Afghanistan’s acting President Amrullah Saleh has put up a brave front so far as the Taliban take over the country, forcing thousands of Afghans to leave behind their homes and belongings and flee to safer areas. As Afghanistan president Ashraf Ghani fled, accepting that the Taliban had wrested control 20 years after the US waged a war against the hardliners, Saleh said he was proud of the armed forces and the government would do all it could to strengthen resistance to the Taliban. With the insurgents continuing their rampage in the war-torn country, Saleh spoke exclusively to CNN-News18 about the collapse of the state, US ‘miscalculation’ and Panjshir Valley — the last anti-Taliban bastion in government’s control. Edited excerpts:
Did you expect the collapse of the Afghan state to happen in the manner it did? And what is your impression of the manner in which Ashraf Ghani left?
I don’t think this is the right time to reflect on that massive tragedy.
Who do you blame for the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan and why? What do you think will be the ramifications of the Taliban’s Kabul takeover — both for Afghanistan and the world? Will Afghanistan become a breeding ground for terror?
It’s very clear that the Taliban were never under pressure; they used Pakistan as their support base. Not sanctuaries, the whole of Pakistan was at the service of Taliban. US tried to incentivise the Pakistani cooperation, to buy it; the more they paid, the more it emboldened the Pakistanis to provide more services and aid to the Taliban so the issue of a nuclear state sponsoring terrorism and insurgency against western allies in Afghanistan was never addressed.
The second reason is that Doha talks legitimised the Taliban who did not remain loyal to their word. They did not honour their commitment and fooled the entire international community. The purpose of Doha was to keep the international community divided, keep them hopeful about a peaceful process that did not exist.
The third reason is that in the last two years, the republic came under enormous pressure from our American allies; they blackmailed us and said that either you release the prisoners or we will cut aid to you and decrease our military assistance. We said are you sure that these people will not end up at the frontlines? Their answer was no but they all ended up at the frontlines. So it was not prisoners’ release but gifting Taliban a division of highly radicalised fighters.
Fourth reason is that there were people in our government who were not aware of the situation and took everything for granted. We cannot, however, confine the downfall to these four reasons as there are various other issues which led to this tragedy.
The bottom-line is that NATO is gone, US military is gone, but the Afghan people have not gone…they could not be evacuated. Kabul airport is tip of the iceberg. The country has sunken into tragedy and terrorist groups have taken over Afghanistan. Today, for example, a money launderer who was facilitating transactions between al-Qaeda sympathisers and Taliban has become governor of Afghan central bank, Haqqanis are running Kabul…needless to explain who Haqqanis are. This is a shame and betrayal and I don’t want to be a part of that shame and betrayal.
We will fight till the enemy believes that Afghanistan should remain Afghanistan and not become ‘Talibanistan’.
What do you think of the American attitude and behaviour during this episode? Their sudden departure and leaving so many arms and ammunition and reports that all arms and ammunition have been taken by Pakistan to Quetta.
They are watching what they did. They are seeing how the world media is writing negative things about them… US is a global power, mightiest military power and we never wished them bad but this shows a single wrong political judgement humiliates a super power too. It wasn’t ever about American military or American intelligence… it was wrong judgement, wrong decision and they have started to pay the price.
In hindsight, there is no doubt that the US miscalculated the Taliban threat. You were the Vice-President in Ashraf Ghani’s administration. Why couldn’t your officials assess what was happening on the ground?
If a super power decides to go this way or that way, there is so little or nothing we could do to change their attitude. I do accept that I have been a major player and a person of significance but did we have any say in US decision? No. We could not influence their decision. What happened in Afghanistan… I have been warning about these consequences for 2 years. They all are paying the price now. This was a political decision, not a military or intelligence one… It wasn’t the Taliban who won this war, it was the lack of political win in Washington which led to this scramble.
What is the security situation at the Panjshir Valley, where you and Ahmad Massoud are leading an armed resistance against the Taliban? There are reports that the Taliban have sent hundreds of fighters to the Valley.
It’s perfect. We are in control of the situation. I move around with minimum security. It’s an area which has an exceptional reputation.