AN INTERVIEW WITH AN AFGHAN TRIBAL CHIEF

Interview with An Afghan Tribal Chief

Pakistan, continued

By Steven Pressfield | Published: December 18, 2009

SP: Chief Zazai, last week we were talking about Pakistan and you said there were in fact four Pakistans: the bureaucrats who are always in power, the current elected government, the army, and finally what you called the “Shadowy government” of ex-ISI and army officers who exert tremendous unseen influence.

This week let’s get local and focus on your home district, the Zazi Valley in Paktia province in Afghanistan, where you are the paramount chief of eleven Pashtun tribes. You have said in previous interviews that within your valley, well-known to all residents, are a number of agents and officials who “have been on the payroll of the Pakistani ISI for thirty years.” Can you tell us more about these men? What is their agenda? Are they supporting the Taliban and other insurgents?

Chief Zazai, second from right, with bodyguards on the way to meet British commanders in Kabul earlier this year

Chief Zazai, second from right, with bodyguards on the way to meet British commanders in Kabul earlier this year

Chief Zazai: The Zazi valley has tremendous strategic significance because it lies on the porous border with Pakistan’s Kurm Agency, Tirah Orakzai and Waziristan. It is located on the southeast corner of the Tora Bora Mountains. During the Russian occupation, Zazi was called the “Gateway to Afghanistan” and still holds this unique position. Many insurgents cross back and forth almost daily and unfortunately within the Zazi valley the Taliban have some die-hard sympathizers as well as some who are there to facilitate their movements within the valley and around. Strategically, Zazi has been kept fairly quiet and not a war zone because this is the gate–and if the gate gets the heat, there will be a deployment of more U.S. troops in Zazi which means the gates will be shut.

I formed the TPF (Tribal Police Force) in June ‘09. Initially I needed to protect my chiefs while they were busy campaigning to unite all the tribes in Zazi, Danda Pathan and in Khost because in the same day three innocent local tribesmen were beheaded by Taliban fighters, including a religious scholar who denounced suicide bombings as un-Islamic. The next day people found the scholar beheaded and his eyes were taken out and his ears were cut in the corridor of his house. Then there was a shooting involving the Border Police soldiers, which resulted in three dead and 4 injured. Later the Mullah of that particular village refused to give these soldiers a religious burial. These events sent us an alarming sign, so therefore I immediately appointed a veteran leader, Amir Mohammad, to be our security head and ordered a group of 30 armed men to start protecting the chiefs and the Unity movement. As threats grew, we increased the number. We now have 85 armed Zazi tribesmen serving and protecting their own people. Amir Mohammad and the senior officers of the Tribal Police Force have survived two IED attacks and many ambushes. So, to answer your question, who are these insurgents? Are they coming from Pakistan or are they living within the Zazi Valley?

These insurgents are living within the Zazi Valley. We have identified their commanders and members and they are not more than 35 men. Can one imagine that only 35 men are intimidating the lives of over 250,000 people?

SP: So then you actually know who these individuals are?

Chief Zazai: My Commander, Amir Mohammad, has provided a list and locations of these insurgents to the commanding officer of the U.S. 10th Mountain Division based in Ali Khell in the Zazi Valley. So far we have not heard that they have arrested or questioned these men.

In the Zazi Valley, there are four Pakistani nationals who are based there now and have been for many, many years. They have been lately spotted by our Intel guys filming the U.S. troops when they move around and are busy collecting intelligence about everything. One is a medical doctor, the other is a medicine man (a seller of homeopathic medicine), the other is a Mullah (this man speaks openly against the U.S. and all Infidels), and the fourth one is attached to the medical doctor and is just there.

Yes, there are a few Local Zazi men who have been in the payroll of the Shadowy government of Pakistan (ISI) for almost thirty years and two of these men are warlords. They hold high political office in the current government. They are in positions of trust. The Pakistani Shadowy ISI government and these Afghan warlords do not want to see the tribes–meaning the local village people–become united with the U.S. Army in the fight against the Taliban insurgents, because they are too well aware that if this happens, this will be the end of Taliban and insurgents in Afghanistan. That’s why they are against my Tribal Police Force program and will do anything to dissolve it and stop it.

