‘We are Afghanistan’ states Prince Abdul Ali Seraj with the patriotic fervour for which this unexpected Afghan presidential candidate is renowned. ‘As a member of the Seraj family, the blood of Afghanistan flows through our veins. There isn’t a single tribe among whom we do not have relatives.’
Whilst the use of the royal ‘we’ is open to conjecture, his convoluted genealogical lineage lists him as ‘Sardar’ with ‘Prince’ tagged on in brackets, somewhere along the line, he is descended from nine former rulers of Afghanistan but, more importantly, he appears to have won the support of the tribes on which the future of this ravaged country hinges.
Born in Kabul, this sixty something international entrepreneur, claims to have been ‘compelled by the people’ to announce himself as their candidate in the presidential elections scheduled for August 20th this year. A schedule which current president Hamid Karzai has just failed to bring forward to April, the attempt, coincidentally or not, being made within days of Ali, as the Prince is known to his friends, declaring his stand.
Their lives in danger Ali, his former American wife and children, fled Afghanistan after the communist takeover in April 1978. ‘Disguised as hippies, we joined a group of European’s and boarded a bus to Pakistan. Then we went to the States but I left my heart and soul in Afghanistan.’
In America Ali devoted himself to helping the Mujahideen. ‘The Mujahideen needed logistical help, without which they would not have survived. But I was totally disheartened when, after defeating the Soviet troops, they could not get their act together. Instead of taking advantage of their victory, they pointed their guns at each other and brought the nation to its knees.’
Despite having vast international business interests, come the defeat of Al Qaeda and the then Taliban in 2001, Ali decided to ‘rejoin my body with my heart and soul’ returning home in January 2002 shocked at the conditions he found.
Reconstruction and charitable work filled his time until 2003 when he was approached by a number of tribal elders seeking his assistance in reuniting the people. ‘The thirty years of war and instability had left the nation broken and they stated that only a member of our family could help unite them. As a nephew of His Majesty, King Amanullah Khan Ghazi, I was chosen by them to bear this daunting responsibility. Thus ‘The National Coalition for Dialogue with Tribes of Afghanistan’ was established. The four pillars of this movement are Islam, Nation, Tribes and Independence. It is a movement of the people, by the people and for the people.’ The tribes convinced him ‘to step forth and announce my presidential candidacy’ on February 16th in front of over five hundred tribal and religious elders etc.’
Considering himself to be ‘better qualified to serve the people and the nation than any others on the scene’ the smartly dressed, trim bearded Ali admits that, currently the movement has no foreign support but Tribal Affairs Specialist, Fayyaz Shah, revealed that a Washington lobbyist has been requested to promote the cause. ‘The outcome of these crucial elections all depends on which way the eagle falls’ said Mr. Shah from his Kabul office. ‘But, if Ali doesn’t get in, then I for one am taking to the mountains as it will be all over on this side of the fence’.
Well known in Washington circles Ali strongly advised the Bush administration not to introduce ground troops in Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11.’They should have used Afghan fighters’ he stressed. He also briefs NATO forces, explaining tribal culture and norms in an attempt at saving innocent lives the loss of which ‘creates more resistance and plays in to the hands of foreign elements’.
Speaking of President Obama, Ali said ‘Mr. Obama truly is a man that has kindled hope in the hearts and minds of the downtrodden and the destitute’.
Naturally the subject of Taliban came under discussion and he pointed out ‘Taliban exist. They are religious students of Islam and should not be confused with those who claim the name under the guise of religion in order to reach their nefarious aims. The ‘Afghan’ Taliban are tribal members who genuinely want peace through change and we hope to produce such a change.’
Of relationships with Pakistan he said ‘Without close cooperation between our two nations, we stand a very good chance of losing what our ancestors fought so hard to gain and keep. Freedom.’
Ali is positive of being elected ‘We are backed by the most important element in Afghanistan. The people. Of course the elections will have to be fair and transparent. But this time the people won’t be fooled. Should the wrong one be chosen, I believe the voters will be very angry and may react violently’.
His staunch belief in himself, his movement and ‘his’ people is echoed by a down to earth Pakistani Political Analyst who prefers not to be named. ‘Some facts to be borne in mind’ he said. ‘Fact, that Karzai stands discredited, that he has developed an extremely dishonest and corrupt regime. Fact, that being a poodle of the Americans, he has not delivered, has not succeeded, and has to be replaced. Another fact, the next poodle has to be a Pakhtun, and there is none visible. So a candidate has to be created, who has a reasonable chance of acquiring some kind of credibility. I feel Siraj is that candidate.’
Edmonton Journal – 27 March 2009
By Zahrah Nasir
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