Submission from "RAM" Seeger
(9 March 2009)
(Prince Abdul Ali Seraj is standing as a candidate
in the Presidential elections)
A NEW LEADER
The Karzai government and its support from the
international community have not come up to expectations. Their
attempts at reconstruction have failed on three main counts.
They are losing the war against the Taliban. Increasingly
large areas of the country are outside the government's control,
while less than half the population now support the coalition
They have not used aid in the best interests
of the Afghan people. Aid money has been delayed, misappropriated
or misspent on unsuitable projects.
They have failed to provide honest and effective
governance. The government is widely perceived to be corrupt,
incompetent and unable to deliver.
A new leader with a plan that addresses the
needs and desires of the nation, one who can unite the tribes,
and adhere to the rule of law, is urgently needed to deliver better
More of the same is not the answer. It will
not only fail to improve the situation, it may well make it actively
Unless very carefully integrated into a revised strategy,
more troops will only encourage more resistance. This will then
further discourage or prevent the deployment of aid. With no visible
aid, no advantage is seen in putting up with foreign troops, and
the Taliban will be able to confirm the perception that the coalition
forces are an anti-Islamic occupying force. Support for the coalition
forces will decline even further while Taliban influence and control
Leaders who are tainted by involvement or association
with the present government will have great difficulty in winning
the confidence of the people. Ordinary Afghans have been disappointed
and disillusioned by the last seven years and want a leader now
that they can identify with and trust, whose first loyalty is
to the country and its peoples and who can offer new ideas and
Even with a new and better leader, there is
a limited window of opportunity for resolving the Taliban conflict.
At the current rate of decline, support for the coalition forces
is likely to have evaporated by early 2010. We could then be faced
with the prospects of a nationwide jihad. This could be similar
to the wide spread popular rising faced by the Soviets and would
be much more serious than the political movement, masquerading
as a religious movement, that we are facing now. We should remember
too, that despite killing or expelling millions and fighting the
mujahedeen for ten years, the Soviets were not successful. Their
army was forced to withdraw, and the Afghan ruler, they left in
their place, was defeated and killed.
To stop history repeating itself, we need a new defence
policy that will produce quick but long lasting results.
Notwithstanding the need for urgency if the
Taliban are to be defeated, there is a great danger of trying
to do too much too soon in the way of restructuring the government
and the nation. Trying to force fit Afghanistan into a Western
template is likely to arouse resistance and risk failure. Afghanistan's
history has plenty of examples where reforming zeal has foundered
on the rocks of conservatism. The watch phrase should be evolution
A NEW APPROACH
In order to defeat the Taliban and improve governance,
it will be necessary to develop a radically new and clearly visible
approach to the country's problems. We should begin by understanding
the flaws in the present approach, and acknowledge the fact, that
now, just as much as in the past, the most effective way of achieving
peaceful stability is not through fighting a war and supporting
a weak government, but by talking and listening to the tribes
and through the empowerment of the tribal leaders.
Supporting this view are the facts of Afghan history.
The Afghan people have never rallied around a policy or politics.
They have always rallied around a strong leader. Recent events
have done nothing to change this situation, if anything they have
By turning to the tribes we will also be sending
a clear signal of an intended change for the bettera proven
approach built on a better understanding of the country and its
Winning tribal trust and gaining their support
and cooperation, is the key to finding a solution for Afghanistan.
Presently the tribes are very suspicious of the government's
actions and frustrated with its inaction. They consider the government
as corrupt, inadequate and ambivalent to their needs. This leaves
them open to exploitation by the Taliban, who are able to present
themselves as a better alternative to the Karzai government.
Taking advantage of this gap between the government
and the tribes, the Taliban have penetrated vast regions of the
country. The government, however, can stop the encroachment of
the Taliban only by working with the tribes, instead of against
Greater tribal cooperation and understanding
will allow the government to appeal to the Taliban nationalists,
(the Afghans), whose only real concern and cause is a free and
peaceful Afghanistan without the presence of foreign troops. It
will also allow the government to rid the nation of the foreign
elements within the Taliban.
