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.