SP: Chief Zazai, I’d like to talk to you today on the subject of Pakistan. More than any other aspect of the Afghan conflict, I think, the subject of Pakistani involvement is confusing to Americans. Even extremely well-versed observers ask, “Whose side is Pakistan on?” You, more than anyone I know, are in a position to really “tell it like it is.” So let me ask you first, what do you think is the Pakistani agenda in the current Afghan conflict? What does the government of Pakistan want?

Chief Zazai, right, during the 90s, with his father, Chief Azfal Khan Zazai, and his father's bodyguard

Chief Zazai, right, during the 90s, with his father, Chief Azfal Khan Zazai, and his father's bodyguard

Chief Zazai: When you talk about the government of Pakistan, do you mean 1) the Bureaucrats, 2) the Elected Government, 3) the Army or 4) the Shadowy powerful invisible government? In Pakistan a few governments exist. First, the bureaucrats who are there no matter who comes into power; then the elected government; then the Army government, which is most superior and above all which comes and goes whenever they feel like; and finally the Shadowy government of former ISI officers and some former Army Generals whom you do not see but surely feel their presence.

If you take all four Pakistani governments (which function simultaneously), I believe their single agenda would be the survival of Pakistan as a country. Pakistan has one enemy and that is India. Unless India and Pakistan come to the point where they can free themselves of the Cold War mentality and enmity with each other, things will be tense in the region for many years to come.

In respect to Afghanistan, I believe the first three Pakistani governments would wish for a peaceful and friendly Afghanistan with more Pakistani influence. But the shadowy government, which has its own agenda and designs, would go a few steps further by continuing to operate their proxies (insurgents) in order to keep Afghanistan destabilized and weak. I believe the Shadowy Pakistani government also wishes to see less or even no Indian influence and interference in Afghanistan and of course it wishes to see a large share given to the anti-Indian Taliban in the Afghan government.

SP: I have heard Pakistan described as “an army in search of a state.” Do you think there’s any truth to that? Perhaps more specifically, what is the role of Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI, in the overall government of Pakistan? Why is this one branch so powerful?

Chief Zazai: Let’s put it this way, the ISI is an institution which runs Pakistan. No one should doubt the ability and the power the ISI has. I believe it is the region’s most superior intelligence agency. The ISI enjoyed a large portion of the $28 billion that came in from the West during the 80’s in support of the Afghan resistance to the Soviets. Throughout this period they have advanced their abilities and training.

I do not believe there is any truth to the phrase, “an Army in search of a State.” Pakistani institutions are all functioning well; the Army is strong and in control. I believe Pakistan can not survive without its Army either. The Shadowy government might be in alliance with the Army but that contact would be limited to a number of individuals and not the entire Pakistani Army.

One might ask, if the Shadowy government is not entirely supported by the Pakistani Army, then where do they get their support? There is no solid evidence to back this claim, but there are many reports that Iran, Russia and China are pouring a lot of money into this Shadowy government to support the Taliban in Afghanistan. If this is true, it means the problem is much wider. It is a regional issue.

Chief Zazai in anti-Soviet days

Chief Zazai in anti-Soviet days

Afghanistan has been always the center of the so-called “Great Game.” I strongly believe the Great Game is on now. One should be smart enough to play the game right, which means the US and NATO are now fully in the great game. If they play it wrong, they will lose and if they play it smart they will win, it’s that simple!

SP: Let’s revisit recent history for a moment, to help us understand how we got to where we are today. During the mujahideen era, the Pakistani government and the ISI were America’s allies in helping to funnel arms and money to the Afghan fighters (including yourself and your father) who were resisting the Soviet occupation. The ISI in essence created the Taliban, did they not? How did we get from then to now?

Chief Zazai: I want to clear one thing up here that is neither I nor my father ever got a single bullet or a single dollar from the ISI. My father always refused to contact or get involved with the ISI from day one (1980) due to his personal views. Most of the arms our men had were captured from the Russians and from the Afghan Communists, plus my father was receiving some cash on a regular basis from most Afghan businessmen in Afghanistan and his friends in the West in order to continue the fight against the Red Army. My father and myself were never in the payroll of the ISI. This fact is clear like the shining sun to every Afghan who knows my father and myself. That was one reason my father could not expand the tribal unity beyond Zazi Valley.

SP: My apologies, Chief Zazai. You and I are still getting to know each other!

Chief Zazai: Of course the Taliban were created by the Shadowy Pakistani government (ISI). Even President Karzai was part of the Taliban movement in their initial days.

When the Red Army was defeated, Washington turned its back on Afghanistan and Pakistan and left everyone in the cold to freeze! I guess that did not impress Pakistan in general.

Chief Zazai in custody of the Pakistani government

Chief Zazai in custody of the Pakistani government

SP: Chief Zazai, you yourself were imprisoned by the ISI in Pakistan for two and a half years, without any charges ever being brought. Can you tell us briefly the story behind this? How do you feel about this experience? Has it left you embittered and an enemy of Pakistan?

