NPR

Former Afghan Intelligence Service Chief: The Taliban 'Are Our Killers'

Former head of Afghan intelligence Amrullah Saleh was fired earlier this year because of his opposition to the Karzai administration's efforts to negotiate with the Taliban. He says a Taliban-friendly government would mean Afghan rights are "violated fundamentally." (NPR)

The tomb of Ahmad Shah Massoud is a domed structure that towers over the Panjshir Valley.

It was here that Massoud and his warlord militia managed to carve out one of the only places in Afghanistan that has kept the Taliban at bay -- both in the 1990s and today.

As the sun rises each day on Massoud's tomb, its shadow nearly hits the boyhood home of Amrullah Saleh. Saleh was a foot soldier for Massoud -- also a clerk, a translator, and an aide.

"I was not a very important person when he was alive," he said.

Up until this year, Amrullah Saleh was head of Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security, the intelligence service. He was fired by President Karzai when he opposed the administration's effort to begin negotiations with the Taliban.

What does Karzai mean when he says he wants peace with the Taliban? We think if we do not rise today, our rights -- our very basic rights -- in a deal with the Taliban will be violated fundamentally.

On Morning Edition, Saleh is not talking about taking up arms. At least not yet.

As many Afghans weary of war have told NPR, they actually support negotiating with the Taliban -- at times calling these Taliban their "Afghan brothers." Saleh has started what he calls an awareness campaign.

Why are we continuously calling the Taliban our brothers? They are our killers. I don't need that type of brother. I am not anti-peace. But I am anti-Talibanization of Afghanistan. We were fighting the Taliban before NATO and if we see our history, our life, our principles are compromised in a deal with the Taliban, we will fight again.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Our colleague Renee Montagne is in Afghanistan this week.

Hi, Renee.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Hi, Steve. How are you doing?

INSKEEP: Doing fine, thanks very much.

Renee is looking at the prospects for peace, which could be tough in a country that's seen more than 30 years of war.

Renee, what progress, if any, was made toward peace over the summer in Afghanistan?

MONTAGNE: Well, there was a big moment in the summer, and that was a peace jirga, which is a grand council that President Karzai called to get Afghans behind the idea of a political settlement with the Taliban. Sixteen hundred turbaned elders, parliamentarians, clerics showed up to sort of endorse this idea. But the gathering, also, Steve, provided a rather dramatic illustration of how difficult it will be to get the Taliban to the table, because the militants not only did not send representatives, they sent rockets and suicide bombers into this peace jirga tent - although the only people who died were the bombers.

INSKEEP: I suppose, though, that does confirm the concerns of a man you've been talking with who has been warning against trying too hard to make peace with the Taliban.

MONTAGNE: It does, to an extent. And that man, Amrullah Saleh, knows a lot about insurgents because for six years, he was the country's chief of intelligence.

(Soundbite of rushing river)

MONTAGNE: And to speak to Amrullah Saleh, we've come to the heart of the Panjshir Valley. It's a valley fortified by high, rocky, mountains, and cutting through the center, a rushing river. It's easy to see why this valley never came under the control of the Taliban.

(Soundbite of rushing river)

MONTAGNE: As we make our way across a narrow bridge, glancing down through wooden slats at the water roaring below, it becomes clear this former intelligence chief will not be taken by surprise. On the other side of the bridge, the men who lead us to his family home are armed, but they move comfortably, casually, through a compound of mud-brick buildings.

Saleh started out as a teenage mujahaddin, fighting the Soviets. And he became an intelligence aide to the legendary Panshiri fighter Ahmed Shah Massoud. It was the peace jirga that ended Saleh's time as Karzai's intelligence chief. Saleh and the country's top police official resigned after the rocket attack, though Saleh maintains his resignation involved much more. Sitting cross-legged in a sunny room, overlooking his apple orchard, Amrullah Saleh says he couldn't take what he saw as the Karzai government going soft on the Taliban.

Mr. AMRULLAH SALEH (Former Head of Afghan Intelligence): This type of soft policy he has created thus has brought about a permissive environment for interrogators and case officers. And you are out in a very hostile environment and you get an armed Taliban, but you are not sure whether he will be tried. That type of sympathy systematically growing for the Taliban within the Afghan system is extremely dangerous.

