June 15, 2010 Special Dispatch No. 3038

Former Afghanistan Intelligence Chief Says He Quit Because of President Karzai's 'Soft' Policy on Taliban, Says: 'This Soft Behavior Makes the Enemy's Intention Even Stronger and Makes the Confidence of Friends Shaky'

June 15, 2010
Afghanistan | Special Dispatch No. 3038

As Afghan President Hamid Karzai was delivering his inaugural address on the opening day of the June 2-4 National Consultative Peace Jirga in Afghanistan, Taliban militants fired several missiles on the venue and engaged in gunfire in the Afghan capital.[1] Nearly 1,600 community and religious leaders from across Afghanistan were in attendance at the meeting, which was organized to end the Taliban-led violence in the country.

Given the presence of the country's top leaders and foreign diplomats at the venue, the attacks were seen as a major security failure. A few days later, Karzai held a meeting with Afghan Interior Minister Hanif Atmar and Amrullah Saleh (pictured above), the chief of the National Directorate of Security (NDS). According to a report on the Afghan website, during the meeting Karzai expressed anger and demanded their resignations.[2] According to a report in the Pashtu-language daily Wrazpanra Eradu of June 7, Atmar and Saleh resigned.[3]

A few days after his resignation, Amrullah Saleh added a new dimension to the security failure issue, saying that he quit because of his differences over the Karzai government's policy of holding peace talks with the Taliban. The former spy chief noted that he quit after the three-day jirga (meeting of the elders) approved President Karzai's proposal for peace talks with the militants.[4]

In a recent interview with the Afghan website, Saleh revealed more details about his position on the Karzai government’s policy on the Taliban. The interview is given below, followed by another article, titled "The Afghan spy chief's resignation" in which renowned Taliban affairs expert Rahimullah Yusufzai explains the significance of questions raised by Saleh’s resignation. Yusufzai’s article is important in view of Saleh’s recent statement that the Pakistani military’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has been causing destruction in Afghanistan. Saleh, who has several years of experience in intelligence work in Afghanistan and abroad, remarked, "The ISI is part of the landscape of destruction in this country, no doubt. So it will be a waste of time to provide evidence of ISI involvement. They are part of it."

Following are excerpts from the interview:[5]

"The… Main Reason for My Disagreement with the President is that… [President Karzai] Ordered the Remission of the Taliban [Prisoners]"

Quqnoos: "What were the main reasons for your resignation?"

Saleh: "I want to clear up two issues that I have discussed with the media. First, the president did not accept the evidence about the Taliban attack in which the Haqqani network was involved. We discussed the evidence from the Peace Jirga. I consider this act by the president an insult to the hard work of the Afghan security forces. We sincerely expressed apologies to the Afghan nation and President Karzai for our failure to maintain security during the Peace Jirga, and we accepted our failure, but we will not allow others to question our intentions."

Quqnoos: "It is believed that some internal motives were also involved in these attacks. Don't you think that some internal [government] hands were involved in these attacks, since the attackers were able to easily penetrate the area – and one of them had even entered the Peace Jirga pavilion?"

Saleh: "The arrest of the man inside the Peace Jirga was the result of the efforts of our fellow police officers. I do not know more about its details."

Quqnoos: "What about some internal elements being involved in the incident?"

Saleh: "According to our investigation, the attackers had rented a house in the area 45 days ago. These attackers, who were disguised in burqas [veils], had carried weapons and rocket launchers covered in clothes under their burqas. We searched the suspected areas and found a telephone number in the house from which rockets were launched. Through their mobile numbers, we found and arrested the organizers of these attacks within two days. They were planning to escape to Pakistan, and they are in government custody now, but the president ignored all of this evidence."

Quqnoos: "There were also some security problems in the past. But the president's behavior was too strict this time. It is believed that the difference in views between you and the president was the main reason for your resignation."

