Afghanistan’s first Vice President Amrullah Saleh on Monday spoke exclusively to CNN-News18 and talked about what he hopes from the Joe Biden administration – after a tumultuous relationship with his predecessor – withdrawal of US troops, peace negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government and the India-Afghanistan relationship. He also had a few suggestions for Pakistan on improving its relationship with India and other countries.
Here’s an excerpt from the interview:
Q: On multiple occasions, you said you are also a victim of the Afghan war and the Biden administration should also think about withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan. Don’t you think this will delay Afghanistan to come to the mainstream?
Amrullah Saleh: First of all, we are very glad that US President Joe Biden’s administration has started the review process of the so-called Doha agreement which has a lot of flaws and cracks within it. And they have increased their consultation with us which is also a very positive sign. It has been a very complex conflict, a very long conflict involving foreign factors and a lot of issues. Certainly, there can’t be a pressure-cooked peace process and settlement. Therefore more consultation, more review and ensuring there are verification mechanisms in place, are absolutely needed.
Q: We hear two types of voices of Afghan people on this issue. You are a politician and now holding a post also in the Government. Do you think Afghan people also want that US troops should stay in Afghanistan for some more time?
Amrullah Saleh: Well, no Afghan wants any foreign troops in Afghanistan. It’s not about wishing to see foreign troops in my country. But the question is why these foreign troops came here in the first place. They came here to make sure that Afghanistan didn’t become a safe haven again for terrorism. That threat is not finished, the mission is not accomplished. We are still fighting a group that we have defeated many times. They are not headquartered in Afghanistan, that’s why they have not been fully defeated. They still have very close ties with regional terror outfits, with global terrorist outfits like Al-Qaeda, like Da’esh. And they have created an eco-system for terrorism. For as long as this threat is there, it’s in the national interest and security interest of NATO and the US to remain engaged and make sure another 9/11 does not happen.
Q: In a recent tweet you said you are ready to prove case by case that release Talibani prisoners are back to the same job and doing terrorism? What kind of evidence you have?
Amrullah Saleh: We have multiple types of evidence. This evidence is of course both circumstantial and hard. Let me first tell you the hard evidence. The hard evidence is – some of these people have been captured again as they have tried to be part of the terror campaign in our large cities or they have been captured again with smoking gun as they have tried to attack our posts and civilian installations all over the country. So we have them, some of them, back in our custody. That’s evidence number one. Evidence number two, when in the battle enemy combatants get killed we try to find their identity and we proof check it with sources. And our estimate is that nearly 200 have been killed in battle after they rejoined the ranks of the Taliban, so that’s evidence two. And the circumstantial evidence – we have traces of none of them having resorted to a peaceful life with their families as was promised to us. Our demand then that we put a verification mechanism to ensure that these terrorists do not go back to reinforce the Taliban ranks was not taken into consideration because the US was the in-between power negotiating. And that style of negotiation was not very helpful and we were not directly negotiating with the Taliban. And in the meantime, a British university did a study and they sent researchers to Pakistan and from there to Afghanistan. And they came up with a very detailed study saying 85 per cent of them at least are back in the fight.
Q: Recent UN report also talked about Taliban link with Al-Qaida? Two top commanders killed recently were given shelter by the Taliban. Your take?
Amrullah Saleh: Well, not only have the Taliban not severed ties with Al Qaeda, and I fully concur with the conclusions of the UN, but we are also seeing a very disturbing pattern of Taliban and Da’esh collaboration at a tactical and operational level, which means Taliban has created a conducive environment and at times provided a platform for Daesh to attack civilians and try to create sectarian divisions in Afghanistan. They have not been able to create sectarian division. We are very united. Two days ago, our primary intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security came up with a statement that they had apprehended a joint cell of Haqqani and Daesh. They would do the operations depending on the nature of the targets, either Daesh will take the responsibility or Taliban, or they will both remain silent and let it be an unclaimed attack. So when we say Taliban ideologically or in deep brotherhood or in Alliance with Daesh, it’s not an obstruct intellectual judgment, we have evidence in hand. It is matters like these that need very thorough thinking-through, which has persuaded the new Biden administration to give a closer look at the Doha agreement and see if Taliban have lived to their commitments and they have honored their pledges and promise.
Q: Afghan government feels that it was a mistake and blind trust to release Taliban prisoners. Whom you trusted? Pressure group or Taliban?
Amrullah Saleh: Well, it worked like this as it is started. We were assured by the United States negotiating team. And they assured us that they have enough…let’s say protective measures to make sure that the Taliban who are released do not go back to the battlefield. But, now it seems those measures were not in place. That’s one. And now it seems it was a massive concession to the Taliban without gaining much from them for the peace process. The Taliban have not socialized peace literature. They have created this group which serves as a facade travelling around, but inside Afghanistan, we have not seen a single Taliban operator appreciating peace and showing readiness for a political settlement. So we see a deception. The deception is, outside Afghanistan, they are promoting the narrative of peace with the help of the Pakistani establishment, but, inside Afghanistan, the military and terror activities have intensified. It’s the same with the government of Pakistan. They publicly go around and say they support the Afghan peace process, but covertly, they have not reduced their support, i.e they still provide ammonium nitrate to the Taliban which is the main material and substance which they convert into bombs and IEDs. The flow of military-grade explosives to the Taliban has continued unhindered. Again we have seen military electronics for the detonation of bombs and bomb-making. We have captured such equipment along with Taliban terrorists and we have traced them back to sources in Pakistan. So we see this double-track deceptive policy, talk peace but do war. That’s what we are seeing on the ground.