SP: How do the local people in Zazi feel about these men that you say have been on the payroll of the Pakistani ISI? Has anything been done to bring charges against them or to drive them out? If not, why not?

Chief Zazai: It is not a problem for the Zazi Tribal Council to simply drive these men out of the Valley, but so far–on the contrary–people are trying to drive us out! I will not name names in this public forum, but let’s just say that these forces have been able to convince certain well-meaning and hard-working but unfortunately misinformed U.S. officers that they are the good guys and have painted our Zazi tribesmen as the opposite. The U.S. is the power on the ground and unfortunately these shadowy forces have been able so far to manipulate this power.

SP: What is your opinion of American policy toward Pakistan in general? If you could advise President Obama on how best to deal with Pakistan from the point of view of resolving the conflict in Afghanistan, what would you tell him?

Chief Zazai: Bring Pakistan to become honest in their dealings with the world.

SP: I’d like to ask you about the Quetta Shura Taliban. Quetta, as we know, is a city in Pakistan–and a major sanctuary for Afghan insurgents. What exactly is the Quetta Shura? Is it being protected by the Pakistani government and if so, why?

Chief Zazai: The Quetta Shura is the supreme command of the entire Mullah Omar Taliban movement. But let’s not here mix the structure of the insurgents with their leadership. To understand the insurgents’ structure, we have to pay serious attention to the players and groups involved, who might share a single agenda as it pertains to fighting the U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, but who also have their own separate and conflicting future agendas and designs. The overall Taliban body is composed of Mullah Omar’s movement (in other words, the Quetta Shura), the Hezb-i-Islami movement of warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and al-Qaeda. Some people would argue that AQ and the Taliban are separate, but I believe Taliban and AQ are like a soul and the body. There is also the Haqqani network which, though it enjoys deep contacts and relations with the Shadowy Pakistani government of the ISI and is very powerful and active within Afghanistan, is still under the leadership of Mullah Omar. Haqqani headquarters are based inside Pakistani soil. Mr. Sarajuddin Haqqani enjoyed great friendship with the late Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud [killed recently in a U.S. drone attack] and I believe still enjoys the friendship and backing of his successor, Hakimullah Mehsud.

The Quetta Shura is fully protected by the Shadowy Pakistani government of the ISI. I think nowadays we hear this on the news all over that even though the Pakistani Army is fighting insurgent groups in Waziristan that they are only fighting the Pakistani Taliban and not the Afghan Taliban. So it is clear that these Afghan Taliban (Mullah Omar’s movement and al-Qaeda) are protected and supported by the Shadowy Pakistani government of the ISI.

Why are they not shutting these headquarters down? Well, as I have said earlier, the Shadowy government of Pakistan has its agenda and designs. I believe the U.S. and all NATO countries should seriously come to the bottom of this double-standard policy. I believe through meaningful dialogue with the heads of the Pakistani Army and former Pakistani Army generals this matter could be resolved more fruitfully.

There certainly is not a location or a signboard that says “Mullah Mohammad Omar’s Quetta Shura Headquarters.” I believe their meeting places are secret locations, as they change their tempo based on the day to day situation and affairs. Therefore I do not believe anyone would guess where exactly the Quetta Shura is located. Is it inside Quetta, is it in Karachi, is it in Peshawar, is it in Islamabad or is it inside Afghanistan?

Posted in Agora, An Interview with an Afghan Tribal Chief

5 Responses to “Pakistan, continued”

  1. Jim Gourley
    December 18, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    The revelation of efforts to discredit the Unity leadership and the Zazi TPF concern me greatly in the context of what could be accomplished, what is risked to accomplish it, and what the consequences are of the accomplishment.

    I’d like to first clarify what Chief Zazai means by “drive us out”. First, who specifically is “us”– just your TPF leadership, just you and your immediate family, or the entire tribal leadership of the Unity effort? By “drive”, do you mean that you are being actively targeted by the AQ, are the Quetta Shura and ISI indirectly targetting you through misinformation and economics, or are they feeding counter-intelligence to the U.S. forces and trying to let the Americans do the dirty work for them?