Saleh: "It has been some time that President Karzai's and my visions in analysis and ideas toward the situation and the definition of the enemy and friend have differed; and I was thinking that I would break this stalemate by bringing evidence and other information. But when I realized that this stalemate was unbreakable, it was my moral duty to resign. I am not at all regretful that I have resigned. The interesting point is that, a few days ago, someone told me that I was sacrificed. I told him that contrary to that, my voice has become more open. Now I have freedom of movement, I am at my home and among my people. The pain of a Kandahari martyred is my pain; the pain of a wounded Helmandi is my pain. The pain of a Kunari martyred is my pain, and I want to talk on behalf of all these pains and wounds. I don't dream to become a small region's hero… There is no reason for my resignation based on discrimination."

Quqnoos: "You pointed out that you are talking on behalf of the pains of the Afghan people. Don't you think that the government represents all these pains?"

Saleh: "I will mention a political program held by Lemar TV in which a Kochi lady from the northern Balkh province was talking. I agree with that lady's comments, in which she said that President Karzai must not destroy the determination of the majority of Afghan people by pleading to a small group of terrorists. We must hold a Jirga that will respond to the will of 97 percent of Afghans. We must not hold a Jirga in which the will of 97 percent of Afghans will be dealt with for a small group. Karzai became president with the people's votes. Why does the president force this nation to weaken its determination? Why doesn't the president use force?

"This is the point of my disagreement with the president, and I am not keeping it secret. There are hundreds of other reasons for my disagreements with the president, which I do not want to talk about now. The second main reason for my disagreement with the president is that he ordered the remission of the Taliban [prisoners] under a decree. I cannot forgive the murderers of the martyred Dr. Abdullah [Mr. Saleh's colleague], and I also cannot work in a government that forgives the Taliban."

"Showing a Soft Stance with a Murderer Who has Killed More than a Thousand Does Not Seem Like an Honorable Peace"

Quqnoos: "You said 'a small group.' Why does the government, which has about 200,000 Afghan security forces and more than 140,000 foreign forces, allow itself to be slighted by this small group?"

Saleh: "This is my question as well. Why are we unable to make a clear political path laid out by the majority of our people with strict decisions, unable to act strongly, to make our judiciary system powerful and make the Taliban apologize to our nation – not our nation apologize to them. I recommend that you go to Afghanistan's provinces and take a survey. When the people see the government's decisions about fighting terrorists, they hesitate.

"On the Kandahar trip, I was with the Afghan president. None of the Helmand tribal elders backed the idea of making an apology to the Taliban. So on behalf of whom does the president seek [to offer] an apology to the Taliban? In a time when the government is against the Taliban, the nation is against the Taliban. President Karzai won the election by the Afghan people's vote, so why should he apologize to the Taliban?"

Quqnoos: "You talked about an opposition of views; so what was your presence in President Karzai's government based on?"

Answer: "There was a specific time when the President was supporting us. He was supporting the reform in the NDS and was praising our improvements and achievements. During that time, when the president was backing the fight against insurgents and improvements in the NDS, I proudly was his employee. I had no political connection with President Karzai's opposition group. I'm honest about it.

"When the president chose a soft policy [on Taliban], we had no problem with it if this policy resulted in honorable peace. I think this policy will not bring honorable peace. Showing a soft stance with a murderer who has killed more than a thousand does not seem like an honorable peace. Even I do not think that this soft stance results in peace. This soft behavior makes the enemy's intention even stronger and makes the confidence of friends shaky.

"It is not only that I say this now, after stepping down, go to your archives and see [that I have said so earlier].

"I support peace and I'm not an element against peace, but gaining peace through soft behavior and expressing humility has not brought about results in human history. Any nation that wants to achieve something must speak louder than a whimper."

Quqnoos: "What are your thoughts about the President's soft behavior?"

Saleh: "Whatever the motive is, I know one thing – that the president does not trust the abilities of the defense forces."

