Exclusive – Interview with Prince Ali Seraj of Afghanistan

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SHAFAQNA – Forced into exile by the Soviets in 1978, Prince Ali Seraj of Afghanistan has remained instrumental in his country’s affairs, working from afar to reaffirm Afghanistan’s independence, away from the grip of foreign powers.

A member of Afghanistan’s royal family and one of the keepers of Afghan tradition, Prince Ali has been a voice of reason amid much chaos. Unlike many officials currently serving in office, Prince Ali has had the ears of both his people and tribal leaders – a bridge in between the seat of power and the many factions which populate Afghanistan today.

At such a time when Afghanistan stands besieged by terror – which terror we were told had been defeated by the NATO, under Washington’s military impetus, Prince Ali has called on the international community to open their eyes on the failure of their respective governments.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with SHAFAQNA Prince Ali offered a rare insight into Afghanistan, the multifaceted crises it faces and the solutions which so far have eluded officials.

Catherine Shakdam – Afghanistan has suffered a tumultuous few decades and is one of the first countries in the region to have witnessed the rise of Wahhabi-sponsored radicalism. How do you understand the threat today and is Terror different than what it was in 2001?

Prince Ali Seraj of Afghanistan – Before I answer your question let me make one thing abundantly clear: this ideology radicals have claimed to follow, this terror which has inspired countless bloody campaigns has absolutely nothing to do with Islam. It is neither Sunni nor Shia Islam … This radicalism you see is rooted in Wahhabism, the faith professed by Saudi Arabia. Wahhabism is NOT to be mistaken for Islam. Wahhabism might claim to be Islamic but it is not. Islam does not sanction murder, intolerance and sectarianism. Islam does not call for bloodshed, slavery and oppression.

I don’t think mainstream media grasp the stark differences which exist in between Islam and Wahhabism.

And while Wahhabism was somewhat mainstreamed by Saudi Arabia’s billions of dollars, it does not make its ideology more Islamic.

Both Sunni and Shia scholars have actually openly denounced radicals as enemies of Islam … in their denunciation it is really Wahhabism which has been branded a heresy. Wahhabism by the way was born in bloodshed at the turn of the 18th century to assert the rise of the House of Saud in the Hejaz (ancient name of Saudi Arabia).

Now in terms of the evolution of radicalism … Yes I would say that the threat we face today, not just in Afghanistan but across the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa) is very different than how it started off. If anything things have gotten much worse. You only

have to look at Afghanistan and how the country was allowed to completely disintegrate to understand how mismanagement and utter political lunacy have wrecked any chance of a peaceful and fruitful future for my people.

The Afghans were betrayed by foreign powers. We were promised help, but help never ever really came.

Sure military troops were deployed and many promises were made … but terror was allowed to strive uncheck, radicals and those powers which feed them were allowed to regroup in the shadows while Afghans grappled with poverty and political instability.

Terror today is more dangerous than ever because it has become a broad movement, an institution if you will. We are not talking a few lunatics band together … thousands and tens of thousands of men and women have been sold to Wahhabism. Such is the threat western powers have failed to address.

SHAFAQNA- About a year ago we discussed the future of Afghanistan and I remember you telling me that your country would fall once again to the hands of the Taliban unless two things happened: first you talked about reconstruction and second addressing the root-cause of terror.

Afghanistan is disintegrating before our eyes … what has gone wrong?

Prince Ali Seraj of Afghanistan – Everything has gone wrong! From the organization of the military complex to the state institutions and the country’s financial heart, Afghanistan was left to rot … Help never came! What you see today is the result of a decade of mismanagement and callous policies.

Afghanistan is bursting with natural resources. All the country needs are sound strategies, and investments. It is in the people the state should have invested … This is of course never happened.

Instead millions and millions of dollars were wasted in sustaining foreign troops on the ground. Yet Afghanistan was not given the opportunity to replenish its military arsenal to meet the threat of radicalism.

How are Afghans expected to fight terror if all they have at their disposal are slingshots?

Let me tell you something else about terror and radicalism – if you want to free Afghanistan from Wahhabism then we ought to deal with Pakistan!

Terror never originated from Afghanistan; it was planted in my land and imposed on my people by nefarious outside forces to ruin a land which holds so many promises. A land of plenty, my country and my people had their future ripped from their hands by an unscrupulous and evil power – Pakistan.

Ever since Afghanistan fell under the influence of the Soviet Union, Pakistan has sought to meddle within Afghanistan’s affairs, as it wants to expand its zone of influence and help create a buffer zone against India, its main challenger in the region.

Much of the instability you see today as well stems from a lack of leadership within Afghanistan’s tribal makeup. The tribes of Afghanistan have historically rallied not around government policies but strong leaders. Tribal leaders seek strong leadership, not so much ideas or policies. … This is something that has eluded Western powers so far.

Today there is no real tribal cohesion, and so Afghanistan has remained fractured along ethnic and tribal lines. This if course has hampered anti-terror efforts and prevented any meaningful efforts against radicalism.

SHAFAQNA – Britain announced in December it already sent additional troops in the Helmand province, although officials did specify that those men it sent would not participate in any combat missions … is the solution lie in further militarization?

