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Taliban fights in name of Afghanistan, but fights for Pakistan

16 Apr 2019 Afghanistan Times

NEW DELHI: “Taliban fights in the name of Afghanistan,

but fights for Pakistan.” Amrullah Saleh, Afghanistan’s candidate for vice

president, minces no words as he talks about Taliban’s alliance with Pakistan.

As Afghanistan’s candidate for the position of vice president, Saleh has

Pakistan and Taliban on the top of his priority list, especially because

Taliban is currently engaged in peace talks.

In an interview with News18, Saleh, who is also the former chief of

Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security and was one of the youngest

intel chiefs when he took charge in 2004, asserts that the Taliban fights for a

vague ideology. “Our quest is for stability,” he says. 

This is not the first time that 47-year-old Saleh has

accused the Taliban and Pakistan of being partners. Saleh recalls how he was

certain that Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, who was being shielded by the

Taliban, was in Pakistan. He also recalls the ISI telling the then George W

Bush administration in the United States that the tribes that were said to be

protecting Osama were autonomous and their terrain was rugged and that they

needed money to clear these areas which have remained quasi-independent for


After multiple rounds of intelligence collection in FATA

(Federally Administred Tribal Areas), Saleh says, he did not find Osama.

“Instead, what we found was a wide network and small cells of terrorists

operating out of the area covertly, and in some cases, with overt support from

Pakistan army. We had to develop our sources and go elsewhere. Eventually, in

2006, we located Al-Qaeda related safe houses in Mansera. We saw traces of Bin

Laden there too,” he tells News18. 

The Afghan dossier on the findings which was given to President Pervez

Musharraf sent the latter into “panic.” 

“He (Musharraf) went on saying that the Afghan government was all in collusion

with India’s Research & Analysis Wing (RAW), and finally he said the

dossier was nothing but some false information and that if there was any truth

in it he would personally act on it. He said Pakistan isn’t a banana republic

and there was no Mullah Omar in the soil of Pakistan. He also said that if

Pakistan did hide Mullah Omar it was like shooting in its own foot. You can

imagine when a general is caught lying red-handed, what his reaction will be,”

says the vice presidential candidate.

In the end, years later in 2011, Saleh did have the last laugh as the US

stormed into a house in Abbottabad in Pakistan and took down Laden.

Eight years have passed since Saleh’s accuracy and prediction came true when it

came to Laden. Why the US, which was reportedly privy to the conversation

between Afghanistan and Pakistan, decided to ignore his intel years ago is

still not clear. Ask him now about what he thinks about Taliban’s peace process

in his country and he says right now the US is leading the semblance of peace

process, but it will only find true Afghan meaning and substance “as and when

the Afghan government will take its ownership and enter into direct

negotiations with the Taliban.”

“Our aim is to ensure the strengthening of constitutional order,” he declares,

adding that Taliban’s vague ideology will die within months without the support

from Pakistan army and intelligence infrastructure. 

But what about the report by the United Nations that cited a record number of

civilian deaths last year? “Taliban terror attacks,” Saleh responds, adding,

“They receive their training in Pakistan where they are solely taught how to

kill.” He adds that most of the Taliban recruits at command level are graduates

from Pakistani madrassas and that it was important for the UN and the international

community to look at the broader picture and put Pressure on Pakistan to end

this adventure.

The former spy chief understands the label that comes with this argument—the

accusation that he is obsessed with the idea of Taliban and Pakistan as one

entity. “But I am raising it calculatedly. The UN should adopt a preemptive

strategy and force the Pakistani army to stop support for terror outfits,” he


Saleh, who was Afghanistan’s interior minister until he resigned to join

President Ashraf Ghani’s election team in 2019, also wants India on board when

it comes to the idea of talks with the Taliban. Calling the faction a temporary

bitter factor, he says Afghans saw India as an all-time friend. “It is better

to remain on the side of the Afghan people and stay away from dialogue with


Notably, there have been voices in India that have advocated a dialogue with

the Taliban. Earlier this year, Army chief Bipin Rawat had said that India must

reach out to Taliban in Afghanistan but talks should be held without any

precondition. India, in November last year, participated in the meeting hosted

by Russia on Afghanistan at a “non-official level” in Moscow where

representatives of the Taliban were also present.

“India, in my opinion, must retain and strengthen its brand and its reputation

as the largest democracy in the world not bowing to terror,” he says. He also

skeptical about the Taliban talks happening without the Afghan government being

party to it.

He further admits that he had been part of the meeting between US

representative Zalmay Khalilzad and the Afghan president. he said Khalilzad had

discussed with Taliban matters that related to US national interest and

security. “The matters which relate to our security and our national interest

are yet to be discussed. Those issues can’t be discussed in absence of the

Afghan government in direct talks with Pakistan and their proxy the Taliban,”

Saleh adds.

Ask him about the probability of the US withdrawing from the country, Saleh is

certain that it won’t happen. In December 2018, US President Donald Trump

announced plans of withdrawing 7,000 troops over the next couple of months.

“The US presence in Afghanistan will evolve.”

He also sees no change in Pakistan’s policy with regards to Afghans even now.

Talking about Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s statement on Afghanistan’s

need for an interim government whilst it prepares for the elections, Saleh

calls out Pakistan for remaining oblivious to the new realities in Afghanistan.

“I think they were frozen in 1991 when they were the authors of guidelines on

how to deal with Afghanistan,” says Saleh, adding that he agrees with US

Ambassador in Kabul John Bass’s satirical comment on Khan’s

statement—‘Afghanistan is not a cricket ball to tamper with’. “I couldn’t agree

more,” he says.

That said, he wishes Pakistan would understand how much it would benefit from a

friendly Afghanistan than a dominated one which, he says, “won’t happen


“If we look at it just on the basis of civilisation, there is no such thing as

Pakistan. It is part of the greater India and greater Afghanistan. What

separates us from Pakistan is not culture or religion or geography or history.

What separates us from Pakistan is the ISI and the Pakistan Army, who are losers

in the long run anyway,” Saleh says. 

While understanding the factor of anti-incumbency (as President Ghani fights

for a second term) that comes with his team this coming election, Saleh still

has big plans. The opposition leaders in Afghanistan have accused President

Ghani of trying to ruin the peace process. Saleh, however, is hopeful. “Ashraf

Ghani and I believe we must manifest our national power by remaining loyal and

attached to our roots. We want to restore Afghanistan’s place and stature and give

it its identity. Afghanistan for Afghanistan and not attached to any caveat

which runs contrary to our national interests,” he says.

His plans also include development work with the Chinese. “We look at China as

a great neighbour of Afghanistan and very much look forward to seeing China

start work on Aiank copper mines which they bought years back,” he says.

Saleh is also confident that there is simply no way for India and Afghanistan

to have divergence of interest and insists that “there is simply no way for

India and Afghanistan to have divergence of interest. It won’t happen.”

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