“Safe zones” to Taliban, concerns and solutions

Wednesday, 11 January 2017 03:32 Written by  Heart of Asia Read 237 times

Afghan government is reportedly trying to provide the Taliban with “safe zones”. At a gathering in Kandahar a while ago, Kandahar Provincial Police Chief Gen. Razaq had also talked of creating safe areas for the militants if they show readiness to resume peace talks with the government. 

 

In its recent report, Agence France Presse (AFP) has confirmed the proposition citing Afghan officials. A senior Afghan government official has anonymously told AFP that the government would specify a territory for the Taliban to shelter in along with their families so that they could be relieved from Pakistan’s pressure both in case of fighting or peace talks. Although Afghan National Security Council (NSC) has not so far officially verified such a strategy, it has said "the Taliban are allowed to relocate to Afghanistan under state protection."

Islamabad’s influence over Taliban is a major barrier to Afghan peace. Whenever the militant leaders show willingness to enter direct peace negotiations with Afghan government, they have faced with problems because of their sanctuaries in Pakistan. Because of this very reason, some Taliban leaders are still serving time in Pakistani jails. Thus, taking into account the issue, it is believed that giving safe zones to the Taliban in Afghanistan can definitely undercut Pakistan's influence over the militant group, and divest Islamabad of the trump card.  

Aimed at helping jump-start the stalled peace parleys or wean the Taliban off Islamabad pressures, the proposal should be pursued cautiously, because if it can undermine Pakistan’s influence over the Taliban on the one hand, it also carries some risks on the other hand it. Depriving Pakistan of only its “safe haven leverage” in the Taliban is not a solution; preventing the country’s support to the militant group is far more important than that. 

The safe zones should lead to immediate resumption of direct peace talks between the insurgents and Afghan government, or else the move can create a possibility that those areas will be used for military purposes, which can then do more harm than good to the country. Kabul should receive strong assurances from the rebels that those zones will be used solely for peaceful ends, not for leading the war. 

If well-thought-out steps in this regard reduce Islamabad’s grip on Taliban and pave the way for peace talks in Afghanistan, it will be a great achievement.