  2. Chief Zazai
    December 19, 2009 at 4:20 am

    Dear Jim, allow me to say that, I am the first Tribal Leader in entire Afghanistan to stand up against the insurgents by creating the TPF (Tribal Police Force) from my own people with their own guns to fight the insurgents and also in mean time protect the people in the valley, not just the tribal leaders and senior TPF leaders but the entire population. As I have mentioned earlier in the interview that my TPF Commander Amir Mohammad & senior TPF leaders survived two IED attacks and a few planed ambushes, to be honest with you, I am not worried about the insurgents and their attacks that we can deal with but I have been facing many head aches from miss informed US Army officers in Ali Khell (Zazi) who considered us (Myself, the Zazi Tribal Shura members which is made of 12 Tribal Chiefs, Amir mohammad (TPF commnader) and senior TPF leaders as the enemies of peace, stability in the region & called us “gangs of illegal & irresponsible bandits”. As I have mentioned earlier that I have taken the steps forward in practical terms in order to make the local population (Tribes) & the US & NATO to join hands in fighting the common enemy of Afghanistan & United States (Al Qaida & TAliban), I believe this is the only best way in order to counter insurgency as well as win hearts & minds of the grass root level. I never throught I would faced head aches from our own friends (US Army), however, most of the problems are now been solved with the “Help” of my personal friends but due to the pressure & the negative reaction there was that moment that I was about to shut the programme down, but regardless, I continued and I am glad now to see our friends “US Army” has realised the reality.

    The TPF is been active now for the last 7 months, there has not yet been a single inccident against the US troops or Afghan security forces in the entire Zazi valley, the Tribes have signed and thumb printed a treaty which would not allow the insurgents to carry any attack against the US forces in the entire Zazi valley and this fact has been now greatly appreciated by the US 10th Mountain divison commanders.

    The warlords who now enjoy positions in the present regime are using their influences to bad mouth the TPF and the Zazi Tribal unity leaders and they have been providing false info’s to the US Army officers, but I believe the US Army commanders on the ground are realising the actual facts and therefore I am pleased now.

    I believe the enemy have tried every tactic to use the US Army against the TPF & the entire Zazi Tribal shura & myself and as I said there were moments that could have gone very ugly, but Thank God horrifying events were prevented by the interventions of some of my friends and now things are better means the relatinoship between the TPF leaders and the US Army is normal and very cooperative.

    The impression of “driving out” was used in th response of Mr Pressfield, but Yes actually that was the case and I am glad the programme is still continuing regardless of no assistance and help from the US Army & NATO, but again this programme continues because this programme is by the people and for the people.

    Many Thanks

    Zazai

  3. anan
    December 25, 2009 at 1:46 am

    Respected Chief Zazai,

    Could I please ask you to share your perspectives on the 203rd ANA Corps headquartered in Gardez? 203rd Corps commander Major General Abdul Khaliq? 1st Brigade, 203rd ANA Corps commander Brigadier General Mohammed Israr Aqdas (whose brigade operates in Khost and Paktia)? Could you share your thoughts on U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Kurt Fuller, deputy commanding general of both the 203rd ANA Corps and CJTF-82?

    Do they understand the value of Zazi valley, the 12 tribes you represent, and your TPF?

    Have the provincial Afghan Uniformed Police of Paktia requested that the brave sons of your 12 tribes join their forces? Have the ANA requested that your sons join their forces?

    Are the sons of the Zazi valley willing to serve their motherland Afghanistan by joining the ANA and AUP in large numbers?

    According to ISAF commanding Gen McChrystal, one of the largest problems with the ANA is that Southern Pashtun are under represented while Eastern and Northern Pashtun are over represented. [42% of the ANA is Pashtun just as 42% of all Afghans are Pashtun.] Do you agree that the under representation of Southern Pashtun in the ANA is a big problem? Or is it okay for Kabuli, Paktia and Khost Pashtun to be over represented in the ANA?

  4. Chief Zazai
    December 25, 2009 at 2:22 am

    Dear Anan, I personaly do not know the Officers you mentioned, my commander Amir Mohammad might know them.

    I believe the ANA officers always felt the need for communities cooperations and assistance in order to identify and fight the insurgents, and the ANA has requested for such initiatives in the past from their higher ups. I believe the ANA officers are pleased that local initiatives such as TPF operates in the remote areas & are in close partnership with them. My commander maintains very good & close relations with the ANA units based in Zazi valley.

