It Was Easier Fighting the Taliban
SP: You’ve been in Kabul the last couple of weeks, Chief Zazai. What were you doing there?
Chief Zazai: I was meeting with British and American commanders, trying to get support for the Tribal Police Force program in my home valley.
SP: Do I dare ask how that went?
Chief Zazai: Steve, without exception the generals at the top are receptive; they are honorable, intelligent and well-meaning men who are great soldiers and who, I believe, in addition to accomplishing their mission, want the best for the Afghan people.
SP: But …
Chief Zazai: We are up against a level of corruption that the Coalition commanders still can’t or won’t understand. You cannot imagine the pressure I, Amir Mohammad [commander of the fledgling 80-man Tribal Police in Chief Zazai’s home district] and our Chiefs are under. The TPF guys worked for five months and only received one month’s salary. The Tribal Police are totally under-resourced, no weapons [other than their own] or proper clothing. Can you imagine how we are surviving?
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: Do you know their names?
Chief Zazai: I know their names and they know mine. That is why I must travel with bodyguards everywhere I go in Afghanistan.
SP: The American public thinks the situation in Afghanistan is us, the good guys, versus the Taliban and al-Qaeda, the bad guys. That’s the big debate now in the Obama administration–more troops or not? But it’s not that simple, is it?
Chief Zazai: There are 35 members of the Haqqani network [insurgents based in Pakistan] in my valley. Who is supporting these groups? Our Tribal Police Force was just formed 5 months ago and already two IED attacks have taken place against it. Who arranged these and why? There has not been a single incident against these so-called government commanders and MP in the last five years. Why not?
The Governor is an HIG [Hezb-e Islami Group, the party loyal to warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar] ex-commander and warlord, a corrupt man who takes 20% of every construction work in Paktia province. The district administrator is so corrupt that on many occasions the Tribal Chiefs have insulted him in front of all the Zazi people. But he does not care. Corruption is in every cell of his body and all he sees is money.
SP: Do the Americans understand this?
Chief Zazai: I tell you, Steve, I don’t know. I designed this Tribal Police Force program to bring the grass-roots communities closer to the U.S. Army in order to work towards a close partnership, and here the U.S. Army Commander tells me to talk to the Governor and the district administrator, when I and everyone else know only too well of their corruption.
SP: Chief Zazai, I know you’re aware of Maj. Jim Gant’s paper, “One Tribe At A Time.” What do you think of his proposed strategy of “tribal engagement.”
Chief Zazai: This is what I have been pleading for! With our 11 tribes in Zazi, we are ready and willing and actively seeking support! I am beating my head against the wall trying to get help for just this sort of partnership between the Tribes and U.S. forces.
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 formation of the TPF and uniting the 11 Tribes of Zazi was meant to bring peace and stability to the region with a view to expanding the program throughout greater Paktia province and then to other provinces where the tribal structure still exists. But it is hard to survive, having so many bad elements within the province who are opposing the Tribal Police Force just because this program will stop them from the wrongdoings they do and pave a way for a partnership of Tribes and U.S. forces. The people who are opposing the TPF are serving the interests of the ISI with a view to bring apart the Tribes and U.S. and Coalition forces.
SP: Do you ever get nostalgic for the “good old days” fighting the Russians in the hills?
Chief Zazai: At least then you had your friends at your side and you saw your enemy in front of your face.