WASHINGTON — Peace talks with the Taliban will lead to disaster unless the insurgent group is disarmed first, Afghanistan's former intelligence chief said Thursday.
Amrullah Saleh, who headed Afghanistan's spy agency from 2004 until earlier this year, said the key to peace with the Taliban is cutting off their support from Pakistan and disarming and dismantling the group before allowing them to operate as a normal political party.
"Demobilize them, disarm them, take their headquarters out of the Pakistani intelligence's basements," Saleh said. "Force the Taliban to play according to the script of democracy," he added, predicting the party would ultimately fail, "in a country where law rules, not the gun... not the law of intimidation."
Saleh said the United States should give Pakistan a deadline of July 2011 to pursue top insurgents inside their borders or threaten to send in U.S. troops to do the job.
Saleh, who headed the Afghan National Directorate of Security until he resigned last June from Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government, warned an audience at the National Press Club that failure to cut off Pakistani support would allow the Taliban to only pretend to make peace, then sweep back to power after NATO troops leave.
The former spy chief's comments display the dissension at the highest levels of Afghan political society over whether to engage the Taliban in talks, or keep fighting them. His criticism of Pakistan also highlights the widespread suspicion among Afghanistan's elites that the neighboring power continues to allow militants to flourish inside Afghanistan.
U.S. officials have said that such a deal is key to drawing down U.S. and NATO troops, starting in July 2011, with eventual handover to Afghan forces in 2014.
Saleh said this year's surge of U.S. troops had accomplished a "temporary effect" of securing some territory, but failed to change the "fundamentals."