The Pakistani army is responsible for all the extremism, hatred, religious violence, and sectarian clashes in the neighbouring region, said Afghanistan’s Acting President-in-Exile Amrullah Saleh in an exclusive conversation with CNN-News18. Pakistan has relatively lost its relevance and importance when it comes to the issue of Afghanistan and is perpetrating the Afghan refugee crisis to gain some concessions from its “puppet” Taliban regime over the Durand Line, he added. Edited excerpts:
How do you see this refugee crisis?
I have to explain the background. Pakistan opened its borders for Afghan refugees when it had a benefit in this. The benefit was securing a geopolitical alliance with the West and the Arab world in order to fight the Soviet-backed government of Afghanistan in the 1980s. In those days, an Afghan could go to Pakistan without any documents. Of course, they were causing some problems, but Pakistan kept silent because these refugees were a source of income. They were also giving Pakistan geopolitical relevance. So Pakistan never talked about the refugee issue. They did not set up any mechanism for registration. So the Afghans settled there in various ways. Then came the 90s. In the 90s also, Pakistan used these refugee camps as recruitment centres to destabilise Kabul, to use the refugees for insurgency purposes elsewhere.
So the refugees were never an economic burden, they were never a security trouble for Pakistan. Instead, they were an asset. But let’s also not forget, what is the definition of refugees. Many hundreds of thousands of Afghans have kinship relations in Pakistan. They are not necessarily refugees.
Now as to why Pakistan has chosen this particular time for forceful eviction, let me give you some of the facts that we have learnt. Fact number 1 is, Pakistan always wanted a strategic depth in Afghanistan. And the definition of this strategic depth was empowerment and establishment of a pro-Pakistan group in Kabul with deep ties, ideological, economic, familial, societal ties with Pakistan…Trained in Pakistan, raised in Pakistan, speak in the language of Pakistan. That they have achieved. So they have a puppet group in the name of Taliban in control of Afghanistan. And the question is if this is the strategic depth that they have created, what is bothering them, and why have they chosen this particular time to expel the Afghans from Pakistan? I think, number 1, Pakistan, when it comes to the issue of Afghanistan, has relatively lost its relevance and importance because the engagement of the Western countries, which historically was always through Pakistan with Afghanistan, since the collapse of the republic, the West has shifted its diplomatic hub to Qatar and they have bypassed Pakistan. And that is bothering Pakistan, because Afghanistan was always one issue that was giving it relevance. So here we also see a child-cry strategy that the Pakistani establishment has adopted. They do things to attract attention.
Number 2, they are exploiting the unfolding situation in the Israel-Gaza conflict. Using it as a smokescreen to hide the massive human pain, the massive tragedy they are creating by forceful expulsion of the most vulnerable, the most insecure part of the Afghan refugees from Pakistan. Remember, they are not expelling their Taliban puppets or their families from Pakistan who lack any type of document. They are expelling the most vulnerable, the most exposed, the most insecure part of the population. And they are using the preoccupation of the main media, of the UN, of the human rights organisations with the Middle East crisis to do it below radar and low profile. It is a very big tragedy unfolding.
As to what they want politically out of it, because their puppets are in power in Kabul, this way they are trying to shift some of the militant training camps under the pretext of the expulsion of refugees into Afghanistan. I have no doubt that the Pakistan intelligence establishment has thought of 3-4 other steps…if there’s something happening, then they say it is not us, it has happened from Afghanistan, we are pushing the refugees out. So we have to be vigilant about that angle of this matter also. In the meantime, for us, the political face of it they are using a puppet Prime Minister, who is not elected, and he is a Pashtun. So they are minimising the racial aspect of it by saying, it was not done by a Punjabi, it was not done by a Sindhi, it was done by a Pashtun prime minister, from the same clan, same blood, same ethnic background. So they have calculated this also. But we all know that Kakar is a puppet of the GHQ, he is not elected, and his remarks against his own identity in the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) were so disgraceful.
In the meantime, there are reports that because the Durand Line in recent years had become very blurred, and it had lost relevance, although the caretaker prime minister of Pakistan made several references to the Gandamak treaty, that had also lost relevance psychologically, this year in Pakistan, particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, there was no flag of Pakistan hoisted by communities during their independence celebrations. So Pakistan is very fearful, and they see this situation as conducive and suitable to apply maximum pressure on their puppets in Kabul to gain some concessions on the Durand Line issue. They are trying everything, including causing massive human pain, causing a massive humanitarian crisis, then using that pain to gain concessions. This is a very old tactic.
