The great-grandson of Afghanistan's legendary Iron Amir – who forced rogue courtiers to eat each other – has joined the race to be the country's next president.
Prince Abdul Ali Seraj, who opened Afghanistan's first nightclub in the 1970s, said it is time to launch "psychological warfare" against the Taleban and reclaim Islamic law from the extremists.
The royal 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 whom 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 ever to unite country's various tribes and ethnic groups.
Prince Ali fled Afghanistan in 1978 after a communist coup, disguised as a hippy. He returned in 2002 after the Taleban collapsed, and says Abdur Rahman is his hero. "Afghanistan 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 agreed to help smuggle him out of the country in their overland "love bus".
They even gave him a guitar, to disguise him, when secret police boarded the bus close to the Khyber Pass, at the border 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.
Prince Ali describes himself as a child of the Sixties, but insists Afghanistan needs tough love, instead of free love. 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 5 per cent – the terrorists, al-Qaeda and corrupt officials."
The Scotsman – 28 February 2009
By Jerome Starkey in Kabul
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