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This is one of the most valuable pieces I have ever seen on how Afghanistan really works, the heart and soul of the real people being the tribal system.  As I read, lights went on like a Christmas tree.  Chief Zazai fought against both the Soviets and the Taliban.  His father was assassinated by Mullah Omar, and he has already survived two attempts on his life.  He brings to us a vision of how a truly independent Afghanistan, run by and for Afghans, which is a firm ally of the U.S. in the struggle against extremist elements, might arise.    Rather than send more troops he favors building a Tribal Union across Afghanistan separate and apart from the Karzai government.  He represents a threat to both poles of power, Karzai's warlords as well as the Taliban.  This a fresh approach, requiring no more troops, backed by economic assistance direct to village councils rather than through foreign contractors, and implemented within a framework of a withdrawal timeline.  Obama would do well to order his generals to study this as an "option" to the terrible, no-win mess we are sinking into.


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The following are excerpted quotes from a series of interviews by Steven Pressfield, the best-selling author and who wrote "It's the Tribes, Stupid."  Reading through this will make you understand 100 times more about Afghanistan than you do now.  It did me.

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.  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)...:
   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.”...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.
Steven Pressfield: What are your thoughts on the U.S. sending more troops?

Chief Zazai: To send more troops means to create more new battles, I think we have already got a few nasty fronts in the south where the British soldiers and U.S. Marines are fighting almost non-stop and of course more troops means more body bags and that itself would be an alarming sign. In Vietnam the U.S. had over half a million soldiers and still the generals were asking for more. I would suggest that Gen. McChrystal instead explore better alternatives on the ground rather than asking for more troops. I agree when he is asking for resources and equipment and here I present the Tribal Police Force for his attention–to consider the TPF as an alternative to more U.S. troops.

SP: Who exactly is the enemy? I don’t mean the “far enemy,” I mean the “near enemy.”

Chief Zazai: The Afghan people ask over and over, “Why don’t the Americans do something?” The answer is the Americans’ hands are tied by the need to support a corrupt and hopelessly compromised regime. Here is what I mean: in my district, a new border Police Chief has been appointed. This man has been on the payroll of the ISI Pakistani military for 30 years. Two weeks ago the Zazi Chiefs protested against this appointment. About 20 elders went to Kabul to meet with the Interior Minister. He refused to even see them!

SP: What does such an appointment mean in day-to-day terms? How does it affect your Tribal Police Force?

Chief Zazai: These officials go to meet with the Americans and poison their minds against the TPF. I spoke to the [American commander in the Zazi Valley] for two hours over the phone and explained to him why the Tribal Police Force was formed and what is the agenda behind this program, and still he was telling me to talk to the Governor, the District Administrator and the border Police Chief. I said I will not speak to these corrupt men who are doing everything in their power to dissolve the TPF and turn everyone against it.

SP: In other words, it’s not the literal enemy that’s the biggest problem; it’s inaction and incomprehension from supposed “friends.”

Chief Zazai: The enemy at least fights you in the open. [His allies] within Zazi valley society are on the payroll of the ISI and are serving the interests of the Pakistani free wing of the ISI, whose only wish is to destabilize Afghanistan and turn it into a war zone again.

SP: Are you discouraged?

Chief Zazai: My father and I fought against the Russians and then the Taliban. My father was murdered by these evil men. I will never stop fighting for my people. These [Afghan official] thugs and criminals have tried everything to dissolve the Tribal Police Force program. They brought pressure from the Governor’s office and the Interior ministry, but the program continues to date. Why? Because this is not a private militia or imposed gang, this is by the people of Zazi for the people of Zazi.

...The people are caught between two fires. When the warlords ran Afghanistan after the Soviets got kicked out, a poor person had to pay a “tax” to have a bicycle, to buy rice, if you sneezed they took money out of your pocket. The Taliban arose in response to this and were backed by the people who thought, These guys are bad but at least they are honest. At least they believe in something beyond their own greed and gangsterism. But then the Taliban became just as much of a plague upon the people by jamming their cruel ways down everybody’s throat. And we saw what Mullah Omar let happen, culminating on 9/11.

SP: Your idea of Tribal Police Forces and a Tribal Alliance aims to counter both warlordism and Talibanism. Is that right?

Chief Zazai: Instead of an official government that is “warlord-centric” or a Shadow government that is “Taliban-centric” (which is what my country is suffering under now), what will work is a form of governance that is tribal-centric. The tribal system is the natural form of governance in Afghanistan and has been for thousands of years. And the U.S. will not achieve anything until it understands this.

SP: There was an article in the Washington Post last week by David Ignatius, a very good one, I thought. In it, Mr. Ignatius quotes a “former CIA officer” who seems to be advocating an approach that I believe you’d agree with, of working with “the locals,” by which he means (I think) the tribes. But then he refers to them, twice, as “the warlords.”

Chief Zazai: If a CIA officer can’t tell the difference between a Warlord and a Tribal Chief, then how would an ordinary American citizen? This is pure ignorance and it is sad to read such embarrassing stuff in the papers.

SP: What exactly is the difference between a tribal chief and a warlord?

Chief Zazai: A tribal leader is elected by the tribes. A warlord is a self-imposed body on the tribes and the people. A tribal leader does not get elected if he has blood on his hands. A warlord cannot survive unless he has killed many innocent people, looted people’s livelihoods and been involved in the opium and drug trade. A tribal leader only gets elected when he, his father and grandfather have been servants of the community. A warlord does not need these recommendations. A warlord gains his position by force of arms and is only interested in personal gain. A warlord has no problem with reelection as this summer’s so-called election has shown. In this case the gun is mightier than the pen.

SP: So when you are talking about organizing Tribal Police Forces, you’re envisioning these as a counter-power to the warlords?

Chief Zazai: Yes, and to other forces—the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and insurgent forces. The tribes are Afghanistan. To say “the people,” you mean “the tribes.” But the tribes have been weakened terribly over time and are vulnerable to coercion and intimidation by armed, extremist (and warlord) forces. This is why it is so important for the American people to understand who their friends are. Without the tribes, the U.S. cannot win. And without help from the U.S., the tribes cannot protect themselves.

SP: Where are these warlords now?

Chief Zazai: Where? They are running Afghanistan!

It is worse now because these same men have the muscle of the US and NATO behind them and full-fledged support when they wish to do something. These warlords are now kings and princes of Afghanistan. They can kidnap anyone for money and no one would ask them; they are in Mr. Karzai’s Cabinet, in his National Security Committee, in the Parliament; they have control in the Defense and Interior Ministries as well as the National Security Directorate, they are all over the governement and much to our surprise the International Community is treating these thugs and criminals as if they were world-class politicians.

Let me give you a straight answer here: Let’s suppose we bring guys like John Gotti and Al Capone and Scarface and make them Vice Presidents, National Security Advisors, Foreign Secretaries and members of the Congress and Senate in America. How would the American people feel about that?

SP: What would you hope the U.S. would do as an immediate next step in your valley?

Chief Zazai: The U.S. should take charge now, step in and sign treaties with the tribes directly without any middlemen (I am sure Alexander the Great would have done it in the same fashion.) Once the treaty is signed (thumb-printed) by the chiefs and elders, they are honor-bound to do what they have agreed to.

Extended (Optional)

Originally posted to Ralph Lopez on Mon Nov 16, 2009 at 11:10 AM PST.

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