Former Afghan spy chief chafes at peace talks Reuters 6:34am ESTBy Rob Taylor
Amrullah Saleh said ethnic groups coalescing towards a more unified opposition were prepared to fight to prevent a return of Taliban militancy.”We want the state to remain pluralistic, not bow to the barrel of a gun,” Saleh, a former head of Afghanistan’s intelligence service and now a political opposition activist, told Reuters at his heavily-guarded Kabul home.
“If the Taliban, like us, want to come and play according to the script, sure. But if they come with gun-mounted Hi-Lux trucks, no, that means continuation of civil war, of war, and fragmentation of Afghanistan,” he said.Saleh’s message is likely to strike a chord with many Afghans who feel sidelined by U.S.-initiated negotiations, despite Karzai’s belated insistence on control of the process and determination they be Afghan-led. . . .
Other ethnic power brokers are also circling each other including Uzbek general Abdul Rashid Dostum and prominent Hazara leader Mohammad Mohaqiq, eyeing a possible common front. . . .
But Saleh, a strident critic of Karzai’s centralized rule and efforts to reach out to the Taliban, said he did not believe the hardline Islamists would ever accept an Afghan government they had implacably opposed as a “puppet,” even if some sort of deal emerged to give them a slice of power.“Those who are against the Taliban, they are the majority, and this majority is now neglected,” he said
“On one side of the table there are some mullahs, on the other side of the table is an American. Where are the Afghans? We feel unprotected, both by Karzai and by the Americans.”
Saleh was a former aide to former anti-Taliban hero Ahmad Shah Massoud and his Northern Alliance, . . . .
Taylor neglects to say that Saleh is a Tajik, a fact that in this context is carefully unmentioned but is heavily fraught with memories of Pushtun-Tajiks conflicts in the past.
He said if war broke out again, it would be worse than the bloody civil war that engulfed the country after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, when rival warlords razed much of Kabul in a conflict that left 50,000 civilians dead.“Fighting is not a very sophisticated path. It’s easy. And (so is) recruiting people to fight in this country where unemployment is more than 50 percent. To believe that only one group can fight is naivete,” he said.“They should know that when we offer to be part of the solution, they should not underestimate us.”
Karzai had been forced into dealing with the Taliban not because of a stalemate in the NATO-led war, Saleh said, but because his government’s poor anti-graft record and failure to build a justice system that people had faith in, leading many Afghans to believe the Taliban could do a better job.
“If we talk to the Taliban from a position of strength, where we have bought reform, where we have restored the confidence of the people in our ability to represent Afghanistan, the Taliban become a group, not a force,” he said.
This is more than sabre-rattling. It could happen.