As Afghanistan grapples with violence and instability, is Amrullah Saleh the man Afghanistan needs?
As Afghanistan stares into the abyss with no end in sight of the violence unleashed by the Taliban and other encroaching non-state actors such as Al Qaeda and ISIS-Khorasan (Daesh) one wonders what it will take for the Afghans to take hold of their destiny.
Tragically for Afghanistan and its long-suffering people, they have been dominated by regional powers, namely Pakistan and Iran, for the best part of four decades.
Into the fray comes the re-emergence of Russian interests, the newfound influence of China and the Central Asian states all guarding their flanks due to a rapidly spreading instability in the north of Afghanistan.
Ashraf Ghani, always seen as an outsider who was too Western to understand the local ground-truths, is now a lame duck president with little influence outside his presidential palace.
The Afghan National Army (ANA), the National Directorate of Security (NDS) are out of Ghani’s control. Apart from Ghani, there are the same old faces of Abdul Rashid Dostum, Abdul Rasul-Sayyaf, Dr Abdullah Abdullah and Ahmad Zia Massoud, one man that has the unique ability to garner support from the Afghan youth and security services and the disparate international powers is the security tsar, Amrullah Saleh.
The former NDS strongman has the full support of the United States, Russia, India and Iran – that is quite a feat given their competing interests and aims for the future of Afghanistan.
So can Amrullah Saleh be the force behind Afghan stability?
He has no intention to run for Afghan President in next year’s election – but he could be the man who puts all the king's horses back in one piece. For this to happen, the regional and international actors first must decide what they want in Afghanistan.
Desperate times and confusion
Earlier this year the United Nations confirmed that violence in Afghanistan is at a record high since the American-led invasion in 2001. With an initial drawdown of troops announced by President Obama in 2014, the clock was clicking for the Taliban to take on the less-protected forces of the Afghan government.
As the Taliban grew in its strength post-2016, the dwindling US and NATO forces could do little more than to watch town after town surrender, only for it to be retaken with the superior firepower of American special forces under air cover.
Ashraf Ghani, a suave and urbane Western-educated technocrat has always been seen as too much of an outsider to succeed in Afghanistan.
The question was how can a World Bank executive used to New York and DC boardrooms deal with the warlords, mullahs and drug barons that hold sway in the mountains and deserts of Afghanistan.
Indeed there have been whispers in the intelligence community that Ghani has had virtually no control over the powerful NDS.
To add further confusion, why would a Western-minded Ghani work with an alleged war criminal in Abdul Rashid Dostum?
So as Dostum became vice president, it immediately alienated a lot of other power-rivals in the north. At the same time, the charismatic former President Hamid Karzai, who had the credentials of a strong Pashtun from the Popalzai tribe of the founder of Afghanistan, Ahmad Shah Durrani has constantly been mocking Ghani for his lack of Afghan prowess.
Karazi’s wild theories of American backed-ISIS and backroom deals have gained popularity in Afghanistan. Another insult in Ghani’s face came when Ahmad Zia Massoud pulled out his support thereby leaving Ghani’s Tajik flank exposed. When Ghani sacked the Governor of Balkh, Atta Mohammed Nur, he refused to step down thereby directly proving that Ghani was not taken seriously.
Amidst all the rejections and defections over the last two years came the ever-increasing violence in the once peaceful and prosperous northern Afghanistan. The final straw seems to be the killing of the popular and powerful broker of Kandahar, Abdul Raziq.
What makes Saleh special?
One thing is for sure – the international community has no answers for Afghanistan.
So while the Americans work with the same people who have been killing thousands of Afghans, international forces are alienating those moderate voices they wee purportedly meant to assist in bringing a free and democratic Afghanistan.
Steve Coll’s bestselling and authoritative account, Directorate S, goes into details about how the intelligence wars between Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran settled the score as to who controls Afghanistan.
It is here where Saleh stands out.
One of the youngest intelligence chiefs in history, Saleh was forthright and predicted accurately, the point to point locations of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan.
Not only did Saleh get Abbottabad right four years before the OBL raid in 2011, but also about his movements in Haripur and the Tribal Areas. Saleh again got the specific support of Pakistan to the Taliban leaders at a tactical level spot on, as confirmed by the BBC.
The US Special Forces are regular visitors to Saleh, and he is a favourite of the diplomatic community-based in Kabul.
Saleh is also practical enough to work with the Russians despite his close contacts with the Pentagon. Despite his friendship with the West, he is open in saying the West does not value the blood of Afghans. Saleh was also hugely popular with the youth and his Green Movement in 2011 captured local and international headlines.
All these qualities make him stand out. He can be a friend of the West, but unlike other Afghan leaders does not take their orders from them and openly criticises them to their face rather than behind their back. His extreme criticism of Pakistan, strike a chord with the majority of Afghans, and he can balance the Russians, Iranians and Americans.
What's more is he exposes the hypocrisy of the West.
His message is clear; you cannot kill Afghans and then make friends with the killers.
It is this uncompromising clarity which is both controversial but also making him the man that could be a necessity for Afghanistan. Afghanistan regardless of what politicians say remains a military and intelligence conflict.
To end it, Saleh has the credentials of Afghanistan’s finest security chief since Ahmad Shah Massoud. The fact that Saleh does not openly want to be a political leader could bring him back to being the man that fights the Afghan way.
Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.
We welcome all pitches and submissions to TRT World Opinion – please send them via email, to firstname.lastname@example.org