This golden principle of working with the tribes,
whenever one can, applies to nearly all aspects of governmentlaw
and order, justice, the organisation and use of the police and
military, defence strategy, reconstruction and aid. The failure
to do so has been the main cause of our troubles and why the Talibanwho
do understand this principle and have followed it with unscrupulous
vigourhave been able to expand so effectively.
The best resource to begin a creative engagement
with the tribes is the National Coalition for Dialogue for the
Tribes of Afghanistan (NCDTA). This is a grass roots trans-tribal
movement (with Pushtuns and non-Pushtuns) that the tribes themselves,
were motivated almost five years ago, to establish, organise,
and as it expanded, support.
They did this because they were tired of the lies,
corruption, lawlessness, poverty and hunger, which have been the
result of nine different governments since the downfall of monarchy
and the invasion of the communists.
The NCDTA aims to rekindle the pre-Soviet invasion
cohesiveness and give the tribes a voice within a system that
they see as contrary to their interests. It is a home grown non-political
organisation unsullied by government ineptitude, and a legitimate
focal point for tribal grievances.
At present it is involved in gathering in tribal
members from all over Afghanistan, discussing and formulating
plans for the future of Afghanistan through unification, and preparing
for the forthcoming elections to bring about a much needed change.
It has truly become a movement of the People, by the People and
for the People. It has four pillarsIslam, Nation, Tribes
It has a supreme committee of 11 individuals,
17 founder members and thousands of supporters from within
every tribe of Afghanistan.
After the elections, should the movement succeed
in getting one of its own as the President, the offices of the
NCDTA will continue to operate as an over-sight organization within
each province. It could also secure improved tribal support for
the government, and be the foundation for a new defence strategy.
To head the NCDTA, the tribes decided to look
to a respected family with a two hundred year history, and one
that did not shed their blood or steal their money. They chose
the family of King Amanullah, and selected his nephew, Prince
Abdul Ali Seraj, as their leader and candidate for the Presidency
Prince Ali Seraj as well as being the nephew
of King Amanullah, is also the grandson of King Habibullah and
a descendant of, amongst other kings of Afghanistan, Abdur Rahmanthe
"Iron Amir" and Dost Mohammad.
His father, Sadar Abdul Gharful, was a younger brother
of King Amanullah and 16 years old when he abdicated. His
father then went on to work in the Ministry of Finance and the
Diplomatic Service. Prince Ali's mother was Sidika Tarzi a descendent
of Ghulam Mohammad Tarzi and Rhamdel Khan of Kandahar who together
with Dost Mohammad and Sultan Mohammad of Peshawar, formed the
three main branches of the Mohammadzai line.
The Seraj part of Prince Ali's name comes from
the title given to King Habibullah"Seraj ul Milat
wa deen" (Light of the Nation and Religion).
Ali Seraj is 59 years old and was much
involved in Afghan politics before having to flee the country
with his wife and three children under a Khalq-Parcham death warrant
following the coup d'etat and killing of president Daoud in 1978.
He has an American degree in economics, has
lived 18 years in the USA, and 5 in Brazil, running
a successful fibre optics business, before returning to Afghanistan
in 2002. Since then he has been involved in mainly privately funded
reconstruction projects such as schools and clinics. He also lectures
regularly at the US Counter Insurgency School in Kabul.
As well as being the leader of the NCDTA and
having been asked by them to run for President, he has also been
asked to do this by a number of the more moderate Taliban leaders.
Because Prince Ali's grandfather King Habibullah
married 36 wives from different tribes, Ali Seraj has a blood
link to most of the major tribes in Afghanistan. In addition because
his paternal grandmother (one of the 36 wives) came from
Badakhshan he has particularly strong ties to the northern reaches.