Taliban Affairs Expert Rahimullah Yusufzai: Saleh's Resignation… not Only Exposed the Strife in President Hamid Karzai's Laboriously Built and Complex Ruling Coalition but Also Thrust Pakistan into the Limelight [over Its Role in Afghanistan]

Following are some excerpts from the article by Rahimullah Yusufzai, a renowned Taliban affairs expert who is the Resident Editor of the Pakistani daily The News and is based in the Pakistani city of Peshawar.[6]

"Such is the level of mistrust of Islamabad and the hatred against it among many Afghans that Amrullah Saleh, until recently Afghanistan's intelligence chief, described Pakistan and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) as his country's 'enemy number one.'

"Saleh is so convinced, on the basis of the intelligence that he and his men have been gathering about the ISI's work in Afghanistan, that he doesn't feel the need to provide proof to back up his claim. He was quoted in a recent interview as saying: 'The ISI is part of the landscape of destruction in this country, no doubt. So it will be a waste of time to provide evidence of ISI involvement. They are part of it.'’

"f Saleh hates Pakistan so much and considers the ISI responsible for Afghanistan's destruction, one could safely presume that this is the dominant feeling about Islamabad in his country's intelligence setup, the National Directorate of Security (NDS) that he headed since early 2004. And since Saleh is an ethnic Tajik from the Panjshir Valley, the native place of the late Afghan mujahideen commander Ahmad Shah Masood, it would not be wrong to say that all other Masood followers and supporters grouped in his Shura-i-Nazar faction of the Jamiat-i-Islami party of former president Burhanuddin Rabbani share the same feelings of hostility toward Pakistan and the ISI.

"This sentiment of mistrust and hatred cannot be one-sided. It is, therefore, natural that the ISI people also don't like Saleh and his men. In fact, a running battle has been going on for years between the ISI and Afghan intelligence, which has functioned with different names, including KHAD and WAD during the rule of Afghan communists, and partnered new allies such as the KGB, the CIA and RAW at various stages of the conflict in Afghanistan. Given the state of their animosity toward each other over the years, it would be impossible for them to cooperate even in facing a common threat."

"Americans would Surely Want the ISI and Afghanistan's NDS to Join Forces with the CIA to Defeat Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, But the Mistrust Keeps the Afghan and Pakistani Spies Apart…"

"The Americans would surely want the ISI and Afghanistan's NDS to join forces with the CIA to defeat Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, but the mistrust keeps the Afghan and Pakistani spies apart and prevents them from cooperating with each other. Asking them to work together is like wanting ISI and RAW agents to join hands after their having conspired and plotted against each other throughout their existence.

"Saleh has spent years doing intelligence work in Afghanistan and abroad. He was based in Peshawar for sometime during the Afghan jihad against the Soviet occupying forces when Masood, Rabbani and the rest of the Afghan mujahideen leaders enjoyed Pakistan's hospitality and received support from the ISI, CIA and other intelligence agencies. Saleh also operated out of Tajikistan's capital Dushanbe to coordinate the Northern Alliance's battle against the Taliban with assistance from countries seeking to oust the regime led by [Taliban leader] Mulla Mohammad Omar in Afghanistan. Following the Taliban defeat as a result of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, he was made deputy head of the NDS, with Muhammad Arif Sarwari taking over as its director.

"In fact, the entire intelligence setup of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance was installed in the NDS, bringing it to all those who hated Pakistan and considered the ISI responsible for Afghanistan's woes. In due course of time, many former Afghan communists and mujahideen who had done intelligence work and were always suspicious of Pakistan's role in Afghanistan were in control of the NDS. As always, the Afghan intelligence agency and the ISI were in rival camps and, in Saleh's words, Pakistan's premier intelligence agency was the foremost enemy of Afghanistan. Afghanistan's fine ethnic balance that is so crucial to the country's stability also wasn't maintained in the NDS, or subsequently in the Afghan National Army, the police and other institutions, as the majority Pakhtuns remained underrepresented. This obviously had its own pitfalls and the Taliban fully exploited it to find recruits from among Pakhtuns dissatisfied with their circumstances.

