KABUL (Reuters) - The former head of Afghanistan’s intelligence service quit after seeing himself as an obstacle to President Hamid Karzai’s plan to reach out to insurgents for talks, he said on Monday, a day after his resignation. Amrullah Saleh — for six years a key figure in the anti-Taliban fight as head of the National Directorate for Security — said Karzai had already lost faith in his security forces before an attack on a peace conference last week.
Saleh resigned on Monday along with Hanif Atmar, who controlled the police as interior minister. Karzai’s office said the two top security officials had quit because of lapses that led to an insurgent attack on last week’s peace meeting.
In an interview at his home in the Afghan capital, Saleh described plans to negotiate with insurgents as a “disgrace,” and said one of the main reasons he had quit was because Karzai had ordered a review of Taliban prisoners in detention.
He denied being forced out, saying he had contemplated quitting for a “very long time.” Last week’s attack on the peace “jirga” or tribal council meeting, was just the last straw.
“A number of reasons had accumulated and it needed a tipping point and the jirga was the tipping point,” he said. He also spoke out strongly about what he called Pakistani involvement in attacks in Afghanistan, describing Pakistani intelligence as “part of the landscape of destruction.”
Insurgents fired at least four rockets at a giant tent holding the traditional jirga of 1,600 Afghan notables and elders last Wednesday, and then launched a commando raid involving three insurgents wearing suicide vests.
While there were no casualties apart from the attackers — two were shot dead and one captured — the incident was embarrassing for Karzai, who had called the jirga to discuss his proposals to make peace overtures to the Taliban.
Karzai summoned Saleh and Atmar to his palace in Kabul on Sunday to explain how the attack was able to take place despite a massive security blanket thrown over the capital. His office said both men had resigned on the spot when the president had not been satisfied with their accounts.
Saleh said that during the palace meeting Karzai tried to get him to pin blame for the lapse onto Atmar and the police.
“Our intent was to make the jirga peaceful. There was a breach and I don’t want to blame my police comrades for the breach,” he said. “So when there was an effort to have me put the blame on the police, I said no.”
“The president of Afghanistan has lost trust in the capability of Afghan national security forces. He thinks these forces are not able to protect him or the country,” he added.
Saleh is well liked by the West and was seen as a close ally of Karzai. Nevertheless, as an ethnic Tajik and prominent member of the guerrilla movement which fought the Taliban during the 1990s, he was seen as an obstruction to Karzai’s plans to negotiate with the mainly ethnic-Pashtun insurgents.
At last week’s peace jirga, elders and religious leaders agreed to support Karzai’s plan to reach out to the insurgents to try to bring an end to nearly nine years of fighting.
In his first act since then, Karzai ordered a review of all insurgent prisoners in Afghan jails, a move Saleh said was a main reason for him quitting. Asked if he agreed that he had become an obstacle to Karzai’s plan, Saleh said: “Absolutely.”
“Negotiating with ... suicide bombers will disgrace this country,” he added. He denied he was forced to resign, however.
“No. My conscious force made me to resign. When the moment came and I saw that there is a stain in that relationship (between him and Karzai), the morality of my profession pushed me to resign,” he said.
During his tenure as intelligence chief, Saleh was known to accuse Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency of attacks on Afghan soil, a claim he made explicit in Monday’s interview.
“It is no longer an issue whether ISI or not ISI. ISI is part of the landscape of destruction in this country, no doubt, so it will be a waste of time to provide evidence of ISI involvement. They are a part of it,” he said.
Saleh said the Punjab-based Lashkar-e Taiba militant group responsible for the attacks in Mumbai, had also been behind several attacks on Indian targets in Kabul.
“Absolutely. We had the evidence. I’m no longer the chief, we had concrete evidence. And those who know Lashkar-e Taiba know it’s a child of ISI,” he said.
For its part, Pakistan has complained of links between the NDS under Saleh and its arch-foe India, which India denies.
(Writing by Jonathon Burch; Editing by David Fox and Peter Graff)
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