Was General Raziq’s death in vain?
The assassination of General Abdul Raziq, the dreaded police chief of Kandahar, and two other top provincial officials has dealt a serious blow to efforts to find a political solution to the Afghan conflict. The audacious attack on a security conference -- also attended by America’s top military commander -- came days after US’ special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad met with senior Taliban leaders in Doha, Qatar.
This was the second such contact between the insurgents and American officials in the past two months, raising hopes that the talks could restart the process for peace negotiations and end the 17-year-old war in Afghanistan. The Taliban, while claiming responsibility for the attack, said that it had intended to target General Scott Miller, the commander of US and Nato troops in Afghanistan. While General Raziq lost his life in the incident, General Miller escaped unhurt.
General Raziq ruled Kandahar – the former Taliban’s power center -- with an iron fist and was known for his brutality. He enjoyed sweeping powers and was successful in combating the militant group, despite widespread allegations of corruption, torture and extrajudicial killings; with the UN Committee Against Torture calling for his prosecution last year. He survived several attacks in the past, including one last year which killed five diplomats from the United Arab Emirates. On Thursday, he was gunned down by his own security guard, believed to be a Taliban accomplice.
General Raziq’s death has come as huge blow to the morale of the Afghan national forces who have suffered massive casualties in the latest Taliban offensive. The incident has also had a domino effect on critical parliamentary elections in the country, which the Taliban had urged people to boycott, reasoning that the polls were staged by the US to prop up a “client” government.
And while the polls were postponed in Kandahar and Gazni — the western Afghan province that had recently witnessed the most audacious insurgent attack which left dozens of Afghan army soldiers dead -- the Election Commission closed nearly a third of its polling centers and canceled elections in 11 of the nearly 400 districts, too.
Voters’ defiance of the Taliban’s call to boycott the polls is seen as a political setback for the militant group. However, there is no cessation in the violence administered by them as the US administration continues to stress on talks with the insurgents.
It was the first parliamentary election to be held in eight years with more than 50,000 Afghan security forces deployed across the country to protect the 21,000 polling stations, even as at least 36 people were reportedly killed in various incidents of violence. The completion of the election process, however, is being seen as a major success story for the coalition forces and the Afghan government, paving way for the presidential elections next year.
Voters’ defiance of the Taliban’s call to boycott the polls is also seen as a political setback for the militant group. However, there is no cessation in the violence administered by them as the US administration continues to stress on talks with the insurgents. The Kandahar incident took place days after a meeting between the two sides in Doha, raising questions about the nascent process.
A veteran US diplomat of Afghan origin, Khalilzad was appointed two months ago with a mandate to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table; and as a former ambassador to Afghanistan he could be the right man for the job, largely because of his ethnicity.
No public statement has been issued by Washington following the talks in Doha. However, a Taliban communiqué said that the meeting focused on ending occupation and working toward finding a peaceful resolution to the Afghan conflict. Some senior leaders participated in the talks from the Taliban side, with reports suggesting that Khalilzad urged the Taliban not to disrupt the polls. The advice, however, was rejected by the insurgents. It is not clear whether there has been any agreement on the next round of talks.
The meeting followed the decision by the US administration to start direct negotiations with the insurgent group. It marked a shift from the long-standing US position that any peace negotiations should be led by the Kabul government. Although Afghan president Ashraf Ghani in principle had endorsed direct talks between the US and the Taliban, he was reportedly not informed about the latest meeting, causing anger among the Afghan government officials.
There is no indication yet that General Raziq's assassination will cause any change in the US administration’s policy to engage with the Taliban. US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that the killing of the Kandahar police chief is unlikely to fundamentally weaken the security situation.
Some analysts believe that the Taliban would most likely intensify their violent tactics to strengthen their bargaining position in the talks. There is, however, no likelihood of the insurgents pulling out of the talks.
— Zahid Hussain is an award-winning journalist and author. He is a former scholar at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington DC, and a visiting fellow at Wolfson College, University of Cambridge, and at the Stimson Center in Washington DC.