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Former Afghan Spy Master Denounces Pakistani Approach To His Country

Amrullah Saleh
Amrullah Saleh

In recent months, the often quarreling neighbors Pakistan and Afghanistan have appeared to open a new chapter in their relations with frequent leadership visits and pledges of cooperation.

But the former head of the National Directorate of Security, the Afghan intelligence services, sees little sign of Islamabad changing its longstanding approach toward Afghanistan, which centers on bolstering Taliban insurgents as key Afghan allies.

In an interview following this week's Kabul visit by Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Amrullah Saleh finds few reasons to be optimistic about Pakistan's role in ending his country's decades-long conflict.

"There was nothing new on this visit for the Afghan government or the Afghan people," Saleh told Radio Free Afghanistan. "The basic difference between the two countries is that Islamabad thinks that only the Pakistani Taliban are terrorists and the Afghan Taliban are not."

Saleh said Pakistani efforts are apparently focused on engaging the Afghan government on their role in convincing the Taliban to talk to Kabul in addition to soliciting its help in combating the Pakistani Taliban.

"What we now need is a framework [for peace negotiations] with a defined agenda and representatives from the Afghan government side and the Taliban," he said. "Such a framework could help in shaping a lasting political solution."

He sees no progress toward such an end. "As far as I know, Pakistan is not yet ready to help with such a framework," he said. "This year is a year of fighting, and we don't expect Pakistan to change its policy [toward Afghanistan] this year."

Saleh says that during Sharif's Kabul visit the prime minister condemned the ongoing violence in Afghanistan and said Afghanistan's enemies are his country's enemies, too.

But Sharif, he says, has little power to change his country's policies toward Afghanistan, which are still controlled by the powerful Pakistani Army.

The former Afghan top spy says the head of Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Lieutenant General Rizwan Akhtar, made a surprising demand during his talk with Afghan officials on May 6.

"He asked the Afghan government to provide 170 passports to Taliban leaders," Saleh said. "This means not only that they [the Pakistanis] are supporting the Taliban but that they also know who's who in the organization."

He added the demand was ostensibly aimed at enabling the Taliban to travel abroad to meet Afghan officials. "But it is evidence that Pakistan still supports the Taliban and their war," Saleh said.

The former Afghan intelligence chief sees Pakistan cleverly manipulating the recent improvement in relations with Afghanistan by giving the impression of helping Kabul arrange negotiations with the Taliban.

"They want to maintain contact with us so that the hope for dialogue and negotiations can be kept alive," Saleh said. "Pakistan also wants to demonstrate that it is not solely focused on investing in Afghan wars because they are afraid of international opinion. Not only do they want to trick Afghans but they also want to swindle the international community."

In addition, Saleh says, Islamabad wants to solicit Kabul's help in going after Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which has been blamed for most terrorist attacks inside Pakistan in recent years. "They want the Afghan government to share intelligence and allow Pakistani forces to conduct operations against the TTP on Afghan soil," he said.

However, he says Islamabad is not keen on allowing the same regarding the Afghan Taliban operating out of Pakistan. "Terrorists can be defined as people who employ tactics such as suicide bombs and engage in armed struggles against legitimate governments," he said. "We can apply this definition to the [Afghan] Taliban."

For this reason, Saleh remains deeply skeptical of future cooperation between the two neighbors.

"If the levels of violence recede this year and the Taliban stop their attacks and agree to a political dialogue, it will show that Pakistan's policy [toward Afghanistan] has changed," he said.