    I do not have any knowledge of any such request, but let me explain to you the main objective of the TPF: TPF is a local initiative in order to provide security for the population by driving the insurgents out of the villages and towns. Also the TPF is deisgned to be closely engaged in partnership with the ANA, US/NATO forces with sharing better Intel and assisting each other when there is need. TPF in my opinion would only operate better and successfuly in their own areas, re stationing these men from one district to another, or from a province to another would only create confussions and set backs. Local initiatives are for local population.

    At this time I believe immediate security needs to be brought almost over night to secure villages, districts, towns, valleys, provinces and mountains, in order to do so we have got to use Local initiatives such as the TPF, once peace & stability is brought in large parts of the troubled region in Afghanistan in few years, we can then think about reducing the numbers of the TPFs by recruiting many into the ANA & ANP. To do so now would simply not work.

    I agree with the growing unevenly recruited ANA. I think it is absolutely wrong to include some and ignore some. The present recruitment of the ANA is not healthy, many warlords has placed their men at the top and ANA is over flowing with dirty politics. I do not have any faith that by continuing with such ill practices one would imagine the ANA in it’s actual form, however, I would assume the US/NATO leaders are better informed than myself and perhaps knows better what they are trying to achieve with ANA.

    In my humble opinion, the formation of the ANA would need to be on the lines of (Compulsory Service). The present recruiting of ANA is not only working but it could create some large problems in the future as well.

    Do you know why not many would join the ANA? Because of Taliban’s fear. If a son or a brother goes out to join the ANA, the next day Taliban nocks his door and terrorises his family, so under such circumstances no one wish to go through these horrifying events. What we really need to do is to get the support of Locals and support local initiatives such as the TPF programmes so that people can stand for themselves against the Taliban brutality, we can then be thinking of recruiting a better Army with recruting them evenly from all the 32 Provinces.

    Many Thanks

    Zazai

  5. anan
    December 26, 2009 at 9:15 pm

    Chief Zazai, thank you for your thoughtful response. I am glad that 203 ANA Corps appreciates the TPF in Zazi Valley. It is to their credit that they do so.

    Your comments about the ANA are concerning, especially since the ANA in Paktia and Khost are thought by many, including myself, to be the best quality ANA in all of Afghanistan.

    Your ideas on conscription have merit; although perhaps one way to implement it would be to require all Afghan males to give 4 years of service, and all Afghan women to give 1 year of service over their life times. This service would have to be satisfied by one of the following options:
    -joining the ANA, ANP or NDS
    -becoming a civilian employee of the GIRoA at the national/province/district/local level
    -civilian employees would include school teachers, construction workers, street sweepers, etc.
    Females who didn’t want to serve due to conservative cultural reasons could designate a relative to serve in their place. Conscription might be a valuable way to recruit Afghan school teachers, including woman Afghan school teachers. As you know, there is a huge shortage of teachers in Afghanistan.

    However, many are concerned about conscripting the ANA itself when the ANA has so many who apply to join it. About six thousand applied to join the ANA in the first 12 days of December alone, versus a monthly through put training capacity of about 5247/month. The ANA is 42% Pashtun; although as you correctly alluded to . . . the ANA isn’t well distributed among different Afghan Pashtuns. This has been identified by Gen McChrystal as one of the largest problems with the ANA.

    My understanding is that many Pashtuns from the Paktia and Khost region have joined the ANA. I would be very interested in learning which Pashtun tribes, clans and regions of Afghanistan are over represented; and which are under represented. Not sure how to research this information. Perhaps you have some ideas on how to do this?

    “many warlords has placed their men at the top and ANA is over flowing with dirty politics. I do not have any faith that by continuing with such ill practices one would imagine the ANA in it’s actual form, however, I would assume the US/NATO leaders are better informed than myself and perhaps knows better what they are trying to achieve with ANA.”

    President Karzai’s office decides all senior ANA officer promotions and reassignments. In practice, Chief Zazai, the same is true in all democracies that I know about. For example in the US, all 3 and 4 star generals are appointed by the President and confirmed by the US elected legislature. De facto, US 2 star generals are de facto similarly greatly influenced by US civilian politicians.

