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Prince Abdul Ali Seraj: U.S. Weakening of Karzai Could Spell Disaster for Afghanistan

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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 toward 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 . In Part 2, we discussed the significance and relevance of the tribes. Here, in Part 3, we discuss President Karzai.

Listen to the Interview

Kathleen Wells: It's been widely reported here in the States, and probably elsewhere, that the Karzai government -- President Karzai -- is now affiliating himself with the Taliban. Talk to me about that.

Prince Abdul Ali Seraj: Nothing can be farther from the truth. You see, the thing is, I think everybody is ... The world is making a big mistake on the word "Talib" or "Taliban." A Talib is a religious person. Any mosque that studies the Islamic religion as a student of Islam is a Talib. So it's not a bad word. It's a holy word, so to speak.

And the kind of Taliban that Karzai is talking about, he's not talking about the Chechnyans and the Saudis and the Lebanese and the Pakistanis and the Uzbeks, and so on and so forth, that come from outside of Afghanistan, whom I refer to as a black Talib. He's not talking about those Talib. He's talking about the dissatisfied Afghans living within the boundaries of Afghanistan, dissatisfied Afghans who are members of Afghan tribes, whether it is the Khilji tribe or the Durrani tribe or whether it is the Uzbek, Tajik, or Hazara or whatever -- all those Afghans who have armed themselves or have picked up arms against the government and the coalition because of poverty and because of hunger and because of lawlessness, and so on and so forth. These are the kind of Afghans that Karzai is talking about bringing into the fold.

The reason ... In order for the world to understand what he was talking about, we call them Talibs. But these are not Talibs. These are Afghans -- citizens of Afghanistan who belong to a certain tribe. That part of them are the grey Talib, which I've talked about in the past. These are mercenaries who, during the time of the Taliban of eight years ago, nine years ago, were working for money with Osama Bin Laden and the others, and they are still working for money and guarding the convoys or planning certain kidnappings, and so on and so forth, and then fighting the government troops and the Coalition troops along the way. And the other Talib, which is the white Talib, which is the majority of the dissatisfied Afghans that I said, because of poverty, and so on and so forth.

Now, these are the Afghans, not Talibs. These are the Afghans that President Karzai wants to talk to, and these are the ones that President Karzai wants to appease and bring them into the fold in order to stop, reduce the fighting. Even if all of these Afghans, "Talibs," are brought into the fold, that still is not going to end the war or the fight or the insurgency, because most of the horrendous bombings, suicide bombers, and so on and so forth -- [a] majority of those are not people of Afghanistan. These are foreign elements within the Taliban, as I said -- mostly the Arabs and the Chechnyans -- who are performing these acts. So those are the ones that we will have to fight now and continue fighting. And the way we're going to resolve that problem with these foreign fighters is to cut off their logistics. By logistics, I mean to cut off their routes, to cut off their way of getting food, to cut off their places of rest, to cut off their funds.

And how are we going to do this is: number one, we've got to involve ... The most important thing is that we have to involve the people of Afghanistan to take care of their own security. We are not ... We do not have enough soldiers on the ground to maintain security in every village and every district in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is a mountainous region. We do not have [a] large number of population living in [a] large area, in large cities. [A] majority of the Afghans are living in little villages -- ensconced in the middle of mountains, in the middle of nowhere.

Now those are the places that the Taliban seek refuge in, and then from there they go ahead and attack other places. So those are the people that we have to bring into the fold. Those are the people that we have to bring on our side, support them to protect themselves. Do not make the mistake that General McChrystal did four weeks ago,* when one district in Nurestan called Barge Matal... It's a small district in Nurestan, way up near the Pakistan border, on the border of Pakistan and also the province of Badakhshan. When the Pakistani Taliban attacked that district, the people of Barge Matal put up resistance for six days fighting the Taliban. They were screaming for help from NATO forces, but no help came to [help] them. Eventually, they fell and the Taliban took over Barge Matal, and they went ahead and they picked up some of the tribal elders, and we don't even know whether they are dead or alive.

I was screaming to NATO. I was screaming to the Afghan government to "go help these people!" General McChrystal appears on an international radio, and when he's asked the question of why he did not send any help to Barge Matal, he said, "Oh, that's a far-off district, you know, beyond us. We are concentrating more on the heavily-populated areas instead of those far-off districts."

