Brutal ancestor inspires prince to be the next iron man of Afghanistan

The great grandson of Afghanistan's legendary Iron Amir – who once forced an adulterous man to eat his mistress – has joined the race to be the country's next president. Prince Abdul Ali Seraj, who opened Afghanistan's first nightclub in the 1970s, says it is time to launch "psychological warfare" against the Taliban and reclaim Islamic law from the extremists. He insists Afghanistan needs a "change candidate" because President Hamid Karzai has failed.

His great grandfather Abdur Rahman Khan ruled from 1880 to 1901, massacring tens of thousands on the battlefield, while executing and torturing hundreds more who he suspected of dissent. He made slaves of an entire province, yet he is fondly remembered inside Afghanistan as one of the few rulers in the last 250 years to unite the country's tribes.

Prince Ali fled Afghanistan in 1978 after a communist coup, disguised as a hippy. He returned in 2002 after the Taliban regime collapsed, and says Abdur Rahman is his hero. "Afghan-istan needs a strong leader," he said. "Afghan people have never rallied around policies; they have rallied around people."

He owes his life to a bunch of stoned Australian hippies who smuggled him out of the country in their bus. They even gave him a guitar, as a disguise, when secret police boarded close to the Pakistan border. "I had no idea how to play a guitar," he said. "But they just told me to strum it whenever they did, so I did." He left behind a string of businesses including Kabul's first disco, called 25 Hours, a bowling alley and a Chinese restaurant.

Echoing his great grandfather's nickname, he said the president needs an "iron fist". "Afghanistan needs a ruler with two heads," he said. "He needs compassion for 95 per cent of the people, and an iron fist for the other five per cent – the terrorists, al-Qa'ida and corrupt officials."

The Amir was famous for the ruthless punishments meted out to anyone who disobeyed him. He claimed he was chosen by Allah and allegedly strangled a mullah who accused him of betraying Islam by accepting British subsidies.

The Taliban make similar claims about Hamid Karzai's government, which is largely dependent on foreign aid.

The Amir kept the sons of his provincial governors hostage in Kabul, to guarantee their fathers' loyalty. If tribal chiefs erred, his army dragged them back to Kabul in chains.

Today, President Karzai is often accused for failing to rein in his own brother Ahmed Wali, who is a tribal leader in Kandahar and head of the provincial council. He is widely suspected of controlling a billion dollar heroin trade. "Karzai is weak," fumed Prince Ali. "He can't even control his own brother, how can he control a whole country?"

Abdur Rahman's worst punishments were saved for adulterous couples, according to the specialist historian Bijan Omrani. "In one case a woman was boiled to a broth which was then fed to the man before his execution. Cannibals, according to Islam, are incapable of entering Paradise," he wrote.

Prince Ali insists he is a reluctant candidate, pressured into running by the tribal elders who support him. He is president of the National Coalition for Dialogue with Tribes of Afghanistan. A report he issued warned: "At the current rate of decline, support for the coalition forces is likely to have evaporated by early 2010. We could then be faced with the prospects of a nationwide jihad."

His uncle was the modernising King Amanullah who introduced girls' schools, outlawed torture, and let women unveil in Kabul. He fled Afghanistan in 1929 amid a conservative revolt. Prince Ali is also a distant cousin of the late King Zahir Shah, who tried to turn Afghanistan into a democracy. He was exiled in 1973, amid a conservative coup.

"Trying to force fit Afghanistan into a Western template is likely to arouse resistance and risk failure," Prince Ali warned. "Afghan history has plenty of examples where reforming zeal has foundered on the rocks of conservatism."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Logistics Supervisor

£24000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The largest supplier to the UK'...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate / Junior Software Developer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate/Junior Software Deve...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Store Sales Executive

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An experienced Sales Executive ...

Recruitment Genius: Night Porters - Seasonal Placement

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Night Porters are required to join a family-ow...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn