Afghanistan vice-presidential candidate Amrullah Saleh, who until January 19 was the interior minister, doesn’t think that the latest US-Taliban attempts at peace will yield results. The Taliban are controlled by Pakistan and do not represent Afghanistan or the wishes of its people, says the 46-year-old.
An agreement on a ceasefire won’t be a big surprise. The issue will be the shape the settlement takes and how the constitution fairs, Saleh says, referring to reports in the media that the US and the Taliban have agreed on a framework for a future accord to end the 17-year-old Afghan war.
“For an honourable agreement and lasting peace, the solution will have to involve all stakeholders and not just the whims of the Taliban or their handlers in Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence,” says Saleh.
A known opponent of the Taliban and Pakistan, the former Afghan intelligence chief recently told the BBC that Afghanistan would be a very proud partner but would not be subdued by Islamabad. "We are too, too heavy for you to punch," he said.
The Afghans want the republic to stay and for that, the constitution has to be honoured or it will unleash chaos. It was for the United States to decide if it will be on the side of the Afghan Republic or play the role of a facilitator?
Saleh is wary of repeating the mistakes that followed the Soviet withdrawal. “We came out of ashes of the anti-Soviet war but weren’t given a chance to rebuild. There were and still are so many strings pushing and pulling us. The mistakes should not be repeated,” Saleh, who was part of Ahmad Shah Massoud’s Northern Alliance, told Firstpost in an email interview.
He doesn’t want to guess the reason for the US initiating talks with the Taliban, attributing it to “super power” behaviour, which can be contradictory. But a super power, he says, also has the ability to manage contradictions, stay strong in the midst of pulls and pushes and also safeguard its own interest.
“We have influence over our own country and our focus is to get our act together, not get swayed by external factors,” says Saleh, who quit as the interior minister to be part of President Ashraf Ghani’s election team. The presidential election is now scheduled for July 20.
The constitution is the foundation of the Republic. Its legitimacy, government and the Republic is not a leased out piece of equipment to be withdrawn. “Our legitimacy comes from genes of the Afghan nation. It is in the veins of our political life and will stay on. Our domestic consensus determines our legitimacy,” he says.
What about the Taliban? The Taliban, Saleh says, will die one way or the other. They will die fighting or die making peace because they are not ready to embrace change. The only thing which can save them is accepting the new reality in Afghanistan.
It is not 1990s. The new Afghanistan has rejected the Taliban and will reject them again. Taliban chief Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada is neither a revolutionary nor visionary. “He is a dummy the ISI uses to conceal its own hand. The hand that fights is the Pakistani army. The Taliban leadership are dummies to deceive us all,” he says.
He sees the Taliban as medieval -- they may have modern weapons but they are not compatible with mainstream politics. They are not built for political competition. “They are built to demolish the barriers of the Afghan nationalism and pave the way for illegitimate influence of the ISI,” he says. That also explains their opposition to democracy and fear of joining the pluralistic republic.
So, should they be given a habitat and contained or modernised? “Their incorporation should be carefully designed. That is what perhaps our Western allies will find frustrating to design and implement. One of the biggest enemies of the West is its impatience,” Saleh says.
Saleh, who as the interior minister worked closely with the armed forces insists that Afghanistan, and the world, needs them. To him, the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces are a valuable and a formidable partner in global security, in fight against terrorism and radical jihadists, who are a threat to other countries as well.
He is upset over allies cutting aid and says Afghan forces are not receivers of charity. “They reciprocate with their blood and lives… A governed Afghanistan is cheaper than a non-governed one.”
Pakistan’s ISI and its army are his biggest concerns. They see a democratic Afghanistan as a threat to its stability. A democratic Afghanistan, they think, will inspire the marginalised ethnic groups in Pakistan to demand more rights, he says.
Pakistan is a resilient player in the region. While it has copied the script of a manipulative imperial power when it comes to Afghanistan, it doesn’t have the resources, strength and the end-game vision. “Even if they do manage to subdue us partially for a while, they will go door to door asking for donations to subsidise their clients in power… Pakistan’s Afghanistan policy is nothing but a zero-sum game of death and destruction,” says Salah.
He is not in favour of New Delhi talking to the Taliban, as is being suggested by a section in the Indian foreign policy establishment so that the country is not left out of the Afghanistan peace process in which it is a stakeholder. “It will an indignity for a principled power like India to talk to the dummies of the ISI,” he says. What makes India formidable is its brand as an uncompromising power on matters of values, principles and dignity.
India shouldn’t compromise its brand. It has won by standing firm and will prevail again and again, he says. “It will be a shock to see a nation of more than one billion people shaking hands with hijackers, kidnappers, terrorists and criminals. No. Don’t do it.”
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