The mistake that he made in that one is that that far-off district ... Everybody in Afghanistan knows that the Taliban had attacked that far-off district, according to General McChrystal. And everybody knows that the people in Barge Matal, they defended themselves bravely for six days in that far-off district, and no help came to them. That sets a very bad example, because tomorrow, if the Taliban want to go into a larger area -- that's a bigger district -- those people would not put up a fight, will give themselves up to the Taliban, knowing that they're not going to receive any help from the Coalition or from the government. That was a big mistake, and then there was no point for him, no reason for him, to go on the air and throw out with that ridiculous statement of saying, "Oh, that's a far-off district. You know, we don't worry about those far-off places."

Every district in Afghanistan counts, because the Taliban find refuge in those far-off districts. They regroup in those far-off districts, and from there, they lead their attacks against the Coalition and the government forces.

Kathleen Wells: First of all, I just want to touch on the fact that we have to make a ... It's important to make a distinction, which you discussed in our last interview, between the black, white, and grey Taliban. And that distinction isn't being made here in United States when they say that Karzai is affiliating himself with the Taliban. They're not making that distinction that there are different types of Taliban: the foreign Taliban and then the Afghans, correct?

Prince Seraj: That is exact ... That's exactly where the mistake is: There's a breakdown in communication. I totally ... I don't know if you saw the Al Jazeera interview last night I was on. They said that after by ... When they replaced General McChrystal with General Petraeus and the statement was made: "The decision for the future of Afghanistan is going to be made in Washington."

That is a big mistake.

The decision for the future of Afghanistan should not be made in Washington; it should be made in Afghanistan, involving the people of Afghanistan, talking to the people of Afghanistan that this is a democracy that the people of Afghanistan have every right to know that, and that the reason that they make statements like this one by saying that Karzai wants to make friends with the Taliban and just drawing a line straight across all three Talibs that exist in the area, you know, that makes Karzai look weak and makes him look ridiculous. He is not talking. He's always said and he's always followed this statement: "Those Talibs that do not have their hands bloodied by Afghan blood, and those who are Afghans and who are in this country, we will count them." They do not say that; they just say he wants to make a deal with the Taliban.

It's not out of the ordinary. I have been saying this all the time, "We welcome every single Afghan, whether you put the name Talib on top of them, whether you put the name al-Qaeda on top of them, whether you put the name monkey on top them, whether you put any title on top of them, whatever name ..."
[laughter]

... you put on them, those are our people, we welcome them.

Kathleen Wells: Right. So, another thing that I want to talk about regarding the Karzai government is that it's been widely reported that there's just so much corruption in the government that nothing that the United States ... The Coalition forces can't even work with all this corruption, can't get anything done.

Prince Seraj: Kathleen, they make Afghanistan as the only corrupt country in the world. Please let us go. Let us ... let me ... Sixty percent of the countries of the world are corrupt. Some are even more corrupt than Afghanistan. Let's look at Zimbabwe, for God's sake. Let's look at Somalia, for God's sake. Let's look at Nigeria, for God's sake, you know, where the leaders are selling the oil -- the people's oil. Let us look at a lot of other of places. Even in the United States, corruption is a way of life for the people.

In a nation like Afghanistan, which went through thirty years of hell, through thirty years of bloodshed, through years where our intellectuals were either killed or driven out of the country, [the] entire infrastructure was blown out. The military system was destroyed; the civil sector was destroyed. Afghanistan fell down on its face. After thirty years, the world ...

Kathleen Wells: What time frame are you talking about? What time frame is this?

Prince Seraj: I'm talking about ... I'm talking from 1978 to 2001, okay? I'm talking about that time ... Not, forgive me, 1978. Even beyond [before] 1978, but in '78 after Daoud -- the assassination of President Daoud -- until the end of the Taliban, when the United States came to Afghanistan.

This country went through hell, all right? When finally Afghanistan was freed by the United States on a system of government with which the people of Afghanistan were totally unfamiliar with, which was democracy [which] was imposed upon the people of Afghanistan. I say "imposed" because the decision, again, was made outside of Afghanistan and born, then brought in and hit on the head of the people and [they] said, "Now you are a democrat. Now you have a republic." [The Afghan people] don't understand democracy. They don't understand a republic. Afghanistan was a monarchy for five thousand years.