Chief Zazai: When people say, “There is neither friend nor foe in politics,” the living example can be seen in Pakistan. I am not an enemy of Pakistan and never have been. Our campaign in 1997 (my father’s and mine) was to start a resistance in Afghanistan against the brutal regime of Taliban, not against the Pakistani governments. But because the shadowy government in Pakistan was embedded with the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, it did not allow us to go any further. Most Pakistani politicians including the present President Asif Ali Zardari have been imprisoned at one time or another, sometimes for years, on countless charges. Now he is the president of his country and ruling the same government that once put him in prison! I do not think he is to take revenge on Pakistan nor is he an enemy of Pakistan.

The people of Pakistan are peace-loving and very friendly people. I have many Pakistani friends and family. I believe there is a rift within its Army in regard to these insurgents (Taliban), as many Pakistani Army Generals including General Kiyani want to put an end to this nonsense in Waziristan, Bara, Tirah Orakzai Agency and the Khyber & Mommand Agencies. But again the shadowy government is far stronger and more powerful than one could imagine and the Shadowy government would do anything to protect its proxies.

My father’s agenda and mine during the late 90s was to start an uprising against the Taliban regime in three South Eastern Provinces (Paktia, Paktika & Khost). In order to do so we needed to organize armed groups within the provinces and take charge of affairs on the district level. An incident happened in 1997 in which four Taliban members, including one Taliban commander, were killed in Paktia by my father’s commander. This sent alarming waves to the Taliban leadership and to the shadowy Pakistani government, which are the die hard supporters of that Taliban. Later that year my father’s commander was killed along with six of his fighters in Paktia in a trap set by the Taliban.

The Shadowy Pakistani government did not allow any movement against the Taliban within Pakistani soil. Our biggest disadvantage was that we had no choice but to use Pakistani soil to gain support in order to carry out operations within Afghanistan. That was not a move which could be tolerated by the Pakistani Shadowy government of ISI.

Prior to my arrest, a few of my father’s close friends and allies were also imprisoned. They were snatched from their homes and were taken to undisclosed locations and held there for months. Their families were unaware of their whereabouts but when their whereabouts were found, all three were charged with terrorism.

I was the liaison between London and my father. I was snatched too from my family home in Peshawar and put in prison with false charges to bring pressure on my father to stop the movement. They accused us of working for the Northern Alliance. I was denied a trial and kept in prison until 2001. All the charges were dropped against me and I was set free in early 2002 as I was no longer a threat.

In my opinion, prison is a learning experience. I learned a lot and read a lot and I believe prison is the only institution where one learns all by himself. As my father used to tell me that “An iron needs a lot of fire to become a good sword.” I am not happy that I was in prison, but I learned a lot about life, politics and how to survive in a very tense environment full of pressures. I am glad it’s over!


[This discussion ran longer than anticipated, so we’ll break it into two parts and publish the second one next week. To be continued: our interview with Chief Ajmal Khan Zazai on the subject of Pakistan and how its actions and policies affect the current situation in Afghanistan. See you next Friday!]





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  1. niaz on December 11, 2009 at 4:23 am

    Where there is more than meets the eye in every way.

  2. andrew lubin on December 11, 2009 at 1:19 pm

    What are the Sheik’s thoughts on yet one more shadow government in Pakistan, that of Mullah Omar and his shadow-Afghan government in Quetta?

    While Mahsoud, HIG, and the warlords in the NW Territories receive the notoriety of allying themselves with AQ-Taliban, the Marines in the south are seeing increased fighters and munitions coming into Afghanistan from Quetta side of the border. If the fight is indeed 50% Afghanistan and 50% Pakistan, then how do we succeed in Afghanistan when Mullah Omar is actively supported by the ISI, and condoned by both the Army and the Zardari government?

    It would seem to me that with Omar responsible for much of the religious warriors invading Afghanistan daily, he’s someone whose presence must be addressed sooner rather than later if the US/NATO is to pacify either country.

    • Jim Gourley on December 12, 2009 at 4:50 am

      I think this is one of the pillars continuing to support the strategy of killing top leaders with drones. We know that for every head we chop off a new one grows back, but conventional wisdom tells us that the new head has a smaller brain pan. This was the result in Iraq, where we ultimately whittled the AQ leadership down to nothing more than street thugs who hadn’t had time to acquire the leadership experience or contacts in the greater AQ network. By the end of 2007, it was like they were trying to help us catch them.

      The bigger problem I see is that, to some degree anyway, ISI is attempting to hamstring the Pakistani Army’s efforts as they launch a new offensive. Of course, the Army can’t be blind to this, so the question is how effective they’ve become at working in an environment with the “visible” and “invisible” enemies?