But all they are doing shows a losing Pakistan, a Pakistan which for over four decades prided itself for hosting millions of Afghan refugees, for having the best of relationships with Afghanistan, for having the largest trade relationship with Afghanistan, for having the best of people-to-people relationship with Afghanistan, what you and I see happening along the border today also shows the utter failure of the five-decade-old Pakistani policy. It is ending with disaster, it is ending with hatred, it is ending with a sense of revenge, and it is ending with exposure of the Pakistani establishment as an evil administration exploiting human pain for their greed, and for their benefit.
So Pakistan at the end of the day will not gain much from this expulsion. But expelling people in the month of November, which is very cold in Afghanistan, and these people are particularly from mountainous areas, most of them, this will not go well, and it is not going well in the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. And it is very unfortunate that at this point of pain…not only Afghanistan lives in complete isolation and it’s not recognised as a state, there is an illegitimate proxy group of Pakistan sitting in Kabul, and it is shamefully silent.
According to media reports and what we see on social media, Pakistan is throwing out Afghans who have been there for ages and even their properties and money are not returned back. Your take?
We see two things. We see the official statements from the Pakistani authorities who are claiming that this campaign is targeting undocumented/unregistered ‘aliens’. But the reality is we are also seeing confiscation of Afghan properties, Afghan businesses, harassment of the Afghans, knocking on their doors, bursting into their homes, not respecting the sanctity of the families, putting women, children, and the elderly regardless of their health situation on the back of lorries, driving them to open fields named registration centres and throwing them out of Pakistan in the worst way one could imagine. I did a little research to find some historical cases similar to this. I could not find it. I could not find a similar example in history, except for Auschwitz, and the Holocaust; how Hitler treated Jews, this is how Pakistan is treating the poorest segment of the Afghan refugees in Pakistan.
There is a very specific intelligence input that Pakistan ISI wants to deal with the Taliban and these refugees and wants control over the Durand Line to run terror camps again.
We have to look at it not based on one single input. Until the installation of the Taliban in Kabul, it always suited the Pakistanis to let this line be porous because they were using the refugees as a recruitment pool to train them in militancy, train them in madrassas, use them against Afghanistan, use them against US and NATO troops when they were there. So despite international calls from 2001-21 for Pakistan to control this flow of people, they would cite reasons like these are porous borders, people on both sides are the same people, we don’t know who is Taliban and who is not Taliban, all Afghans wear turbans, we cannot distinguish…those very nonsensical and simplistic articulations were given for Western consumption.
But in reality, they had given space and protection for the Quetta Shura, which served as the politburo and high-command centre of the Taliban for 20 years. They harboured Haqqani for 20 years and allowed him and his family to run some of the biggest businesses in Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Peshawar, and Karachi, but they used to say we cannot find him. Of course, we know they were being protected. And even today as they are talking about the expulsion of the Afghan refugees, they are not catching those who are linked to the Taliban leadership, whether they have documents or not, whether in the past they were part of the IED industry, the Improvised Explosive Devices industry that Pakistan sponsored.
They are targeting the most vulnerable, the most insecure part of the refugees in order to gain concessions, from the international community and from their puppets in Kabul, and sort of tell the Afghan people that this was painful, this was tragic, but it had to be negotiated. But remember that the Taliban have no political, legitimate standing to negotiate with the Pakistanis on any issue, regarding the status of the line or the border, etc. They are a group lacking domestic legitimacy and international recognition. They are a group which has no constitution, no rule of law. They are just there through a conspiracy. They cannot represent Afghanistan and that’s why they are disgracefully silent on this matter as well. So your input that the ISI wants to sort out the Western border to concentrate on the eastern border, that makes a lot of sense. In my previous interview with you, I said let’s always be vigilant about the X-factor, the black swan.
The Taliban government is not in a position to take care of the refugees it is going to receive after this. Their economic condition is already bad and will worsen after this crisis. How should the world look at this?
First of all, with all due respect, I hope you do not call them the Taliban government, they are not a government. Government has a definition and the Taliban do not merit that definition. They are in control of Afghanistan. That control is through a conspiracy, which is now faltering. As to whether they have the capability, resources to cope with this situation, of course not, because the Taliban so far has been caring only about the Taliban. I read a 10-20-page decree by Mullah Haibatullah, it’s the mandate and terms of reference for the clearance commission, or what we call the Purge Commission. They say the following four categories should be in the system: 1) those who fought prior to the collapse of the republic; 2) relatives of those who were killed fighting for the Taliban; 3) infiltrators who were in the republic but they were registered with us; 4) those groups who have registered with us and they were operating under disguise for various purposes in the republic territory. Except for these four categories, everybody else should be looked at as suspects. This is a document signed by Haibatullah. They are looking at the people of Afghanistan as suspects, except the Taliban and their families. 40 million Afghans are suspects for the Taliban. How can we expect this group to show care, sympathy for the returning refugees? And Pakistan is exploiting this messy situation in order to gain concession. Concession from who? They can gain concession from the West, calling on the UN to help them, etc, regain some relevance, regain some attention. But if they were doing this, to then push the Taliban to do something favourable for Pakistan, remember, Taliban or not, a government they are not representative of the Afghan people, they are a proxy of the GHQ, and that’s why they are shamefully quiet.