The choice of the next president will be critical
to the future of Afghanistan. The mistake we made in the past
was to support unsuitable leaders. We cannot afford to make this
Other declared candidates may appear to have what
is needed, but if they lack a credible capacity to engage with
the tribesupon whom, better results are dependentthey
will not be up to the job.
Because building trust takes time, it is preferable
to find a leader who is already commanding tribal support. This
would allow tribally supported defence planning to start at once
and go into effect as soon as a new government had taken office.
Such action would take the Taliban by surprise, be a highly visible
signal that things were changing, and be just in time to avert
If a revised defence strategy is attempted before
the support of the tribes has been obtained, it would almost certainly
Finally, it should be noted that the Tribes
support personalities not parties. So a President, that they know,
trust and like, and one who has history behind him, is more certain
to win their support and co-operation.
Without law and order there can be no effective
National Governmentonly the expensive pretence of one.
Those charged with delivering this have not managed to do soincompetence
and over haste to build new systems being the main reasons.
Afghanistan is now on the brink of anarchy and both
the Afghans and their supporters deserve better than this.
One of the great successes of the Taliban has
been that they have been able to portray themselves as representing
Law and Order through fear and threat of death. They are able
to present their politicised version of Sharia law as Islamic
law. Under this religious cloak, they are able to impose themselves
on the tribes and discredit the government.
Taliban Sharia is not Islamic Sharia. It is essential
that the differences are made clear, and that the distorted Taliban
version is labelled as such.
Our current legal strategy is poorly rooted
in the fabric of the non-centralised society in which it has to
be implemented. It is perceived as being part of the state apparatus
to control and suppress the people. As such, it is in urgent need
Sharia law could be combined with certain aspects
of Western law and still retain its Islamic essence. This could
achieve an acceptable balance between centralism and tribal autonomy,
and be an effective counter to Taliban propaganda.
An example to consider: Within the tribal domain,
Sharia Law could be the first port of call for all minor infractions
and settled locally through the traditional systems. Where the
offence is of such magnitude that the punishment for those found
guilty may be severe, the case then passes into the hands of State
Law, where all due process is applied. With acquittal, the case
is closed. Where guilt is proven, appeals are allowed. Where appeal
fails to reverse judgement, the case is returned to Sharia for
further trial under that Law. On acquittal, the case is finally
closed. Where guilt is supported in the second round, judgment
is managed under Sharia rules. By such means, the tribes, under
an Islamic banner, would feel an inclusive part of the justice
system, not merely the target for its abuses.
Tribal laws too could be formulated into a recognised
code of justice that embraced both tribal and national needs.
The tribes themselves would be involved in the development of
this, so would once again feel themselves to be part of a legal
process, that also had consideration for their tribal system.
Whatever laws and systems are finally agreed
however, they must be enforceable, transparent and accountable.
There must also be a media campaign to promote public
knowledge of the law and an individual's legal rights. This would
be the first of its kind in Afghanistan and would do much to break
down the perception that the purpose of laws was to suppress and
An important part of Afghanistan law should
be the recognition and observation of international human rights.
The government, security forces and population should be educated
in the meaning and exercising of these, and taught the need to
treat prisoners fairly and humanely. They should be made to appreciate
that abuse is against the tenants of Islam.
A better structured and more effective police
force is essential as part of a new defence strategy and to maintain
law and order. Currently the police are part of the problem instead
of being part of the cure.
Local police have become symbolic of government failure.
This is exploited by the Taliban, who are able to demonstrate
their dominance with attacks on poorly resourced police posts.
As a first step in countering this, the pay
for the police should be increased. At present it is well below
the loyalty threshold and when withheld or further reduced by
corrupt leadership, the lower echelon policemanusually
the public's first point of contactis also forced to be
corrupt in order to survive. Abuse of power then becomes endemic.
Rural police should be recruited on a provincial
basis from the areas they are to police, but with the provincial
chief coming from outside the region (for greater impartial authority).
He should, however, have a local deputy (for greater local knowledge).
