tribes -- because the West look upon the tribes as boogeyman --Karzai is at a loss.

We've got over a hundred thousand American troops here. We have got 10,000 British. We have got 5,000 Germans. We have got -- these are the largest, I think -- we have got maybe around 150,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan. And everyday the situation -- increasing the number of soldiers in Afghanistan is not going to help. Why? What is wrong with uniting the people of Afghanistan behind the government and behind the Coalition? What is wrong with asking the people of Afghanistan to help in defending themselves? No Afghan would like to see his family destroyed. But somebody's got to -- I've asked. The Afghan people have become like a herd of sheep. They go towards the Taliban; the Coalition bomb them. They go towards the Coalition; the Taliban kill them.

Kathleen Wells: So how can we get this organization, this cohesiveness, this participation by the Afghan tribes/clans? How can we effectuate this? How can this be done?

Prince Seraj: By approaching -- by approaching them, Kathleen. They are ready to work with the people, with the Coalition. They are ready to defend their own region, but somebody's got to sit down with them and come up with a plan.

I have recommended to General McChrystal, through e-mail, several times (If Muhammad doesn't go to the mountain, mountain will go to Muhammad) you do not have to go to every corner of Afghanistan to meet with the tribe of elders. And when I say elders, I am not talking about those people just because he's got a long beard -- every bluebeard does not make an Afghan elder. The Afghan elder is more important to his people than the king was to Afghanistan. He's got to have most respect from his people. He doesn't come to Kabul to meet with the President; he doesn't go to sit down with the Coalition, but these people are ready to sit down and form a cohesive group to defend. They have told me that, if the Coalition agrees to seek their help, they said they will create a security wall between Afghanistan and Pakistan in such a way that not even a fly can get over it.

Kathleen Wells: So when you have sent e-mails to General McChrystal, what response do you get back from him?

Prince Seraj: Zilch. Zero. Nada. Niente. I have sent them ten different e-mails. Finally, I told him -- I said, "What is wrong? Is it something with me?"

Kathleen Wells: Well, it sounds like total confusion and like all of the various entities are just working at cross purposes.

Prince Seraj: Kathleen, Afghanistan and the United States have got a lot at stake here. A failure on the part of either country is not an option. If the United States fails in Afghanistan -- if Afghanistan fails in Afghanistan -- it's not Afghanistan that's in danger. It's the entire region that's in danger.

Let us bring the people of Afghanistan to the table. Let us come up with a program with the people of Afghanistan on how they intend to defend themselves. It is the right of Afghan people to state to the government and to state to the Coalition on how they expect to defend themselves and what they expect from the Coalition, what kind of assistance and help they need from the Coalition to defend themselves, to save Afghanistan.

2010-03-09-CoblerHerat2008.JPG

Cobbler, Herat, 2008
Photo credit:Ken Guest


Kathleen Wells: So, President Obama has stated that Afghanistan -- or rather the border along Afghanistan and Pakistan -- is the epicenter of violent terrorist extremists. Do you agree with that characterization?

Prince Seraj: I agree with the characterization. That's because the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan is like a sieve -- because anybody can cross any part of Afghanistan's border, because the tribes are sitting down on their butts, and they are not doing anything to defend themselves.

But one situation is changing. The largest tribe on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan is the Shinwari tribe. A year and a half ago, they came to me. They said they were ready to defend themselves when Coalition forces would agree to cooperate. I talked to NATO generals about the situation. Nothing at that time came about it. But especially after when the Pakistani military went into Waziristan, and it was in Waziristan the fight started. Some of the Taliban from across the border came to the Shinwari elders to ask the Shinwari elders for logistic help and for security. The Shinwari tribal people told them "No way, Jose!" He said, "You come to our area, you will be followed by the American drones, and more of our people will get killed. We will not allow you to come across the border to our region." And now they are defending their region.

So why don't we use that as an example and go to the other tribes? That area of Afghanistan is controlled by Shinwaris, Bulganis, Mohmands and Sufis*. Let's call the elders of those four tribes, and let's start with that one section. And let's say, "Okay, you are defending. I am an American. I am here to help you. I am not here to take away your authority. I'm not here to take away your land. I'm not here to take away anything from you. But I cannot help you if you are not planning on helping yourself. You stand up and defend yourself, I will stand behind you and help you to defend yourself." That is what you should tell these people.

Kathleen Wells: Prince Abdul Ali Seraj, thank you for taking the time to speak with me. I really appreciate it. We've covered a lot of things and we will have a Part III, if you're open to that.

Prince Seraj: I definitely am, Ma'am. You can even have a part ten, and I'll still be here. [laughter] I -- even at the cost of sounding like a broken record, I believe in persistence, and I always believed persistence pays and, hopefully -- someday soon -- the world will listen to what the people of Afghanistan are crying for, and together they can save Afghanistan and save the region and the world.

Kathleen Wells: Okay. Thank you very much.

Prince Seraj: Thank you.

*Correction: the Malay experience was 1948-60. And the major tribes after Shinwaris is Khoghyani.

Follow Kathleen on Facebook.