Kathleen Wells: So do you think it should have gone back to a monarchy? Do ... Would you like to...?

Prince Seraj: Afghanistan, the best solution ... Absolutely, Kathleen, the best solution for Afghanistan, and I tried to fight for this. I was fighting -- not tried to -- I fought for this, before all of this happened, in Washington, in the halls of Congress.

I went to see Senator Sununu. I went to see Congressman Rohrabacher. I went to see ... I went to Kennedy's office. I went to Senator Kennedy's office. I went to all of these places ... I said for ... I sat down with Zalmay Khalilzad himself before he became the ambassador to Afghanistan. I said, "For God's sake, Afghanistan needs a constitutional monarch. Afghanistan does not need democracy. We are not ready for democracy. Afghanistan needs two leaders.

Afghanistan needs a king -- a constitutional king to unite the tribes under him; and they need a government - [a] prime minister to run the business of the day." Nobody would listen to me. They told me that America does not believe in monarchy. America does not believe in monarchy for the United States of America, but America should have understood, and they should have respected monarchy for Afghanistan.

Kathleen Wells: So, why do you ...

Prince Seraj: And they did not do it.

Kathleen Wells: Why do you feel they did not respect that?

Prince Seraj: Because they said this is something ...We fought against monarchy when we got the American freedom, so we do not believe in bringing monarchy back to Afghanistan. This was the statement made to me -- to my own face, all right?

So they brought this new system to Afghanistan. We have a system in Afghanistan which has the American system of presidency and the European system of parliament. You have a circle and a square, and you cannot put the square through the circle. And this is why we have the mess that we have today.
Regardless of what it is, this is what we are stuck with now. So we have to try to preserve and save it. Even with this situation, even after thirty years of fighting and thirty years of war and thirty years of bloodletting between the people of Afghanistan, between the Afghans and the Talib, between Afghanistan and the Soviet Red Army, eventually, we brought in a system in Afghanistan. We brought them a president and we had an election.

During that election, Karzai was elected the President of Afghanistan. We had a second election, although the second election did not go as well as the first election, even though the first election there was a lot of corruption, but nobody talked about it because this was the first time around. The second time around, Karzai was elected. I know for a fact that Karzai had received more than 50 percent in the first round, but because they made such a hullabaloo about corruption on the election, they could not just very well allow him to win in the first round. So they had to drag it, push it down to below 50 percent at 49.75. Give me a break! Forty-nine point seven five percent? What the hell did they come up with this number? Why not 48 percent? Why not 47 percent? Why 49.75? They cannot tell me that they could not [have] looked into the ballots and found another .15 [.25] percent for him to reach the 50 percent, okay?

And they bring him in ... They bring him in Afghan below the 50 percent so that they will go to [a] second round. It went to the second round. On the second round, it was not Karzai's fault that Abdullah Abdullah pulled out, for whatever his reasoning was. And I think that probably because Abdullah Abdullah knew that he was not going to get the majority vote in the second round, so he pulled out. That's not Karzai's fault. I'm not defending Karzai, but I'm defending the system. They, instead of beating on Karzai and beating on Afghanistan and beating on the people of Afghanistan, they should have at least thrown their hats up in the air and said, "Afghanistan's democracy is working under most dire conditions and most dire situations. Even though only five million of the people (a little over five million) showed up to vote, Karzai won. So let us support Karzai instead of beating on Karzai."

Holbrooke beats on Karzai. Peter Salinger [Galbraith] -- whatever his name was; I forget his last name, the deputy of the United Nations -- he beats up on Karzai. Everybody comes and calls him corrupt. Everybody comes and calls him no good. The worst thing that you can do to a leader in Afghanistan is to ridicule him in the eyes of his people. Afghan people always rally around a strong man, but they have weakened this man to the point where not even a group of ants will rally around him. This is not the fault of Karzai. This is the fault of the attention of the international community that has ridiculed this man on international television, on international radio, [in] newspapers by giving him or calling him all kinds of names. They should have rallied behind this person. They should have stood up like a strong wall behind him and showed the Taliban and the al-Qaeda that he has the support of the world.

Kathleen Wells: So what's going to happen now? I mean, what steps, moving forward, will Karzai take to be successful?