City police should have a wider regional and ethnic mix and more
Working in tandem with the provincial police
should be specially recruited and locally based tribal police,
modelled on a system not dissimilar to that employed in the USA
on Native American reservations. Their main task should be to
support and enforce tribal law.
The force should also be renamed as the Afghan
Nation Police instead of the Afghan National Police. The word
Nation sits more comfortably with increased tribal autonomy and
does not smack of centralism in the same way as National does.
For similar psychological reasons, the tribal
police should be given new uniforms which should include the traditional
shalwar of a particular colour.
Matching the new organisations and new uniforms
should be revised police force protocols and procedures.
Every effort should then be made to change the
public perception of the police. Faced with a similar problem
in 1952, the Malayan Police mounted Operation Service. As part
of the overall Malayan Emergency counter-insurgency plan this
did much to improve their image.
Like the police, the justice system needs overhauling
and cleaning up. This includes the Appeals process. The Judiciary
must be better paid too, as they also, have had to resort to corruption
in order to survive.
Despite our superior strength, we are not winning
against the Taliban. This is because force is not the prime toolperception
is. The main campaign of the Afghan conflict has to be fought
in the psychological arena.
We should begin by not calling it a war. We should
call it extreme civil disorder. Calling the Malayan emergency
a civil emergency shaped how it was eventually managed.
Next we must counter Taliban Sharia law. This
is effective as it works in Islamic disguise and is imposed on
an ignorant population, led by poorly educated mullahs.
Even if it is perceived as faulted, it seems
better than an anarchic free for all.
In consultation with the tribes and the use
of the media, we should mount an information campaign combined
with improved law and justice.
The campaign should show that Taliban rhetoric
is politically motivated and is coming from a hard core Taliban
cadre that is following a policy designed outside Afghanistan.
We should make it clear that the expansion of the Taliban is driven
by coercion not popularity, and that its harsh reality is well
protected by a "bodyguard of lies".
We can then expose and stress the Taliban tactic
of at first collaborating with tribal authority but then supplanting
it later on. This subsequent cracking down by the Taliban on traditional
tribal authority, is a massive mistake that must be exploited.
To have ignored it so far, is to have missed a great opportunity.
The Taliban must be challenged on Islam. They
must be shown to have violated Islamic principles and Pushtunwali.
(the Pushtun honour code). We should create debate and seed doubt.
Their pillar of presentation, that they are
engaged in war against a non-Islamic occupying force, must be
vigorously countered. We must stress that the only invaders are
those agitators infiltrating from Pakistan, intent on destabilising
and destroying Afghanistan. We should also mount a media campaign
identifying suicide bombers (mostly Pakistanis and other non-Afghan
nationals) and highlighting the hardship caused to the victimsmostly
good Islamic members of the civilian population.
We should understand too that the Taliban system
is built on individual personalities. If we can undermine these,
trust will falter and their system begin to unravel.
We need good intelligence on the enemy, but
we also need good information on the tribes. Tribal mapping will
be important, as will knowledge of leading personalities and their
historical relationships. It must be appreciated that the past
is relevant and that it is kept alive by oral traditions.
Understanding this will enable us to use oral
histories to reinforce traditional values of loyalty and support
and right over wrong and to show up the Taliban as outsiders.
Following the Taliban example we should also
make better use of TV, the radio and the internet.
The Allies must ensure that more resources are
devoted to psychological operations (psyops) than hitherto, while
for their part, the army must improve their collective English
skills so as to work more efficiently and effectively with the
The importance of education must be fully realised.
The first shots in the propaganda war are fired in the class room,
so immediate steps should be taken to improve the pay and status
The army must reflect the society it belongs
to and be self-sustaining. It should also capitalise on Afghanistan's
military traditions and special abilities. Afghanistan has never
had large conventional armies. Its genius has been irregular warfare
with small groups of fast moving, lightly equipped guerrilla forces.