Prince Ali Seraj of Afghanistan – If by militarization you mean foreign intervention, NO, absolutely not. Why would anyone ask for more British and US soldiers to die in Afghanistan when clearly their respective governments have no potent anti-terror policy? How can anyone condone sending more troops in Afghanistan? Such a waste of life is criminal if you ask me … The Afghans need to defend themselves! They are quite capable of doing it as well! My people have fought against foreign invaders and imperial powers for centuries … The Afghans are a brave people, a warrior nation!

We might be poor and underdeveloped, but it does not mean we are cowardly. What we need are the means to defend ourselves. What we need is military technology and weapons, not political diktat and institutional patronage.

The Helmand province fell to the control of the Taliban because Kabul and foreign powers have prevented Afghans to resist. Tribal leaders were told to stand down when they called for their men to rise a resistance movement against Taliban fighters.

As for the military, troops had only a few machine guns in between them to defend their positions … Of course it was a debacle … how could it not have been?

How can you fight a war without weapons.

I still remember a conversation I had with a US general a few years ago. When I suggested that Afghanistan needed weapons of its own I was told weapons cost money!!! But then again how many millions of dollars were wasted on failed military operations? How many deaths and casualties could have been prevented if Afghanistan had been offered the opportunity to defend its borders and its land? I guess we will never know …

Military interventionism has failed because reconstruction was never computed into the equation. It was always about deploying troops on the ground, never about stopping Wahhabism from spreading. How else would you explain the influx of radical militants into the MENA?

SHAFAQNA – The Taliban is heavily involved in the poppy trade. Afghanistan I believe is the number one exporter of heroin in the West. Millions and millions of dollars are exchanging hands – are we to believe that no one know the main actors and beneficiaries of such trade. Why aren’t we blocking those bank accounts?

That’s a very good question! All we hear those days are governments’ ability to spy and

monitor on their civilian population, and yet we are expected to believe that entire drug cartels are capable of operating under the radar? This is ludicrous.

The only plausible explanation is that western powers do know but wish NOT to stop.

The role played by Saudi Arabia here is not to be under-estimated. Pakistan is acting under strict Riyadh strict order in Afghanistan … Islamabad has long been a vassal state of Al Saud, its grand patron. And so when I say that Pakistan is playing the Taliban as a tool to better invade and control Afghanistan, it is really Saudi Arabia which is playing imperial power.

I’m afraid most western capitals do not realise how much control and power Riyadh has garnered over the years … Western capitals are no longer in command, the real seat of power now lays in the kingdom. Once you understand this everything will come in focus.

In the Helmand province the Taliban is following in the footsteps of al-Qaeda and ISIL, in that it is targeting the country’s most lucrative industry to finance its growth.

Look at Iraq and Syria … there too radicals have leeched on those countries’ natural resources, there too foreign powers have failed to curtailed their activities.

This is troubling to say the least.

SHAFAQNA – I want to discuss now people’s perceptions of Afghanistan. For most westerners Afghanistan is an economic black-hole, a humanitarian wasteland ruled over by backward war lords … Would you say that prejudices have played into this idea that Afghan need foreign patronage to run their affairs?

How would you go about fixing Afghanistan?

Prince Ali Seraj of Afghanistan My life’s work has revolved around the promotion of this very simple, yet powerful idea. United, the Afghans can defeat any enemies, … separated, the Afghans are no longer a people, only a patchwork of tribes living side by side … no cohesion, no unity, no common thread to bring them together.

Afghanistan needs not a mercenary army whose loyalty is to its bankrollers. … Back in the old days each tribe had their own soldiers, and those soldiers would be mobilized should the need arise to defend the homeland. We need to go back to such a system. As it stands, Afghanistan’s National Army is not yet ready to defend the country against such a well-armed and well-funded enemy — the Taliban. How can we hope to defeat our enemies if we cannot achieve unity within society? People need to be rallied around a banner which they recognize. … The state needs to provide this, … otherwise I’m afraid Afghanistan will continue to stumble in the dark, looking for a sense of direction.

To assume that Afghanistan knows nothing of democracy and political self-determination proves to me that most do not know and do not understand the first thing about Afghanistan. Our tribal system is based on popular legitimacy, which, if I’m not mistaken, is the very basis of democracy. Tribal leaders cannot rule unless they have the support of their people. While this might fall in line with Western powers’ democratic experience,

dismissing such a system would be not only dismissive and prejudiced but also short-sighted. As there are many forms of governments – parliamentary monarchies, presidential republics, parliamentary republics, and so on – there are too many ways to live in democracy.

The West has failed Afghanistan, and it is high time we return to the drawing table to devise a new strategy more in keeping with Afghans’ history and inner makeup.

Now let me ask you this: Why are you defending us against our enemies? Has anyone bothered to ask our Afghans if they want to defend themselves? I am the tribes, Why don’t you come and ask me if I am willing to defend my country against the Taliban and al Qaeda?

If I say no, no, no, if I hide behind my wife’s skirts, then you have every right to go and defend me. But I want to defend myself. Just as we dealt with the communists, just as we dealt with the people who came to Afghanistan over the centuries, we will deal with these people.

Afghanistan’s future is with the tribes. We need to enlist the tribes and arm them as to throw out the Taliban and close the porous border with Pakistan where many of the militants shelter.

Instead of viewing all of Afghanistan’s ethnic Pashtuns as Talibs, of giving them the impression the Americans and British want to kill them, the people should be harnessed to the fight. If I get my people activated, we will put up a chain that not even one fly will get across the border, not one ounce of drugs will come the other way.

Revitalising the tribes will not be easy of course but it is our best bet.

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