Afghan officials call for Taliban ‘safe zone’

If you are unsure of just how bad the security situation is inside Afghanistan, this report from AFP should tell you everything you need to know. Afghan officials are calling for the establishment of a Taliban “safe zone” that presumably would allow the group to ween itself off of Pakistani influence and enter the much discussed and ever elusive peace process.

Normally this type of report could easily be dismissed out of hand as the musings of some ambitious or naive Afghan politician. But given that it originated from General Abdul Raziq, the chief of police for Kandahar who, as AFP put it, is “one of the staunchest anti-Taliban figures,” it must be taken seriously.

Raziq has been at the forefront of almost every major offensive against the Taliban in Kandahar, Helmand, and Uruzgan over the past decade. He has been the target of multiple assassination attempts, including several suicide attacks. If Raziq is describing the Taliban as his countrymen and “sons of this soil,” then it is clear he doesn’t believe he can hold the line in the south in the medium to long term. From the AFP report:

Afghan officials are pushing to create a “safe zone” for Taliban insurgents in a bid to wean them away from traditional sanctuaries inside Pakistan, in a radical and contentious strategy to de-escalate the conflict.

The plan underscores desperation in Afghanistan for out-of-the-box solutions to tackle the 15-year insurgency, as peace bids repeatedly fail and US-backed forces suffer record casualties in stalemated fighting.

If implemented, the strategy — aimed at undercutting Pakistan’s influence over the Taliban — could, for better or for worse, be a game changer in a strife-torn nation where ceding territory to insurgents is seen as tantamount to partition.

“I urge the Taliban to return to Afghanistan. We should make a safe zone for them and their families,” Kandahar police chief Abdul Raziq told a gathering of religious scholars and tribal elders last month.

“We can no longer rely on foreign governments and embassies to end the war. The Taliban belong to this country, they are sons of this soil.”

Some Afghan politicians are dismissive of this plan and rightly note that the Taliban already controls significant tracts of land in Afghanistan (for a rough estimate of what the Taliban control and contest in Afghanistan, see this map created by FDD’s Long War Journal):

“The government shouldn’t be giving safe zones to terrorists,” warned former Helmand governor Sher Mohammed Akhundzada, while some observers dismissed the strategy as “illogical” as the Taliban already control vast swathes of Afghan territory.

All of this rests on the mistaken belief that the Taliban is interested in negotiating a peace agreement and joining the Afghan political process. The Taliban has deftly used the process of establishing peace talks to extract concessions, such as freeing the Taliban Five who were held at Guantanamo Bay. The Taliban has consistently said its goal is the reestablishment of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and the full withdrawal of foreign troops. Given that the Taliban control more territory today than at any time since the US invasion in the fall of 2001, and the Afghan government and military are clearly losing ground, it is fanciful to believe that the Taliban will make concessions now.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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4 Comments

  • Warren says:

    This idea is startling, to use a minimalist term. This proposal is not, strictly speaking, opening negotiations yet, the question “How does one negotiate with someone whose sole interest is in killing, not making peace”, comes to mind.

  • Arjuna says:

    Truer words were never written:
    “All of this rests on the mistaken belief that the Taliban is interested in negotiating a peace agreement and joining the Afghan political process.”
    As evidence of this mistake, Obama loves to talk to terrorists (TB, MB, Saudis) when he’s not arming and training them. Ten more days.
    We are losing the war against Radical Islam because we won’t accept that THESE PEOPLE ARE MONSTERS and don’t deserve the ear of any American diplomat, even if John Kerry is keen to surrender to them and air-drop James Taylor for one last kumbaya concert.
    Al Qaeda’s boss swore loyalty to these Neanderthals. If anything, the Afghans should be even MORE adamant about eliminating the Taliban after attacks like the ones taking place in 2017, not less.
    Let’s just call it another trillion dollar mistake and go back to practicing for the wars we’ll never fight against enemies we couldn’t defeat if we tried. Not. We’re still in it, so let’s win it! Go to Pakistan and kill Mullah Unpronouncable in a nice, bloody ground op. Grrrr.

  • Mudassar Baig says:

    On one side is the impatient Afghan army whose soldiers fight for their salaries to run their homes while on the other hand are Taliban fighters who are willing to sacrifice everything to win the war and have proved to be a very patient lot. The result of the conflict is quite obvious, the question is only when it will happen.

  • Old Blue says:

    Don’t forget the insurgent precept that negotiations have specific purposes. None of those purposes are to settle, especially if the insurgent feels that things are going well for him. Delay, confuse and/or paralyze are stated purposes. If the Taliban were to join negotiations, one could safely assume that they would seeking an advantage, not seeking to end fighting or arrive at a political settlement.

    Insurgents can only be expected to negotiate in good faith if they are in severe distress; in danger of total loss. However, since WWII, approximately one third of insurgencies have ended through a “hybrid” solution involving government reforms in order to resolve grievances and end conflict. This is often achieved by the insurgents’ external benefactors… in this case, Pakistan… pressuring the insurgents to settle the conflict. At this point, it is unlikely that Pakistan will choose such a path. They are under very little pressure to do so. In fact, Pakistan feels that it is winning.

    Raziq would like nothing better than to separate the Taliban from their safe havens. His language about “sons of Afghan soil” is designed to delineate between Afghan and Pakistani soil… and influence. It’s really for domestic consumption. ISIS’ growth in Afghanistan is largely fueled by Taliban who resent Pakistani influence over… read leadership of… the insurgency.

    Since we have turned away from Pakistan, Pakistan has turned to Russia. Russia is interested in stopping ISIS, not the Taliban. In fact, Russia appears to favor using the Taliban to counter ISIS, which means supporting the Taliban. The likelihood of the Taliban wishing to negotiate or sever ties with a Russia-supported Pakistan.

    The Taliban will not negotiate at this point. If they were to, it should be viewed for what it would be; a tactic. Raziq will not get his safe zones. The Taliban have a safe zone, and it’s called Pakistan. That’s what really bothers Raziq.

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