With these it has been highly successful against both the British
and the Russians. This factor should influence organisation, equipment
The army should be renamed as the Afghan Defence
Forcea name which better reflects the role it should be
used in. Like the Police too, it should be given new uniforms
which would include the traditional shalwar. We should remember
the precept, "the less we look like them, the less we are
able to bond with them".
The army should be organised into regional regiments.
This will make it look less like a sponsored mercenary force,
and capitalises on the fact, that its recruits are culturally
programmed to prize their regions above all others, so by nature,
are likely to perform better in defence of their home region than
The army should be of a limited sizeso
that it can be more easily sustainable and be able to be better
trained and better paid.
For similar reasons it should be a two tier
forceone part to be used mainly for static defence and
the other for more proactive duties.
Specialist units should include combat tracker
teams, air mobile quick reaction forces and regional based/recruited
Special Forces. The latter should be drawn from the quick reaction
forces and be specially selected, trained and paid.
Emphasis in training should be on fast response
and aggressive and relentless pursuit. To this end equipment should
be lightweight and high quality, there should be a full range
of air mobility means, there must be good and reliable ground/air
communications and there must be tight supporting fire control.
Priority should be given to the training of
combat medics. These will better ensure the care of battlefield
casualties, but also be of great assistance in winning the hearts
and minds of the local people.
There should be a well trained corps of engineers,
who when not engaged in working directly for the army, can be
employed on visible public works projects.
To prepare soldiers for civilian life attention
should be paid to education and training in technical or engineering
skills (carpentry, plumbing, electronics etc).
To further army recruiting, and as an important
facet of the pysops campaign, youth cadets should be established
and encouraged as part of a wider school based programme to teach
self discipline, citizenship and employment skills. In certain
emergencies eg disaster relief, they might be called upon by the
government to give assistance.
Because the majority of Taliban inflicted casualties
are from IEDs (70% of US casualties have been sustained inside
vehicles) there is a great danger of the army developing a besieged
mentality. It is essential that this is broken and a hunter/killer
ethos instilled instead. The building up of a rapid response capability,
air mobility and tactical trust between regional units will help
It must be remembered that not all Taliban are suicide
bombers! Most want to survive. Taliban use of military force must
be countered aggressively and relentlessly.
We should see what lessons we can learn from
other counter-insurgency campaigns. For example:
The Malayan emergencywhich as
well as teaching the importance of the political dimension, taught
the value of understanding the enemy and identifying their weak
spots. It also taught the value of well trained, well led indigenous
forces as most of the jungle patrolling was done by locally recruited
para-military police with the mainly British military in support.
The Taliban drive to power in 1994-96 when,
much as they are doing now, they successfully used the tribal
fabric to gain support.
The newly structured ADF and ANP should be used
in escalating layers of defence. First point of contact should
be the tribe, then the police and then the army.
Giving early warning of anti-government activity
should be tribal "rangers" from the new tribal police
forcebut geared as listening posts more than combat units.
They should be the forward scouts monitoring hostile activity.
Following up these should be the Afghan tribal
police, drawn from the tribe, backed up as required by quick reaction
forces from the provincial police.
Behind this should be a heliborne quick reaction
force and conventional units from the regionally recruited ADF.
Finally there should be the coalition forces.
Despite spending vast amounts of money on eradicating
the drug problem, production under the Karzai Administration,
has soared. The export value of illegal opiates now equals half
of the rest of Afghanistan's economy, and one of the largest drug
barons is perceived to be closely related to a high government
official. Note that across the border in the Pakistan Swat valley,
Taliban "police" impose painful punishments on drug
smugglers and dealers.
Bad though the drug problem is, dealing with the
Taliban is a higher priority. We should make progress against
them first before splitting assets and tackling drugs. Trying
to deal with both at once confuses objectives and strategy.
A defeated Taliban, empowered tribes, established
law and order, loyal and effective security forces will all greatly
reduce the problem and make it much easier to solve.
The whole Aid effort currently lacks unified
direction, clarity of purpose, adequate accountability or clear
integration into defence needs as part of a unified defence strategy.
These failings should be remedied.