    President Karzai should determine all senior ANA officer appointments since he has that power under the constitution. There isn’t much that “US/NATO leaders” can do about it, However, many have suggested allowing a more meritocratic process to determine low level, mid level, Lieutenant Colonel, and Colonel level promotions and reassignments.

    The friends of Afghanistan can only hope that Afghans adopt such a policy. Afghans such as yourself have to pressure President Karzai into following it.

    Chief Zazai, I would direct you to retired Colonel Jeff Haynes’ comments in this article:
    http://blog.stevenpressfield.com/2009/12/guest-blog-by-andrew-lubin-let-the-afghan-army-fight/

    Did you notice this passage?:

    “Last year I interviewed a group of young Afghan enlisted men. “Why’d you join up?” I asked. “My mother and father fought the Russians,” one soldier told me, “and my great-great grandfather fought the British, as did his grandfather. I hate the Pakistanis, and want to kill them all.” These young men don’t need to sit through an Army PowerPoint; if we could harness this sort of fighting spirit to some reasonable leadership, we won’t have to worry about withdrawing in July 2011; we can withdraw tomorrow.”

    This isn’t an isolated report. Many who join the ANA, including Pashtuns, are not pro Pakistan. We have to acknowledge that ISI and the Pakistani Army are paranoid about the ANA, and fear it represents a major long term threat to themselves. Unlike the ISAF forces, who will leave, many Pakistanis believe that the ANA will remain a major regional force for decades to come . . . and that they might act in ways that threaten the survival of the Pakistani nation. General Petraeus’ recent testimony to Congress about how the ANA needs more than $10 billion/year in short term foreign funding, and probably about $10 billion a year in funding long term; set off alarm bells in Pakistan.

    Whether this widely held fear among Pakistanis is rational or not is in some ways irrelevant if the ISI and Pakistani Army strongly believe it. This incorrect and irrational belief has already caused large parts of the Pakistani establishment to back Al Qaeda and Taliban linked groups such as Haqqani; as insurance to ensure the long term survival of Pakistan. Haqqani support from parts of the Pakistani establishment is one of the largest causes of Haqqani’s recent success in Khost, Paktia, Paktika, and surrounding provinces.

    Chief Zazai, how would you reassure the ISI, Pakistani Army, Pakistani elected government and Pakistani bureaucracy that the Afghan Government and ANA are friends of Pakistan; and seek the welfare of Pakistanis because the welfare of Pakistanis benefits Afghans?

    Related to this issue is this question; does LTG Pasha truly control the ISI networks? Does COAS [Commander of Army Staff] Gen Kiyani truly control the Pakistani Army? Is LTG Pasha truly loyal to COAS Gen Kiyani? Are LTG Pasha and COAS Gen Kiyani truly commited to the welfare of Pakistan as a whole versus the welfare of a narrower constituency of Pakistanis?

    Chief Zazai, I noticed on another thread your skepticism of Russia, China and India. Respectfully, I would argue that Afghanistan desperately needs substantial help from Russia, China and India. Afghanistan needs substantial trade, investment and business collaboration with these three countries. This is the only way to facilitate rapid Afghan growth; and to increase GIRoA (Government of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) revenues from $600 million a year to several times that number. The ANSF alone will cost $10,000 million a year long term. Non GIRoA Afghan expenditure will conservatively be more than $4,000 million a year.

    Afghanistan needs China and India to help build Afghanistan’s roads, railways, electricity, water, sewage, telecommunications and natural resource industries.

    Afghanistan needs much greater economic grants from India, China and Russia; all of whom would be hurt worse by a Taliban victory than NATO countries.

    The ANSF could also greatly use their help. NATO SG Anders Fogh Rasmussen just requested that Russia donate Mi-17 transportation helicopters, many other weapons platforms, spare parts, and training to the ANSF. The Afghans have recently requested India to increase their training and support to the ANSF.

    I would argue, Chief Zazai, that the real question for Afghans is how to engage China, India and Russia in ways that benefit Afghanistan. Implementing this will require substantial sophistication and skill. Afghanistan has no other choice.

    Bringing China as closely into Afghanistan as possible is also necessary to partly alleviate irrational Pakistani paranoia.

    Thanks again, Chief Zazai, for sharing your wisdom, and the wisdom of the elders of Zazi valley, with us. :-)

    Season’s Greetings,