      But ultimately, what does the ISI have to gain from a Taliban force that destabilizes Afghanistan? Look at what it’s gotten them so far; the country is more threatened than ever and violence is on the rise. The Taliban aren’t a guard dog, they’re a rabid jackal. If ISI thinks they’re holding the chain, do they believe that they have possession of the dog, or does it have possession of them?

  3. Chief Zazai on December 12, 2009 at 12:03 pm

    Jim, let me tell you with complete confidence, If the shadowy Pakistani ISI governmnet (Invisible) wants to end this TTP and Taliban in Afghanistan, it will take them less than 24 Hours! Now it’s up to you and your imagination what and how to think of their plays, power and game, the sky is the limit!

    Chief Zazai

    • Jim Gourley on December 13, 2009 at 6:30 am

      Chief Zazai,

      If this is true, then I ask the following:

      – WHICH Pakistan has the US allied itself with? By dealing with the “official” government, do we also have the support of any of the other elements?
      – Does our alliance with the “official” government make the any of the others our direct enemies?
      – Based on the first two, have we allied ourselves with the right Pakistan for America and Afghanistan?

  4. Chief Zazai on December 13, 2009 at 3:32 pm

    – It does not seems to be the case, if the Shadowy government of Pakistani ISI was a friend then we should have seen some positive progress towards the erradication of the Quetta Shura members, HIG (Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin Hekmatyar) strongholds within Pakistan, Haqani Networks & the roaming of AQ members in the region.

    – I can not say anything about the impacts on the other two, but obviousely this friendship and partnership with “Official” Pakistani government does not seems to be working effectively as we have not seen any firm steps yet been taken against the Quetta Shura, HIG (Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin Hekmatyar) Strongholds, Haqani Networks & the AQ top men to be arrested and handed over to the US & NATO.

    – Even if Washington believes they have allied themselves with the right Pakistan, It is not working, when it’s not working then difinately there is a problem, without identifying the main problem it is useless to continue with the same strategy as it will go no where. Strategy for the region needs to be changed, better approcahes needs to be adopted and better tactics needs to be used.


  5. Rob on December 15, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    If Afghanistan is the Great Game…
    Played by Iran, Russia, China, and the US…

    What is the prize?

    Because if you look at cost-benefit analysis,
    with the cost to play being so great,
    and the competitors being so powerful,
    the prize must be absolutely fantastic.

    Or is the prize a secret?
    And we won’t find out until we win?

  6. Chief Zazai on December 16, 2009 at 6:06 am

    Dear Rob, Afghanistan throughout the history has been the center of great game. One might also ask, What was Alexander’s the great interest in Afghanistan who came all the way down from Greek? We can go on & mention Genghez Khan, Temorlane, Brits & the Russians. I strongly believe it is the Afghanistan’s Geo-Political presence which makes it attractive for many super powers to have presence there or simply own Afghanistan as the AQ did the same too prior to 9/11.

    If a super power have controls over Afghanistan, it is easy to control Iran, Central Asia, Pakistan, South east Asia and of course the sleeping Dragon (China). Afghanistan has always in the history to have a pivitol Geo-Political presence, although it is a land lock country with mountains and less oil, but it has it’s importance in the region.

    I am not saying the US & NATO are in Afghanistan to have the supremacy of playing the great game by controling all the surrounding countries & powers but being in Afghanistan in such a capacity automatically leads one to be involved in the great game regardless of making choices.

    I understands as well as the entire world that the US & NATO is in Afghanistan because of the AQ & Taliban, I think to question that one might be just trying to create more arguments which would lead no where, but because Afghanistan has it’s importance in the region and it’s Geo-Political presence is as so that it would be hard to convince the regional powers to why the US & NATO is really in Afghanistan!

    • Rob on December 16, 2009 at 5:35 pm

      Chief Zazai,

      Thanks for writing. I think you have helped me understand the prize.
      We need to win the Great Game, for one simple reason: So that no one else will.
      By securing Afghanistan, we can help decrease violence in the entire region.
      I know we abandoned you, after you defeated Russia. And our mistake led to 9/11.
      Perhaps, this time, Afghanistan and America can, together, win the Game. For good.

      – Rob

  7. Chief Zazai on December 17, 2009 at 12:28 am

    Dear Rob, Although Afghanistan is a land lock country and has borders with Iran, former Russian Federation Countries or Central Asian States (These Sates are still under the tremendoue influence & pressure from Moscow Still) China & Pakistan. Our recent experiences has taught us that Afghanistan is lacking honest neighbors & friends in the region & I believe very strongly that Afghanistan despereately needs the Strategic Partnership & ever lasting friendship of the United States of America & NATO countries in order for Afghanistan to survive as a country & Nation in the region & gain it’s respect as a sovereign Country & Nation. Some of our neighbors in the past has treated Afghanistan as one of their province or their state.

    I believe the Afghan Nation has realised this reality and are now stands. The Afghan Nation is well aware that it is simply not possible without the help & assistance of the United States of America.

    God Bless


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