10 Feb 2022
Amrullah Saleh, a leader of the exiled Afghan resistance, called for elections to give Afghans, not the Taliban, control of the future.
According to the protocol of Afghanistan’s anti-Taliban resistance, Amrullah Saleh is to be addressed as His Excellency Caretaker President. Formerly vice president of the collapsed Afghan republic, Saleh left Kabul ahead of the Taliban takeover for the Panjshir Valley, where he led an ill-fated stand against the country’s new rulers as head of the National Resistance Front (NRF). Saleh is a senior figure in the NRF, which is led by Ahmad Massoud, the son of his former comrade in arms, Northern Alliance Gen. Ahmad Shah Massoud.
Before the republic’s demise, Afghanistan was corrupt and poverty stricken. In the months since, without the international aid that propped up the government for 20 years, the country has become destitute and desperate.
Saleh spoke with Foreign Policy about Pakistan’s role as the Taliban’s sponsor; about the “false hope” of former U.S. President Donald Trump’s deal, which facilitated the Taliban’s return; and the United States and NATO’s betrayal of Afghanistan.
The Taliban do not have the Afghanistan people’s support, he said; the group’s days in power are numbered. The resistance, he said, is not about him. It is about returning Afghanistan to its people. He called for elections but did not rule out taking the country back by force. The fight for Afghanistan’s future is already underway, he said.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Foreign Policy: How do you assess the current situation in Afghanistan?
Amrullah Saleh: The forceful grab of power by the Taliban is an extension of a vicious cycle. It isn’t a matter of celebration for any part of Afghan society except for the Taliban as a group and Pakistan as their patron. No one welcomed them in Kabul. This power grab has created deep internal wounds; the society feels insulted and marginalized. Politically, this is a shaky setup. It is facing resistance. The resistance will gain strength. We don’t see any meaningful window for a peace process at this stage.
FP: You left Kabul for the Panjshir Valley, and once the Panjshir fell, you left for Tajikistan, where the resistance is now based. What is your plan?
AS: I left Kabul on Aug. 15, 2021. I wasn’t able to connect with leaders of the security sector and decided to go to the valley, where we created the resistance. I am satisfied that I didn’t leave my country and escape.
Regarding the larger strategic aims of the resistance: We are in constant consultation with everyone who matters in the anti-Taliban camp. Some leaders needed more time to collect their thoughts. Everyone knows that the peace process was a scheme to keep us divided; it was a false hope. It didn’t exist, and it doesn’t exist today. Therefore, the formation of an anti-Taliban resistance, both politically and militarily, is becoming easier and easier.
FP: What support does the resistance have? What are your policies?
AS: Afghanistan today is a protectorate of the Pakistani military. The Taliban try to hide this bitter fact. But in reality, the virulent hand of the [Inter-Services Intelligence or ISI], in the form of the Haqqani network, is in power. U.N.-sanctioned terrorists are in control of Kabul.
We are in contact with everyone that matters in the anti-Taliban camp both inside and outside Afghanistan. Of course, there are some who aren’t willing to fight. We respect their choice. But no Afghan with dignity is ready to join the Taliban regime.
In the NRF, we are united and disciplined. We fight for a pluralistic Afghanistan. We want elections. We want the will of the people to matter and determine the course of the country. We will resist until our aim is achieved. The Taliban have indeed grabbed power, but this wasn’t an immediate military victory; it involved a covert geopolitical scheme as well.
FP: What support does the NRF have politically, financially, and militarily?
AS: For us, the fundamental factor is the situation inside Afghanistan. The majority of the Afghan people feel insulted, marginalized, and reduced to voiceless subjects. This junta regime won’t be able to sustain this situation. With or without foreign support, we will continue to resist.
The quasi-occupation of Afghanistan and its current status as a Pakistani protectorate isn’t going well with most of the region either. Will the region accept this reality and let this oppressive protectorate prevail? You have to ask the neighboring countries. The dirt of this reality isn’t to be brushed under the carpet. The region smells the stink.
FP: Does the NRF have the support of the Afghan people? Do you? Are you not associated with the corrupt, incompetent, and failed republic?
AS: The Afghan people haven’t yet recovered from the shock of Aug. 15, 2021. They are still discovering the magnitude of lies and falsehood. It isn’t over yet. The dominant narrative on the reasons for the collapse revolves around corruption in the Afghan government and incompetence of the leaders. There is a calculated and deliberate effort by the powerful media to ignore the larger issues. The geostrategic calculus is missing in this narrative. The unimaginable deal with a terrorist/insurgent group is less talked about. The debacle and tragedy of Aug. 15 is reduced to blaming the Afghan side.
We do understand our part. But that is not the whole story. Where is the whole story? Why were we bypassed? Why was Pakistan not punished? What happened to the Bilateral Security Agreement? What is the status of the Strategic Partnership Agreement with several NATO member states? Isn’t it a fact that a terrorist insurgent group has invalidated those agreements?
I am not escaping from my responsibilities. I am not scapegoating others. The Afghan people have the right to be angry, frustrated, and confused. The only way to measure the popularity of any group or person is with elections, real elections.
The purpose of the current resistance is not for the ego of Amrullah Saleh or anyone else. It is for a much larger and deeply humane purpose. When this resistance bears fruit, I may not be of significance in it. No one is fighting for me. They fight for their dignity, for their identity, for their basic rights as human beings.