There are reports that the Taliban will not be able to speak out much because most of the leaders have their extended families in Pakistan and they go there every week. Their proximity to Pakistan for their own interest will stop them from making any hard decisions.
We have to distinguish between the publicity rhetoric that sometimes these Taliban social media influencers do, and the deeds, the policies, and actions. In private, the Taliban are puppets of the Pakistan government as they were prior to the collapse of the republic. In public, they know that if they talk like a puppet, it will be adding more salt to the wounds of the people, so sometimes they make these hollow and empty media statements. The foreign minister of Taliban, Muttaqi’s family has a very, very large business extending from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to Karachi. Mullah Yaqub’s family lives there. The Haqqanis don’t know the language of Afghanistan. When Siraj Haqqani travels to the provinces of Afghanistan, he uses a translator. This is the first time in our history that the so-called interior minister uses a translator to communicate with the very people of Afghanistan. We are told the entire cabinet of the Taliban is very well-versed in Urdu and their children are still pursuing education in various institutions of Pakistan.
In my previous interview, I told you, that the Taliban dependence on Pakistan is the dependence of their veins, dependence of their hearts, dependence of their minds. And the connectivity between the Taliban and Pakistan is so deep that tomorrow even if Pakistan takes an axe and tries to cut this relationship, it won’t happen, because the political Mecca of the Taliban is the madrassa infrastructure and madrassa network in Karachi, and in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and also in Punjab, and they cannot cut it. So expecting the Taliban to handle this crisis is not realistic. They don’t have the capacity, they don’t have the management hierarchy. Yes, they are doing these populist things, like cooking some food in the registration centres, and then making some video clips, etc. Yes, you can feed 10,000 people with hot soup, but what about the 1 million people who are returning this winter. Of course, they won’t be able to do this. And they are unable to call out Pakistan publicly, and they are unable to mobilise the Afghan people against this action, because they are illegitimate themselves.
There have been 24 suicide bomb attacks since January this year and 14 of them were carried out by Afghan nationals. This is the figure given by a Pakistan minister after the announcement. Do you really believe that Afghans are involved in terror activities in Pakistan?
I call on this minister to go and scroll down the Twitter (X) account of Khawaja Asif, the defence minister of Pakistan, who famously said Taliban suicide bombers are freedom fighters. And also remember when Imran Khan celebrated the victory of the Taliban. And remember all the religious establishments in Pakistan, how they were celebrating the massacre of the Afghan people in the name of jihad for so long. Remember how generous Pakistan was in financing the radicalisation of the Afghan youth and using them against Afghanistan? So their hope was that this weaponised madrassa system raised with the direct assistance of the Pakistan army as a foreign policy tool would only remain a foreign policy tool.
I am not giving ethnic or national identity to suicide bombers. They are GHQ boys, whether they were born Afghan or Pakistani. They were produced in factories that GHQ created for suicide bombers. So they have to confess and come out and expose their own involvement in guilt and involvement in this sin. This way it will be helpful. But if they portray Afghans as a liability and unruly people, and on the other hand Pakistanis as very wise, very patient, and very generous, I will not buy this argument. A suicide bomber is a child of GHQ. That is what I see. I don’t look at his identity. Whether he is from Karachi or from Logar province of Afghanistan. They introduced this culture in my country. They are the masters of this culture. They are the masters of the IED industry in the region. That will be my response to them. And as I have been saying over many, many years, we have piles and piles of evidence to fly in their face, that whatever is happening in the region as far as extremism, hatred, religious violence, sectarian clashes is concerned, it all goes back to the strategy of the Pakistan army to use religion, to use sectarianism as a weapon.
What is your message to UN and other big developed countries on this humanitarian crisis?
My message to the world community is that this is not the end of the catastrophe. As long as there is an illegitimate group in power, with no constitution, no rule of law, no regulations, no mandate, the human catastrophe in Afghanistan will grow and grow and grow. So my first appeal will be that the world community, the West in particular, the United Nations, have to respond to their legal and moral obligation and assist Afghanistan to have a representative, legitimate state system. I also call on the UN, Western nations and countries with political weight and resources to ask Pakistan to stop the expulsion of the most vulnerable Afghans in this winter. If they are using the pretext of terrorism, they should say who the remnants of the Quetta Shura are in Pakistan, why are they not expelling them and exposing them to the Afghan people.
And lastly, treating the plight of the Afghan people as a forgotten plight is first of all not humane, and secondly history has shown that it backfires. I don’t know how it will backfire, but it will backfire in one way or another. And therefore we all have an interest in mitigating this human catastrophe.