"Saleh's enmity with Pakistan has its origins in the Afghan jihad. His leader, Masood, was critical of Pakistan and the ISI at the time for preferring his rival Gulbuddin Hekmatyar over him and providing him greater resources. [Former Pakistani military ruler] General Ziaul Haq had clear preference for the more fundamentalist Afghan mujahideen groups, such as those led by Hekmatyar, Rabbani, Yunis Khalis and Abdur Rab Rasul Sayyaf, not only because of his own conservative choices but also due to the better battlefield performance of their committed fighters against the Soviet forces in Afghanistan.

"Masood and his party leader Rabbani belonged to fundamentalist Jamiat-i-Islami, but it seems they were less willing to take orders from Islamabad than the others. This became evident in later years when Masood and Rabbani defied Pakistan and built up their own alliances with Iran, Russia and France and, in the post-9/11 period, with the U.S. and its Western allies. Ziaul Haq and the ISI at that point in time felt more comfortable working with Hekmatyar than Masood and Rabbani.

"Though Ziaul Haq was wise enough not to say it publicly, it was obvious that Islamabad's policy in Afghanistan was, and always has been, generally pro-Pashtun. It was felt that befriending Afghanistan's Pakhtuns was in Islamabad's interest because Pakistan has a significant Pashtun population of its own and the Pashtuns lived on both sides of the Durand Line [the disputed border between Afghanistan and Pakistan]. General Pervez Musharraf, an impulsive man keen to take credit for his forthrightness, on at least two occasions publicly declared that Pakistan's Afghan policy was pro-Pashtun. It was irresponsible on his part to make this statement as it alienated the Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, Turkmen and other non-Pakhtuns in Afghanistan and made them realize that their friendship wasn't a priority for Pakistan. In fact, many Afghan Pakhtuns also found Musharraf's statement offensive. Some of them at the time commented that they didn't need Musharraf's or Pakistan's support as they were themselves capable of winning their rights and maintaining Afghanistan's unity, being the founders of the Afghan state named after them."

"[Saleh] is Unhappy with Karzai for Going Soft on Pakistan after Criticizing It All These Years and is opposed to His Plans to Release Taliban Prisoners and Reconcile with Mulla Omar"

"Saleh's resignation on June 6, along with that of Interior Minister Muhammad Hanif Atmar, following the audacious attack four days previously in Kabul on the occasion of the landmark Consultative Peace Jirga, not only exposed the strife in President Hamid Karzai's laboriously built and complex ruling coalition but also thrust Pakistan into the limelight. Though Saleh and Atmar's resignations were linked to the security lapse that enabled the suspected Taliban militants to come close to the venue where about 1,500 jirga members were meeting, despite the presence of 12,000 soldiers and police, there was more to it than meets the eye. Atmar, a former communist official who earned praise from Western governments for his effective style of leadership and honesty, isn't talking after quitting the interior minister's job. But Saleh, who too was praised by Western authorities for his work, is all over the place, granting interviews in which he is blaming Pakistan for Afghanistan's problems and raising questions about Karzai's motives. He is unhappy with Karzai for going soft on Pakistan after criticizing it all these years and is opposed to his plans to release Taliban prisoners and reconcile with Mulla Omar and his men.

"Saleh's views represent those of many Afghans who are non-Pashtun and supporters of the erstwhile Northern Alliance. Some Pashtuns who have stood up to the Afghan Taliban and suffered as a consequences are also against bowing to the militants and giving Pakistan a role in Afghanistan's affairs. Such divergent views have exposed the rift in the Karzai-led ruling coalition with regard to reconciliation with the Taliban, ties to Pakistan and the relationship with the U.S.-headed NATO forces bent upon an elusive military solution of the Afghan conflict. Though Karzai has managed to get support for his policy of reintegrating the Taliban into the political mainstream from the Consultative Peace Jirga, his government would encounter problems and suffer from further splits as he proceeds on the path of peace and national reconciliation."


[1] (Afghanistan), June 2, 2010.

[2] (Afghanistan), June 6, 2010.

[3] Wrazpanra Eradu (Afghanistan), June 7, 2010.

[4] (Afghanistan), June 8, 2010.

[5] (Afghanistan), June 12, 2010. The text of the interview has been slightly edited for clarity.

[6] The News, Pakistan, June 15, 2010.

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