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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 towards the goal of dealing with the after-effects of deprivations suffered by the Afghan peoples in the past and helping to eliminate present suffering.
In Part 1 of our interview, we discussed the women of Afghanistan. In this interview, Part II, we discuss the significance and relevance of the tribes.
Kathleen Wells: I am speaking with Prince Abdul Ali Seraj. He is speaking with me from Kabul, and he is the head of the National Coalition for Dialogue with Tribes of Afghanistan. Thank you, Prince Seraj, for taking the time to speak with me.
Prince Abdul Ali Seraj: Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity. Isn’t technology wonderful? We are halfway around the world. At least you can see me and I cannot see you, but we are talking to each other over the computer. It’s wonderful.
Kathleen Wells: Yeah, I think it’s fantastic. Well, you know that in Part I of our interview, we discussed the role of women in Afghanistan. So today, Part II, I’d like to focus on the role and significance of the tribes in Afghanistan.
Prince Seraj: Absolutely! That’s my favorite topic …
Kathleen Wells: That’s your favorite topic?
Prince Seraj: …after the women of Afghanistan, because as you know that our family lost the throne of Afghanistan because we supported the women of Afghanistan some 90 years ago. So I am glad that we are talking about this, my second favorite topic, which is the Afghan tribes.
Kathleen Wells: Well, first let me start with an overview. Give me your position on the US military presence in Afghanistan.
Prince Seraj: US military presence in Afghanistan is a welcome situation. Afghans and Americans have been friends for a long time. If I were to give a description of an American, I would draw a big heart because Americans, like Afghans, speak with their hearts.
Just to go on the sideline for a minute, there are a lot of similarities between us — the Afghans and the Americans. We are the only two nations in the world that have fought the British and gotten our independence from them. We are the only two nations in the world that fought communism in Afghanistan. We were the soldiers, and you were actually the generals, so to speak. You supplied the weapons and we supplied the manpower to bring the Soviets – the Red Army — down to its knees and get rid of world communism. And third, we are the only two nations to pick up arms against the al-Qaeda and the Taliban when the United States came to Afghanistan in the end of 2001 after the 9/11 incident. There were no other nations supporting the United States. It was the people of Afghanistan on the ground and the US Air Force together that got rid of the al-Qaeda and Taliban of Afghanistan and freed Afghanistan from the al-Qaeda disaster.
The Afghans, when you greet them, they put their hands on their hearts and the Americans are very, very giving people. When there is a problem anywhere in the world, they open up their purses and their hearts to help. So there are a lot of similarities between the strongest nation in the world, which is United States, and the weakest, right now, which is Afghanistan.
So when the United States troops arrived in Afghanistan, we greeted them as heroes, because, since we always looked upon the Americans as our friends, we really appreciated that they have come to our help once again, to help rid this country of the al-Qaeda and the foreign Talib threat. So, even today, with the amount of problems that the US troops are facing in Afghanistan and the amount of misunderstandings and the collateral damage — which I don’t believe in very much — which has taken place in Afghanistan, there is still a soft spot in the hearts of Afghanistan — of the Afghan people — for the Americans.
So I hope that answers the question — I took a long way but I just want to make sure that there is no misunderstanding. The Afghan people do not have anything against the Americans except good feelings.
I worked in Lash Kargah long time ago when the Americans were helping build the Helmut Valley Project and we had all Afghans, from all ethnic groups, working side by side with the Americans.
The thing that concerns the Afghans more so now than before is that they have asked me — especially the people from the south, from Helmand — they have told me — they said — why have the Americans abandoned us? They came to the Helmand Valley; we worked together. Then they build the Kajaki Dam; they build the Gereshk Power Plant; they build the roads; they build the highways. We worked together as brothers. How come they abandon us and allowed the British, our old enemies, to come to Helmand and rekindle the Second Anglo-Afghan War?
So they are very unhappy about that. But as far as the people are concerned, their feeling is quite positive. But the mistake that has been made in Afghanistan, not only on the part of the Americans troops, but also on the part of NATO, is that we are disregarding the people of Afghanistan. We talk about the people of Afghanistan in the third person. We talk about the al-Qaeda; we about the Talib; we talk about suicide bombers; we talk about IEDs and all that; but nobody talks about the mother who comes to my door to sell one child so that she can feed three other children. Nobody talks about the children of Kabul rummaging through the garbage every night to find food for their family. And that’s the mistake being made, Kathleen, is that we are disregarding the thirty million people of Afghanistan, the majority of whom are living in sub-level poverty.
Kathleen Wells: How can this be rectified? How can this be addressed?
Prince Seraj: Well, we have to change our philosophy. We have to make the question I’ve asked of my friends at NATO — the Americans, the Canadians, and the Europeans — “What is your plan for Afghanistan?” I still have not — I don’t have — I haven’t had somebody sit down and tell me that this is the plan for Afghanistan, and this is what we want to do.
When Mr. Bush decided to send the U. S. troops to Afghanistan and within three weeks we got rid of the Taliban and the al-Qaeda and Afghanistan became “free,” we were promised the Marshall Plan. It never materialized. We were promised all kinds of development. People were waiting for their lives to get better. People are waiting to get jobs. People are waiting for the economy to get better. But none of that happened. Afghanistan is an agricultural country; nobody is paying attention to the agriculture. Thirty years ago, we not only fed our own people, but we produced enough food to export out of Afghanistan. Today, we are importers of food.
Kathleen Wells: Why is that happening? Why are promises or no plan being instigated or effectuated? What is the motivation for that?
Prince Seraj: Because they started getting on the wrong foot. When the Taliban were driven out of Afghanistan, unfortunately, Iraq happened. When Iraq happened — before Iraq — Mr. Bush said, “We will not forget Afghanistan like we did the last time. We are going to complete the job, and we’re going to make sure that everything is fine.” But that was good so long as Iraq was not there. The minute Iraq happened, Afghanistan was put on the back burner. Afghanistan was left to fend for itself, and nothing much was done in the form of development. Sure, we built some highways; sure, we built schools and clinics; but schools and clinics and highways do not feed people. We started building our house from roof – tried to build the roof first before we go to the foundation. We forgot that the house without the foundation does not stand.
And so the policies now — finally they are coming to the point that “Oh, we must.” You see, Afghanistan’s problem is four-fold. We have got tribal; we have got economical; we have got social and political, in that order. In Germany, when at the Bonn conference the powers [that] be at the time (at that time the United Nations and the Americans and the British that were involved) — they turned the whole thing around because, to them, tribes did not mean anything. They didn’t know anything about tribes. They didn’t know anything about Afghan society. But they knew about politics, and they knew that politics needed money.
So they turned the whole thing around upside down. They went for politics, and they figured that, if we could throw money at politics, Afghanistan is going to have a stable political system; therefore, it will correct itself. That was a mistake. The foundation was a mistake.
We should have gone in trying to unify the tribes of Afghanistan. Through the unification, we should have started economic development immediately next to that. This would have created jobs, which should have bound the society, and then politics would have taken care of itself.
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