New Delhi: The alarming scenes witnessed at the Hamid Karzai International Airport since the Taliban took over Kabul on 15 August are just a “tiny fraction of the disaster” unfolding in the country, former Vice-President Amrullah Saleh has said.
In an interview Thursday, Saleh said there is a widespread distrust in the Taliban among the people of Afghanistan, who fear torture, oppression and deprivation of their basic rights under their rule.
“There is a sense that the Afghan nation has been betrayed, that it has been stabbed in the back,” Saleh added, describing the situation in Afghanistan as a “tragedy” and lashing out at the US and Pakistan for their role in bringing it about.
While he referred to Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi as a spokesperson of the Taliban, he described the US pullout as a “colossal mistake”.
Saleh, a native of the Panjshir valley, declared himself President after Ashraf Ghani fled the country and is now helping mobilise resistance against the Taliban under the banner of the Northern Alliance, alongside the namesake son of the late ‘Lion of Panjshir’ Ahmad Massoud, the face of the campaign against the insurgent group in the 1990s.
In the interview, Saleh said he is currently in the Panjshir valley, and denied reports that he is in hiding. He spoke at length about the negotiations underway between the Taliban and the resistance movement, saying their aim is to ensure that the Afghan public has a say in the nature of their State.
Any breakthrough in the talks, he said, would have to come from the Taliban because his “side is not demanding anything beyond basic human rights and values”.
“We say that the people should have direct participation in determining the character of their State, and deciding who the head of State should be. We want girls to have the right to education, access to health services. The dignity of the individual must be protected,” Saleh said.
Furthermore, Saleh added, Afghanistan must remain pluralistic and not become “Taliban-istan”. On the diversity in Afghan society, he said “any effort to bring it into one box, to assimilate the people and make them Taliban” will be unsuccessful over time.
Referring to the resistance force, he said, “Geographically, we are in Panjshir and surrounding valleys, but thematically, we represent the aspirations of our nation as a whole.”
‘Pakistan will fail’
Asked about the possibility of foreign nations — including the US — recognising the Taliban dispensation, Saleh said he would not be surprised if Washington makes “another mistake”.
He said any country recognising the Taliban’s takeover is making a mistake, adding that the group’s rule is not going to last.
“Those who will make the mistake of recognising a factional, radical terrorist group as the government of Afghanistan, it’s a matter of time they will regret it…” he added.
He went on to lash out at Pakistan for its support to the Taliban, adding that it has “installed a proxy group in control of capital Kabul and Afghanistan for now”.
Asked about Pakistan’s potential role in a Taliban-led government, he said Islamabad’s priority now should be figuring out how to “subsidise this regime” — “how to pay for the salaries of the Taliban military and civil servants, and how to feed Afghanistan… cater to the demands of a population who have lived under different circumstances for 20 years”.
“Will Pakistan have the economic stomach? Will Pakistan be bigger than NATO? It is a matter of time. Pakistanis have made a big miscalculation,” Saleh said, adding that Pakistan’s Foreign Affairs Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi is “more like a spokesperson of the Taliban”.
“This euphoria of capturing Kabul will end within days and the reality will set in,” he added. “The reality is that Pakistanis managed to provide every military assistance, to be a proxy to achieve what they have achieved.
“Have my words recorded: Pakistan will fail, and it will fail in front of the global community,” he said, adding that “every single Afghan… understands that the Taliban are puppets of Rawalpindi”. Allowing a political settlement, he said, is the only thing that will save Pakistanis from the “revenge of the Afghans”.
The author is a Delhi-based independent journalist.
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)