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Top Afghan leader: ‘Without Pakistan support, Taliban would fade away in six months…’

Amrullah Saleh, a former chief of the Afghan intelligence service National Directorate of Security, tells The Indian Express "the key is for the Taliban to realise they can't subdue a nation by guns and bombs provided by the Pakistani ISI and the army".

Written by Nirupama Subramanian | Mumbai |
Updated: September 11, 2019 8:42:12 am
Top Afghan leader: 'Without Pakistan support, Taliban would fade away in 6 months...' Amrullah Saleh is former chief of the Afghan intelligence service National Directorate of Security (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Hours before the deal reached between the United States and the Taliban for withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan collapsed, Amrullah Saleh, vice-presidential candidate and running mate of President Ashraf Ghani in the uncertain September 28 presidential election, had told Nirupama Subramanian that the (then imminent) deal was “not a deal for or of the Afghans”.

Saleh, a former chief of the Afghan intelligence service National Directorate of Security, had said in an email interview (conducted before President Donald Trump called off the peace talks with the Taliban) that “the key is for the Taliban to realise they can’t subdue a nation by guns and bombs provided by the Pakistani ISI and the army”.

You narrowly escaped an attempt to assassinate you by the Taliban on July 28. How secure do you feel about your own safety now, when the US and Taliban appear to have agreed on a deal for withdrawal of American troops, but without any commitments from the Taliban on a ceasefire, or an end to the violence?

So much of our society faces the risk of terrorism. I am not seeing myself as an exception. I share the sense of pain and the quest for security of our people. After the attack, I refused to get extra measures, and I am trying what I can to help in order to improve the situation for all Afghans and not just for VIPs.

The Americans are still negotiating a deal with the Taliban. It isn’t finished yet. Their deal will have an impact here but it will be their deal and not the deal for or of the Afghans. We will pursue our national interest. The preservation of the republic, the people-centric legitimacy power, and the centrality of the constitution in all of this, are our core aims over which we won’t compromise. We won’t.

Actually, is there a deal yet? There are reports that the US Secretary of State has refused to be the signatory on the agreement. Could it be signed by (the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation) Mr (Zalmay) Khalilzad himself, or someone else in the US administration? Will it have the same validity?

This you better ask from the Americans. We don’t know. They are breaking normal norms by trying to sign a deal with a terrorist entity, a non-state malign actor and an insurgent group. We don’t know how they will give it legal justification. Better to ask them.

What kind of commitments would you have liked to see the Taliban make to the US as part of the agreement? Do you know the details of the agreement? There are references in it to the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (the name of the erstwhileTaliban ruled Afghanistan). What is your understanding of this?

I have not seen the text. I have heard about it. All I know is that the US and all NATO countries have binding bilateral and multilateral agreements with the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. They have given us assurances that the deal with the Taliban won’t mean cancellation or nullification of any of those binding agreements. They also continue to provide support to the Afghan National Security Forces, and we are told that will continue even after the potential political settlement.

Are you hopeful that the “intra-Afghan” talks may be useful in deciding the future of Afghanistan? Is there to be an interim government, and would that be decided in the intra-Afghan talks? What is the power-sharing agreement that the Afghan government wants? Are the September 28 presidential elections going to be held as scheduled?

The elections scheduled for September 28, 2019, will take place. It will happen, and Afghans will come out in big numbers to vote. The notion of the republic and the rights of the citizens is no longer a debate of the elite. These values are now owned by Afghans across the country. No one can bypass the elections. If anyone or any entity forcibly tries to do that, it will be treason and it will be costly and will lead to the derailment of the pan-Afghan value system. I don’t see any power capable of breaking that and then creating something as a replacement.

So the talk about this set up or that set up is false. It’s a shaky utopia of losers who don’t see a chance to get elected by the people. The Republic as a system has massive absorption capacity and it can negotiate with the Taliban terrorist insurgency to bring peace.

The key is for the Taliban to realise they can’t subdue a nation by guns and bombs provided by the Pakistani ISI and the army. The issue of Pakistan’s interference and backing of terrorism against the Afghan people is now so obvious that the Taliban can’t hide behind any mask. They have lost politically.

Sticking to guns and bombs and using them as solutions for every problem is not a sign of strength. It isn’t. So once again Pakistan’s investment on a proxy is coming to a break point. You may say they control so much territory in Afghanistan, how have they lost? They continue to reject any form of rejection. Any form. It is interesting.

This is the first insurgency in human history which wants to reject the voice of the people and wants something exclusive for itself. They are worse than even Khmer Rouge. Having the ability to inflict pain and violence is not necessarily a sign of strength. Their violence is not backed by any political manifest. They have no charismatic leaders. All their politbureau are based in Pakistan and are not showing their faces. They can’t face the reality of new Afghanistan which is no longer buying the notion of armed struggle to solve political issues. Without Pakistan’s support, the Taliban would fade away in six months.

What about a Taliban ceasefire? Do you think the talks can lead to a ceasefire? Who will guarantee this ceasefire?

We are not yet into the stage of the intra-Afghan negotiations. So I can’t speculate on ceasefire. It may happen or may not happen.

The Taliban have carried out many attacks even as they held talks in Doha. What message do you think they were trying to convey?

They want to silence the civil society, they want to break the will of the society at large by unleashing blind violence. They have misread the Afghan psyche. The Afghan psyche surrenders to softness, surrenders to surrendering, but never bows to pressure. It has never done.

To bow to Pakistani pressure and agree to an unequal agreement and give part of our sovereignty to GHQ Rawalpindi won’t happen. It won’t. Peace is a must. We all need it. We all need it under the umbrella of the Republic.

Our message to Pakistan is also very clear. You can have us as best friends through legitimate State to State relations. Making us docile through violence won’t work. It hasn’t so far. I am also puzzled why Pakistan is experimenting with something on Afghanistan which hasn’t worked for any power. Perhaps the answer is within Pakistan. It is an insecure State which seeks security by sheer violence as it lacks other means to project its interest or vision.

Ambassador Khalilzad said the Taliban have committed to fight the “enemies of the US”, that is Daesh and al-Qaeda. Will the Taliban stay true to this commitment?

I haven’t seen the text and I also don’t know what mechanisms are agreed upon to de-link the Taliban with its roots. Taliban are born of the same ideology of terror as Daesh and al-Qaeda. How can they separate themselves? I don’t know.

Also, on the question of whether a de-linked Taliban will remain an entity or will melt down: It all depends on the type of mechanism and verification methods that the US must have worked out with them. We don’t know.

There are reports that hundreds of Lashkar-e-Taiba cadres are fighting alongside the Taliban. What is your assessment?

The Taliban have provided a platform for all regional and global radical terrorists. All. They are like the supermarket and the mall of terrorism. You can find any kind of terrorist and terror methods with them. How the US is going to empty this mall, we don’t know. What tools will they use? We don’t know. We are not in the talks and thus we can’t own what is said by Ambassador Khalilzad.

Editor’s note: This email interview was conducted before President Donald Trump called off the peace talks with the Taliban.

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