Global Security: Afghanistan and Pakistan - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

Submission from "RAM" Seeger


  (9 March 2009)

(Prince Abdul Ali Seraj is standing as a candidate in the Presidential elections)


  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 forces.

  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 results.


  More of the same is not the answer. It will not only fail to improve the situation, it may well make it actively worse.

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 increases.

  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 new hope.


  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 not revolution.


  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 reinforced it.

  By turning to the tribes we will also be sending a clear signal of an intended change for the better—a proven approach built on a better understanding of the country and its history.


  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 them.

  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 government—law 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 Taliban—who do understand this principle and have followed it with unscrupulous vigour—have 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 pillars—Islam, Nation, Tribes and Freedom.

  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 of Afghanistan.


  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 Rahman—the "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 mistake again.

Other declared candidates may appear to have what is needed, but if they lack a credible capacity to engage with the tribes—upon whom, better results are dependent—they 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 disaster.

  If a revised defence strategy is attempted before the support of the tribes has been obtained, it would almost certainly founder.

  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 Government—only the expensive pretence of one. Those charged with delivering this have not managed to do so—incompetence 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 of overhaul.

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 control.


  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 policeman—usually the public's first point of contact—is 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 women.

  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 tool—perception 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 victims—mostly 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 coalition forces.

  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 of teachers.


  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 and tactics.

The army should be renamed as the Afghan Defence Force—a 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 any other.

  The army should be of a limited size—so 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 force—one 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 achieve this.

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 emergency—which 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 force—but 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 most.

  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 expansion.

  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 lines—an 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 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 missing—a 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

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