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Who is Amrullah Saleh, the Self-Declared 'Caretaker President' of Afghanistan?

"I will never, ever and under no circumstances bow to the Talib terrorists," long-time Taliban opponent Saleh said.

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<div class="paragraphs"><p>Who is Amrullah Saleh, the 'caretaker President' of Afghanistan? Here's all you need to know.</p></div>
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"I will never, ever, and under no circumstances bow to the Talib terrorists (sic)," Afghanistan's First Vice-President (FVP) Amrullah Saleh had said on 15 August, the day militant organisation Taliban captured control of country, after former President Ashraf Ghani fled the presidential palace in Kabul.

Two days later, on Tuesday, 17 August, Saleh declared himself as the 'caretaker president' of Afghanistan, citing the provisions of the Constitution.

"Clarity: As per d constitution of Afg, in absence, escape, resignation or death of the President the FVP becomes the caretaker President. I am currently inside my country & am the legitimate care taker President. Am reaching out to all leaders to secure their support & consensus (sic)," he announced on Twitter.

While Saleh had earlier been rumoured to have fled the country along with Ghani, he is now speculated to be taking shelter in the northeastern province of Panjshir, the only region of the country that remains free from Taliban domination so far.

Who is Amrullah Saleh, the 'caretaker president' of Afghanistan? Here's all you need to know.

'Taliban's Fiercest Opponent': Amrullah Saleh's Political Career

Saleh's Political Beginnings

Afghan First Vice-President Amrullah Saleh was born on 1972 in Panjshir. At the age of 20, Saleh enrolled in the mujahideen forces, a group Islamist insurgents who had emerged in opposition to the Soviet regime prevailing in Afghanistan at that time.

He received his military training in Pakistan and served under the mujahideen commander and prominent anti-Taliban resistance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud.

In the late 1990s – the years of the Taliban expansion in Afghanistan, Saleh joined the United Front, more popularly known as the Northern Alliance, which was organised in order to combat the Taliban's rising influence. He served as a member of the collective along with the likes of the former Defense Minister Ahmad Shah Massoud, and High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah.

In 1997, Saleh was appointed by Massoud as the head of the United Front's international liaison office at the Embassy of Afghanistan in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, where he worked with humanitarian groups and foreign intelligence agencies.

He went to the Cleary University in Michigan, USA, in 1999, to train in operations and tradecraft.

As Intelligence Chief Under Karzai Government

In 2004, after the President Hamid Karzai-led interim government had come to power, Saleh was appointed as the head of the National Directorate of Security (NDS), the intelligence agency of the Afghan National Security Forces.

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Notably, Saleh, who is widely considered as an Indian lobbyist, had worked alongside the Indian intelligence against Pakistan's efforts and launched several operations against the latter during his tenure.

He remained the chief of the intelligence service till 2010, when he resigned after a falling out with President Karzai over diverging perspectives on security strategies against the Taliban.

After his resignation, Saleh launched the Basej-e-Milli (also known as National Movement or Afghanistan Green trend), an anti-Taliban political party in Afghanistan, which advocated democracy and reform.

His Role in Ghani's Administration

Under the President Ashraf Ghani-led government, Saleh briefly served as the state minister for security reform in 2017, and then as the interior minister for a mere period of 27 days in 2018.

He had resigned from the post in 2018 to run for vice-presidency alongside Ghani in the 2021 elections.

When Ashraf Ghani was re-elected as president in 2019, Saleh was appointed as the first vice-president.

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Assassination Attempts

On 29 July 2019, the first day of Saleh's campaign as the vice president, a sqaud of suicide bombers had stormed his office. At least 20 people, including two nephews of Saleh's, were killed in the attack suspected to have been conducted by the Taliban.

In September 2020, at least 10 persons were killed in a roadside bombing targeting the vice-president.

'Why Negotiate?': Saleh's Argument Against a Ceasefire with the Taliban

A staunch critic of the Taliban, Saleh strongly argued against the striking of any sort of deal with the militant organisation, asserting that any such bargain would compromise the pluralist values of Afghanistan.

"My view is there must not be a deal with the Taliban. Ever. There must be a process. And according to that process, based on that process, the Taliban should become part of the society and play according to the script of democracy... if there is a deal, we will resist against the deal, "we" meaning all the forces who fought the Taliban... We all want to make peace, but we do not want to Talibanize Afghanistan."
Amrullah Saleh in an OpEd for PBS in 2010
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"Talks and a potential ceasefire may provide the US and its NATO allies their justification for a speedy withdrawal, but it won't change the fundamentals of the problem in Afghanistan. Striking a deal with the Taliban without disarming them will shatter the hope of a strong, viable, pluralistic Afghan state."
Amrullah Saleh in an OpEd for The Wall Street Journal in 2012

In a personal piece for The Time Magazine in 2020, Saleh had further elaborated on his resistance from a negotiation with the Taliban. In 1996, when the Taliban had first seized control of Afghanistan, the insurgents had tortured Saleh's sister as they attempted to hunt him down from hiding location.

"Resisting their brutal rule is a noble fight," he had written in the piece.

'Will Never Bow Down to Taliban': Saleh in the Present

On 15 August, when Afghanistan witnessed the fall of Kabul to Taliban, Saleh, in a tweet, stated, "I will never, ever and under no circumstances bow to the Talib terrorists. I will never betray the soul and legacy of my hero Ahmad Shah Massoud, the commander, the legend and the guide. I won't dis-appoint millions who listened to me. I will never be under one ceiling with Taliban. NEVER. (sic)"

"In my soil. With the people. For a cause and purpose. With solid belief in righteousness. Opposing Pak backed oppression and brutal dictatorship is our legitimacy (sic)," Saleh had tweeted earlier.

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Asserting his faith in the fight against oppression, Saleh stated that there was no hope of aid from the US that has left the Afghans to fend for themselves. "We the Afghans must prove that Afghanistan isn't Vietnam and the Talibs aren't even remotely like Vietcong. Unlike US/NATO, we haven't lost spirit (sic)," he said in a tweet.

Declaring himself as the 'legitimate caretaker president', Saleh announced that he was in the process of garnering support of other Afghan leaders. Ahmad Massoud, namesake and son of Taliban fighter Massoud, is speculated to be working with Saleh in the efforts against the Taliban.

(With inputs from the Afghan Embassy website)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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