By Steven Pressfield | Published: September 25, 2009
[The blog is out of town this week. Here is a re-boot of our first post in this ongoing series. See you Monday!]
This will be the first of a multi-part conversation with Chief Ajmal Khan Zazai of Paktia province, Afghanistan. Let’s plunge right in.
SP: Chief Zazai, this summer you were elected to the paramountcy of eleven tribes in your home region in Paktia province along the border with Pakistan. Why did the tribes meet at this time? What was their agenda?
Chief Zazai: On July 17th, 2009, my 11 tribes, their Chiefs and Tribal elders gathered in the Zazi valley, where the US Army’s 10th Mountain Division is also based. The event was broadcast for three days by the TV channel “Shamasad” and was seen throughout Afghanistan. The tribes met to address the problems created by the escalation of the insurgency and of course the failure of the Karzai administration to bring a stable, uncorrupt and people-representing government to Afghanistan.
SP: Prior to this meeting, you had established a tribal police force. Can you tell us why you did this and what has happened since?
Chief Zazai: At the end of May 2009, the tribal council, after many meetings, created this force to protect the people of the valley and to provide security for the council members. Our Zazi force is constituted of 80 men, who are governed by the tribal council. They serve full-time; they are armed with their own weapons and commanded by my friend Amir Mohammed. Commander Amir fought against the Soviets in the 80s and has been the commander of the border police appointed by the interior minister. He is a brave commander and a man of his word.
On September 13, just a few days ago, I was having a dinner with my family when I received a phone call from Commander Amir, who informed me of an IED placed in the mosque where he and the Tribal Police were having a dinner. It was Ramadan and they had been fasting all day so they came together to break their fast. An explosive device went off, blowing up part of the mosque and injuring a few tribal police. Thank God somehow the main bomb did not go off. If it had, it could have killed 30 to 40 people easily. Just imagine if this bomb had gone off and killed this many people! Could I have been in the position to form another such group? No, never.
SP: Who planted the bomb and why?
Chief Zazai: The reason the insurgents planted this bomb is that they are aware we are siding with the US.
SP: Your own father was assassinated, I understand, under orders from Mullah Omar. You yourself have survived two attempts on your life. Can you tell us about your father and what you and he are fighting for?
Chief Zazai: My father was Chief Raiss Afzal Khan Zazai; he was murdered in 2000. My father led our Zazi tribes in the fight against the Soviets and later he organized the Tribal Chiefs from three provinces (Paktia, Paktika & Khost) in order to upraise against the Taliban. Some ex-commanders were visiting him at our family home and there they carried out this heinous crime. I have not found who gave the orders yet but the motive behind this was to bring a full stop to this movement and also to frighten the rest.
My father was one of our country’s first industrialists. He and my uncle founded the first Afghan transport company, Mrastay Transport, using old British Bedford trucks. His company, Wazir Ltd, exported raisins, dried fruits and Afghan carpets to Russia, Germany and Britain, while importing vehicles, appliances and medicines.
My father believed that the tribes were the past and future of Afghanistan. Let me show you a letter he wrote before he was killed (and several years before 9/11) to our dear friend David Simpson in England, who had fought alongside my father against the Soviets and is writing a book about this and much more. I thank David for his kind permission to excerpt this.
Besides the full support of Pushtoon tribes, I’ve the full support of Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara and Turkmen Tribes. I successfully expanded the “Zazi Tribes Union” to national tribal union where all the major tribes in Afghanistan are included. The present situation in my country is very bad. People are suffering terribly under the unlawful regime of the Taliban … In 1995 I warned you of Taliban’s agenda towards extremism and [predicted] the present situation. I hate to say this but “I told you so.” Dear Dave, I need [the outside world’s] support. My tribesmen are ready. Our Tribal main issue is to completely finish drugs and end the deep roots of terrorism.
SP: Is this your cause too, Chief Zazai?
Chief Zazai: Yes! The difficulty is in making people understand, people of America and the West. Afghanistan seems so complicated and confusing. It is complicated even to us! But, Steve, I tell you it is possible to bring together the tribes, which are the true power on the ground in Afghanistan and from there build a stable structure of governance. I said before that the gathering of the eleven Zazi tribes was broadcast for three days. A momentum is now circulating around Afghanistan for a tribal united front which could find a way forward. My team in Kabul and Zazi have been contacted by many Tribal chiefs who wish to join our efforts in uniting all the Afghan tribes.
SP: I want to talk more about issues that (you’re right) are confusing to non-Afghans: who’s who … the Taliban, the warlords, al-Qaeda, the insurgency. And about how your tribal union might work with the US military, what you’re doing, what the American responses have been, what’s possible. Are you game to keep going?
Chief Zazi: I will talk as long as you want, if we can get even a few people to listen.
[To be continued next Friday. Monday, we’ll start serializing Special Forces Major Jim Gant’s white paper, “One Tribe At A Time.”]