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War and Peace

Guest Blog: Amrullah Saleh’s new language on the Taleban

Ahmad Shuja 3 min

Former NDS chief, Amrullah Saleh, wrote an op-ed article on Bloomberg.com in which he tacitly agreed to the idea of negotiations with the Taleban and called for a truth commission as a way of reconciliation. Saleh, it seems, is rebranding himself outside Afghanistan as a pragmatic opposition leader open to concessions, writes our guest blogger Ahmad Shuja(*).

In his op-ed (read it in full here), Saleh termed Karzai’s efforts to negotiate with the Taleban as a ‘constant, unconditional offer of alliance’ with the group, and explained how he thinks negotiations might be possible:

‘Many Afghans believe that to get to a negotiated settlement, the Taliban leaders involved in talks should be relocated to Afghanistan from their current locations in Pakistan, where they are protected by Pakistan’s intelligence service.’

In this new language, Saleh is indicating a shift from his previous position of adamantly opposing any kind of talks with the Taleban, even threatening to take to the streets against the government. The significance of this concession becomes apparent when we consider that Saleh has been one of the leaders of a movement against talks with the Taleban and is thought to have lost his job as NDS chief because of a disagreement on this subject with President Karzai.

Also new for him is a call for an internationally funded truth-finding commission to ‘investigate human-rights violations, massacres and major crimes of the past 20 years.’

This call is not unprecedented in Afghanistan because civil society organizations have previously made similar demands. But in setting the time horizon at the 20-year mark, he is apparently moving beyond the era of Taleban atrocities and into the civil war years, a time when every major faction in Afghanistan – including Saleh’s own – committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. After the Soviet troops withdrew, the variousmujahedin factions that had fought them were unable to reach a power-sharing agreement. Previously waging an anti-Soviet war across Afghanistan, the mujahedin were now fighting for control of the seat of power in the country, its capital Kabul. The intense, concentrated civil war saw massacres, incarcerations, torture, looting, relentless bombing and shelling of civilian homes, and other unspeakable atrocities by everyone involved (a related report here).

Some of the leaders under whose watch these events unfolded are long gone, but most are still alive and in positions of power. They rammed through parliament an amnesty bill in 2007, essentially excepting themselves from accountability by making successful prosecution extremely difficult.

But Saleh’s call for a truth commission will still not sit well with these individuals, most of whom were involved in the civil war but now speak of ideals like national unity and reconstruction. They would much rather have everyone not talk about the atrocities. However, a genuine truth-finding commission will uncover the ugly side of the history that they narrate in sanctified terms like jihad, defense of the country’s honor and dignity, restoring Afghanistan’s freedom, and yanking away the yoke of foreign servitude.

But Saleh realizes the implications of his demand, and has shrewdly eschewed making this call in Afghanistan, choosing, instead, to write about it on an American website.

Given that most of Afghanistan’s human rights violators during the civil war essentially enjoy legal immunity, the question of what to do with the Taleban has presented a moral conundrum for the US and its NATO allies as they prepare to withdraw. Karzai has proposed, and the US and its allies have awkwardly endorsed, a near-blanket amnesty. By calling for an Afghan-led truth commission to investigate the Taleban and those fought in the civil war, Saleh is trying to show the US a more palatable alternative. And by softening his stance toward negotiations with the Taleban, he is reaching out to the United States, which has recently become a stronger proponent of talks.

Truth commissions and potential negotiations with the Taleban are part of what Saleh calls his ‘alternative vision to Karzai’s way out of the status quo.’ Saleh is trying to tell the United States that it has pragmatic Afghan allies who have viable solutions to important issues and who, compared to Karzai, bring little to no drama to the friendship.

His attempts would perhaps be more successful if only the US had the time to look hard enough for alternatives as it scrambles to end an unpopular war so close to election time.
(*) Ahmad Shuja is an Afghan writer, blogger and analyst based in the United States. In addition to writing for the UN Dispatch and contributing to the Huffington Post, he maintains his own blog, Afghanistan Analysis.

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