Afghanistan’s former president may have sensationally fled Kabul, but the former vice-president says he will stay and fight the Taliban.
Amrullah Saleh spoke to ABC’s PM program from somewhere in the Panjshir Valley, his birthplace and a legendary source of resistance to invasion.
Fighters there held out against the Soviets in the 1980s and the Taliban in the 1990s. Panjshir is the only province to have kept the Taliban at bay this time too.
Alongside Mr Saleh rekindling the anti-Taliban resistance is Ahmed Mahsoud, son of one of the most lauded resistance fighters of the region, Ahmed Shah Mahsoud, known as the Lion of Panjshir.
Mr Saleh said that while he was vice-president, the United States pressured Afghanistan’s now-toppled government into making deals with the Taliban.
“We were pressured by the United States,” he said.
In February last year, the United States signed a deal with the Taliban setting a timetable for US withdrawal based on the Taliban meeting peace commitments, which included not harbouring Al Qaeda terrorists.
The United States committed to release Taliban prisoners held by Afghanistan’s government, but the government itself was not a party to the peace talks and resisted releasing the 5,000 Taliban prisoners.
“We were told [by the US] that this is part of the deal, if you do not release these people, we will cut aid for you and for your forces; we will cut the civilian assistance; will cut the economic assistance,” said Mr Saleh.
“We thought because these global powers are negotiating, they have the necessary safeguards for the implementation and verification of the deal they are reaching with the Taliban.
“We did not imagine in our wildest dreams that a terrorist group will deceive the whole global community and they will push the Afghan people into an unimaginable tragedy.”
Read more about the Taliban’s advance in Afghanistan:
- With documents hidden under their clothes, they told the Taliban they were farmers and crossed the border
- Taliban begin to reopen Afghan schools with older girls so far excluded from study
In the months after the US signed the agreement, the Taliban increased attacks against Afghanistan’s national security forces and eventually, the Afghan government did release the prisoners required by the deal — only for the Taliban to continue taking territory across the country.
Self-declared president of Afghanistan readies resistance forces
Mr Saleh, who has remained in Afghanistan, has declared himself the president of Afghanistan after former president Ashraf Gani sensationally fled in the middle of talks with the Taliban over a political settlement.
“I wanted to show to our people that I am sticking to my promise,” Mr Saleh said.
“I am inside Afghanistan with the people of Afghanistan and we are putting a resistance.
“I am in contact with every single commander who are leading that resistance.”
He said the thousands of people trying to flee through Kabul airport showed the number of Afghans who feared the Taliban and said many had also sought shelter in Panjshir Valley under the protection of the resistance.
“The humanitarian situation is not good. It’s dire.
“You see families are stranded, you see thousands of men who fear a massacre in the hands of the Taliban — they have come here.”
He said the Taliban had already blockaded food and medicine from reaching areas like Panjshir.
Mr Saleh believes Western allies had been deceived into thinking the Taliban had changed their tactics and were more open to a political settlement, but that they are instead already brutally repressing areas they have taken control of.
“It’s a matter of time that the world will realise the Taliban are terrorists, they have not changed.
“They have violated every word of the agreement they signed with the United States and they have violated every promise and commitment that deceptively made with the Western world.”
‘Evacuation is not the answer’
He made clear he was not calling for a return of western troops and further military action but was instead calling for support for Afghans trying to escape or resist the Taliban.
He said it wasn’t only Afghans at Kabul airport who needed foreign support.
“Unfortunately, the whole media is focused around the tarmac in Kabul airport, yes I understand that, but that’s not the story of all Afghanistan.
“The world community has moral, political and legal obligation to help the Afghan people and Afghan people and not [only] those who are in the airport and those who serve the coalition forces directly.”
He said the appointment of Khalil Ur-Rahman Haqqani, who is still listed as a terrorist leader by the United States, to head of security for Kabul was proof the Taliban had not changed its stripes.
“Haqqani is currently running the show in Kabul, Isn’t that a shame that we put a blind eye and not talk about it and we only talk about the evacuation?
“Evacuation is not the solution … staying with the Afghan people is the solution.”