Kabul’s plan to offer ‘safe zones’ for Afghan Taliban is unlikely to succeed.
News agency AFP has reported Afghanistan is considering inviting the Afghan Taliban back to their homeland to prevent Pakistan from controlling their movement. Kandahar police chief Abdul Raziq is quoted as calling on Taliban chief Haibatullah Akhundzada to return with his warriors and live in “safe zones” to be provided by Kabul. He thinks their staying inside Pakistan enables Islamabad to operate its hegemonic policy of “strategic depth” in Afghanistan.
The assumption underlying this initiative is that the Afghan Taliban are operating from inside Pakistan and have to cross the Durand Line every time they stage attacks inside Afghanistan. Pakistan says it has destroyed all “safe havens” within its North Waziristan territory and the Afghan Taliban are no longer hiding in places such as Quetta—the infamous Quetta Shura. Islamabad, instead, accuses Kabul of not doing anything about the Pakistani Taliban killers hiding in Afghanistan and attacking Pakistan. The flawed “strategic depth” policy invented by Pakistan in the early 1990s has come to a bad end: it is now operating in reverse.
There is little chance of the Afghan Taliban agreeing “to come back home.” They want the ouster of American troops from Afghanistan and reversion to Islamic governance. They are already all over the country and targeted all 36 provinces last year while the Afghan National Army struggled to get its act together. More and more Afghans, scared of Taliban atrocities, are fleeing their homeland and can be found among the war refugees in Europe. Kabul may, however, be heartened by the example of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. The infamous warlord has sought truce with Kabul and may accept residence in safe zones along with his militia. Though an Afghan national, he was never a part of the Afghan Taliban and owed his powerful profile to Pakistani pampering, which has inevitably only hurt Pakistan.