Prince Seraj: We need teamwork. There has to be a team between the Afghan government, the international community, and the tribal elders. I will take this to my grave. I will always make the same statement. The people of Afghanistan have always defended Afghanistan against its enemies. The tribes of Afghanistan have always maintained Afghanistan's security, honor, religion, independence and everything -- not the National Army.

The National Army today, in my opinion, is a big farce because over 90 percent of the National Army come from one area of Afghanistan, which is northerners -- all Farsi-speaking. The majority of the Pashtuns, either they are being bypassed or, because they are not applying for the National Army, maybe five percent of the National Army is Pashtun; 95 percent is Farsi-speaking. There's a great imbalance for the future of Afghanistan. You will not be able to have Farsi-speaking soldiers from northern Afghanistan to be able to go and operate in southern Afghanistan without being faced with problems, without being faced with rejection and animosity.

In the olden days when we had a conscript military service, every single Afghan -- from every single tribe, from every single province -- went and did his military service. So if I have problems tomorrow in Kandahar, I did not need to bring in forces from the north; I could have called in on the reserves in Kandahar to go and resolve the problem. If I have a problem in the north, I didn't have to call on the soldiers in the south; I could have gone to the north and called the reserves in the north to go and resolve the problem. Today we don't have that. You know some great mind has sat down and said we are going to build an army of 200,000 or 270,000 soldiers in Afghanistan. They have to check and see what the balance is between the people that they recruit for the Afghan military. They are going to leave this country in a situation where, heaven forbid, if there's a problem between the north and the south, we have got the majority of the soldiers from the north trained.

Okay? And the minority on the south.

Kathleen Wells: So, basically ... So you're saying that the international community has weakened Karzai. He looks weak amongst the Afghan people because of what the international community is saying. So ...

Prince Seraj: Yes.

Kathleen Wells: What result will come from this? What do you foresee happening in the future?

Prince Seraj: If they do not change their philosophy, if they do not change their policy and they continue with the situation the way they are continuing -- by weakening the presidency of Afghanistan, by creating an army which is not balanced, okay -- we are heading ... We are making Afghanistan head towards disaster.

It is not too late to make the corrections. I recommend highly that [they] stop criticizing Karzai. Corruption is not only part of Afghanistan; corruption is something that exists all over the world. But the corruption part of what goes on in Afghanistan, right now, we should leave that alone. We should not ... When we start getting dressed, we do not put our shoes on first, the shoes and socks and then put on the rest. We put on our shirt, then we put on our pants, our skirt, and then the last thing we put on is our shoes. Over here, right now, we are dressing backwards, okay?

Let us start with what is wrong with Afghanistan. What we can do? Number one thing, we have to bring back the respect of the people for the presidency, which means that we have to support the president. Whatever we have against him or whatever things that he does which we do not like, let's not get on the bandwagon and beat the man on the head on international news. Call him on Skype, for God's sake. Call him on a video conference. Send somebody secretly to meet with him and say, "Hey, listen, boy, what you are doing there is wrong. You know it's going to get you and I into trouble, let's make corrections."
Afghans do not like being yelled at in public. Afghans do not like being slapped on the face in public. Afghans do not like people coming to their homes and insulting them, because we're a hospitable nation. We do not like that. So with all due respect, they must stop battering Karzai.

Instead of chastising President Karzai and making him small in the eyes of the people, that's the worst thing, they can do. They should get behind Mr. Karzai, if they've got any problem with him, to discuss those problems behind the scenes away from the media. But, in front of the media, they should show full support for Karzai - complete support for Karzai. Because that's the only way we are going to succeed, because he is going to be the president for the next four years. It is better to have him on our side, as opposed to chastising him in public and having him against us.

Never ridicule a leader in Afghanistan in the eyes of his people, because that castrates him and then he becomes useless. We must keep that in mind.

Kathleen Wells: Okay, thank you Prince Ali. I really appreciate it.

Prince Seraj: Thank you very much. Have a nice day.

Kathleen Wells: Have a nice day. Take care. Bye -bye.

Prince Seraj: Bye-bye.

*The mistake that Prince Seraj is referring to regarding General McChyrstal and the district in Nurestan called Barge Matal occurred in late May/early June.

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Crossposted from Race-Talk.

Kathleen's facebook page is here.