Twenty years and ten failed assassination attempts, this is what Amrullah Saleh, an Afghan politician and current first vice president in Ashraf Ghani government, endured in his fight against the Taliban. He survived one such attempt today, in the form of a car bomb blast in Kabul.
Amrullah Saleh – the man whom the Taliban wants anything but alive – emerged as the one of the most influential and fiercest voices against the Taliban. Afghanistan, a place where the influence, support and loyalty are garnered by ethnic and tribal connections, Saleh makes an exception to the criteria.
At a young age of 32, At a young age of 32, in 2004, Saleh went on to serve as the head of National Directorate of Security (NDS), Afganistan’s intelligence agency. As a spy chief, he reorganised the agency and transformed it. He, later, resigned from the post over his strong differences with then President Hamid Karzai. He also served as Interior Minister in the past.
Born in an ethnic Tajik family in the northern province of Panjshir in Afghanistan, Saleh was the intelligence aide of late legendary anti-Taliban commander, Ahmad Shah Massoud. It is not just a coincidence that the latest assassination attempt on Saleh’s life comes on the very same day, when Ahmad Shah Massoud was assassinated by Al Qaeda’s suicide bomber 19 years back, in 2001. In the late 90s, Massoud remained the only obstacle in the Taliban’s quest of complete takeover of Afghanistan whom the Taliban ultimately eliminated with the help of Osama Bin Laden.
After the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre in New York, Saleh played a crucial role in forging the alliance between the different militia forces against the Taliban in Afghanistan, with the help of the CIA.
Saleh, a spy chief, in 2005, warned the then President Hamid Karzai, about the impending rise of full fledged Taliban’s insurgency by 2010, in a classified report. He was among the few, who have foreseen the Taliban’s turnaround as a powerful insurgent group. Ignoring his warning, Karzai fumed and scolded him over his findings and asked him never to call it an insurgency against his government. The coming days were to prove him prophetic.
It’s not just the Taliban who hates Saleh so much, he has become a thorn in Pakistani ISI’s eyes too. Since early days of the Taliban’s insurgency, Saleh had confronted the ISI for its role in sheltering, and aiding the top Taliban functionaries, and their attacks inside Afghanistan.
Once, Saleh confronted the then ISI chief, Gen Kayani with proofs about the involvement of ISI’s men with Taliban, to which the visibly frustrated Kayani retorted, “I don’t need to be taught intelligence by someone the age of my son.”
Saleh, an outspoken, regular speaker, both inside and outside Afghanistan, enjoys the popular support of youth in Afghanistan, and is considered as an icon against the Taliban, with an impregnable clean image. Over the last twenty years, many top and prominent Afghan leaders moderated their views on reconciling with the Taliban, but Saleh did not. He even hardened his position against the Taliban.
“As the vice president, I don’t want to get in the way of peace but as Amrullah Saleh, the individual, and with the past and the ideology I have, I am irreconcilable with the Taliban. It is not possible for us to make peace, to work together,” Saleh said in his latest interview to the Tolo news. After Massoud’s assassination in 2001, and thereafter the World Trade centre attack, no wonder why Amrullah Saleh became the top enemy of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Last year, in July, Saleh survived an attack when a car bomb exploded just outside his office, which was followed by suicide attacks.
As Afghanistan stares at an uncertain future, given the withdrawal of foreign troops and impending intra- Afghan talks, the Taliban would try every means to eliminate their number one enemy; but after ten attempts, Taliban has to face Amrullah Saleh standing there, still alive.
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