Aid development should be regarded as a defence "weapon"
and used accordingly. Wastage should be deemed unacceptable, as
every dollar wasted is another dollar's worth of Taliban propaganda.
A new government body should be established
that would be administered in close collaboration with outside
western consultants, drawn from the business world rather than
aid oriented backgrounds. Their brief should be to regard Afghanistan
more as a failing company than a failing country, and offer sustainable
business oriented fix-it solutions rather than non-sustainable
aid oriented patches.
Military personal, with the appropriate business
understanding, should serve in this body to assist in improved
coordination between civil and military needs in the joint campaign.
Projects that create employment should be given
high priority, as these offer an immediate visible change in the
lives of those who become employed. At present Aid gives priority
to "capacity building" and the creation of Afghan company
structures (which seldom live up to the promise of the proposals).
As a result, development Aid fails to reach those who need it
More visible results could also be obtained
by having agricultural and reconstruction projects undertaken
by the Afghans themselves, and as wanted by them, with the resources,
rather than funds, for the projects, being given directly to the
tribes. This would not only allow them to see a real benefit from
foreign assistance, but encourage them to believe that they are
stakeholders in a resurgent economy.
Projects should relate to real needs and be
of immediate benefit to the population eg agricultural products,
roads, drainage and sewage systems etc. Ill considered ones like
the $12 million milk processing factory in Mazzar (without
milk) and the $40 million "Mazzar Foods" fiasco
(on desert land without water, dubbed "Bizarre Foods"
by the media) only rebound against the government and fuel Taliban
A better example of what is urgently required
and would be much appreciated is the provision of electrical power
to the wider population. This could use both conventional energy
sources (hydro power, oil based fuel etc) and renewable sources
(solar power etc). Using solar power for outlying locations would
reduce the need for power linesan attractive and traditional
insurgent target, while improved power supplies in the cities
would encourage industrial growth. This would be a high visibility
project of immense local benefit.
Emphasis too, should be placed on projects that
benefited the youth of the country.
A FINAL PLEASTAY
A final consideration and plea. While the main
international focus may be beginning to shift to the greater problem
of Pakistan and the other central Asian states, it would be a
mistake to lose interest in Afghanistan. It would make things
much easier if Afghanistan was solved first or, at the very least,
put on the right path. A war on two fronts is never advisable.
If a solution could be found for Afghanistan, there would likely
to be much within it that is useful and relevant to Pakistan.
To conclude, Afghanistan urgently needs a new
approach to dealing with its problems. This should be developed
through a better understanding of the country and its history,
by talking and listening to the tribes, and the empowerment of
tribal leaders. The best resource for a creative engagement with
the tribes is the grass roots trans-tribal NCDTA and its leader
and presidential candidate, Prince Ali Seraj.
We need to restructure the army and the police force
on tribal and regional lines, and evolve a more effective and
acceptable system of justice.
We must counter Taliban lies and propaganda
and expose the harsh reality of what they are trying to do. We
must appreciate that the main campaign of the conflict must be
fought in the psychological arena and that perception is the prime
tool, not force. Relying on more troops is not the answer and
is more likely to be counterproductive, unless very carefully
integrated into a revised strategy.
Of the above, the most important measure is
the selection of a new leader with a new face and a new strategy,
but who is also the right leader for the present situation. Such
a leader has to have the trust of the tribes, so a man like Ali
Seraj, in whom the tribes have already placed their trust, is
an inspired and time saving choice for President.
The Seraj option provides what has been missinga
ready made catalyst for the right change. It will give Afghanistan
a way forward that can begin immediately, and which embraces what
has always been needed, a symbiotic relationship between the state
and the tribes.
Afghanistan is in dire straights but with goodwill
and sound planning it can still be saved. There is a narrow window
of opportunity in which it can be turned around and this must
be used before it is too late.
While international focus may be beginning to
shift to other problem areas, it would be a short-sighted mistake
to lose interest in Afghanistan.
14 April 2009