MONTAGNE: The breaking point for Saleh was when President Karzai set up a process to pardon Taliban detainees and did not consult the intelligence service which had interrogated them and knew so much about them.

Mr. SALEH: We were not included in that. And since I have left, roughly, they have released 400 detainees, and I do not doubt that some of them should have not been released.

MONTAGNE: Now, you have since resigning as the head of intelligence, you've now mounted something of an awareness campaign in this country. You're talking to people. You just didn't go home and shut the door.

Mr. SALEH: Yes. You are right.

MONTAGNE: What are you saying by way of warning Afghans about the threat of negotiating with the Taliban?

Mr. SALEH: Right. You see, we are very clear, very articulate in our messaging. We do not want the Taliban to come and cut the noses off our women. We do not want the Taliban to destroy what is left of our historical heritage. We do not want them to dominate the scene. So, a compromise with the Taliban from a position of weakness and not taking into consideration the massive interest of the Afghan people is what I warn the people.

What does Karzai mean when he says I want peace with Taliban? What does it mean? It is very unclear for our people. We think if we do not rise today, our rights, our very basic rights in a deal with Taliban will be violated fundamentally.

MONTAGNE: What do you say, though, to Afghans? And we've talked to Afghans even in the North...

Mr. SALEH: Right.

MONTAGNE: ...who are so exhausted...

Mr. SALEH: Right.

MONTAGNE: ...from 30 years of war.

Mr. SALEH: Right.

MONTAGNE: ...who say Taliban are Afghans. They're our brothers. There must be a way to bring them in - people might not have said that a couple of years ago. What do you say to them?

Mr. SALEH: That's why I call it a campaign of awareness. We are telling our people the danger is real. A deal with Taliban, untransparent deal with the Taliban will not be acceptable to us. Look, we are not telling our people we don't want peace. Giving the Taliban a status they have not earned to do their brutal tactics, calling them, you know, disgruntled brothers or whatever, completely unacceptable for people of Afghanistan.

MONTAGNE: Explain for an American audience what you mean by the untransparent policies of Kabul, of this government, the Karzai government.

Mr. SALEH: Well, American people did not finance this war after nine years to give it back to the Taliban. And if we continue the current policy, it means we are preparing to give it back to the Taliban. That is what I call untransparent policy.

MONTAGNE: But is this government is President Karzai, at his direction and with his knowledge, are there negotiations going on with Taliban leaders? And if so, who and where?

Mr. SALEH: That is another dark, dark angle of this policy, why we continuously call the Taliban our brothers. They're our killers. They put IEDs. They facilitate suicide attacks. They burn the schools. They throw acid on the face of women. They have banned education. I don't need that type of a brother.

MONTAGNE: Is this government talking to them?

Mr. SALEH: That's why I say it is an untransparent policy. We don't know.

MONTAGNE: What is NATO, at this point in time, the NATO forces under General David Petraeus doing right and what are they doing wrong?

Mr. SALEH: I think U.S. military and Afghan military, they are fighting with dignity and honor, and they do excellent work. But President Karzai is no longer in sync with U.S. military in Afghanistan. They have two different objectives. U.S. military wants the Taliban defeated. President Karzai wants the Taliban incorporated. I don't know how is that going to be fixed.

MONTAGNE: What is the alternative to the country going down the path of reconciliation of some sort with the Taliban if coalition forces start pulling out, even if the U.S. stays?

Mr. SALEH: Whether the international community remains in Afghanistan or abandons us, I have to be able to defend my honor. I am not anti-Taliban because U.S. is anti-Taliban. I was fighting this war long before the United States started this. If General Petraeus decides tomorrow to leave and Taliban are at the gates of Kabul, yes, he can leave. I can't leave. As I said, I'm not anti-peace, but I'm anti-Talibanization of Afghanistan. So we were fighting the Taliban before NATO, and if we see our history, our life, our principles are compromised in a deal with Taliban, we will fight again.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for having us in your home...

Mr. SALEH: Thanks.

MONTAGNE: ...and talking with us.

That was Afghanistan's former director of intelligence, Amrullah Saleh, speaking to us from his home in the far-north Panjshir province.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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