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Afghans try hard to create “safe zone” for Taliban mutineers in a bid to wean them away from Traditional Sanctuaries inside Pakistan

Pakistan began backing the Taliban activities of the 1990s as part of its policy of "strategic depth" against nemesis India

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FILE - In this Sunday, July 31, 2011 file photo, Taliban fighters hold their heavy and light weapons before surrendering them to Afghan authorities in Jalalabad, east of Kabul, Afghanistan. VOA

Kabul, Jan 10, 2017: Afghan officials are putting effort into creating a “safe zone” for Taliban mutineers in a bid to wean them away from traditional sanctuaries inside Pakistan, in a radical and contentious plan to de-escalate the conflict.

The plan underscores desperation in Afghanistan for out- of-the-box measures to take care of the 15-year insurgency, as peace attempts repeatedly fail and US-backed forces suffer record casualties in stalemated fights.

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If implemented, the strategy – targeted at undercutting Pakistan’s influence and active effect over the Taliban – could, for better or for worse, be a game changer in a strife-torn country where ceding territory to mutineers 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 said at a meeting of religious scholars and tribal seniors 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,” he added.

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The shock-wave created was amplified by this proposal of Raziq, who is probably the most powerful commander in southern Afghanistan and long one of the staunchest anti- Taliban figures.

“The government shouldn’t be giving safe zones to terrorists,” former Helmand governor Sher Mohammed Akhundzada warned. A number of observers accepted the fact that this strategy can be considered “illogical” as the Taliban already are in control of vast swathes of Afghan territory, mentioned PTI report.

Raziq has not yet responded to the repeated requests for an interview, but a senior security official informed that the government’s agenda “is to bring the Taliban from Pakistan to Afghanistan.”

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“We will separate a territory for them to come with their families. Then whether they want to fight or talk peace, they will be relieved from the pressure of Pakistan,” he stated, speaking anonymously.

Pakistan began backing the Taliban activities of the 1990s as part of its policy of “strategic depth” against nemesis India.

Seen by many Afghans as the biggest hurdle when it comes to lasting peace, Islamabad has been allegedly playing a “double game” in Afghanistan for a long time: endorsing Washington’s war on terrorism since the 9/11 attacks, while supporting militant sanctuaries.

After years of official denial, it was admitted by a top Pakistani official in 2016 for the first time that the a country provides a safe haven for the militant group inside his country, which is used by Islamabad as a “lever” to pressure the group into talks with Kabul.

However, Pakistan has hosted multiple rounds of chats ostensibly to kick start a peace process – without result.

– prepared by Durba Mandal of NewsGram. Twitter: @dubumerang

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US-Taliban Meeting Cancelled, 14 Members on “The US and UN Blacklist”

A day later, Pakistan’s information minister Fawad Chaudhry confirmed the talks during a press conference, calling it a “game changer.”

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FILE - Taliban political chief Sher Muhammad Abbas Stanikzai, in the first row, second from left, Abdul Salam Hanafi and other Taliban officials pray during the intra-Afghan talks in Moscow, Feb. 6, 2019. VOA

An upcoming meeting in Pakistan between a delegation of the United States and Taliban representatives has been cancelled, according to information coming from both sides.

A Taliban leader confirmed, on condition of anonymity, that the meeting was cancelled, “by the Americans.” A Taliban statement issued later in the day said the talks were postponed because many members of its 14 person negotiating team were unable to go overseas since they are on “the US and UN blacklist.” Several of them are on the U.N. Security Council sanctions list which bars them from international travel.

Meanwhile, a U.S. official said Zalmay Khalilzad, who was supposed to lead the American delegation, is not planning to visit Islamabad this week.

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FILE – U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, center, speaks during a roundtable discussion with Afghan media at the U.S Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan Jan. 28, 2019. VOA

The U.S. said it had not received an official invitation from the government of Pakistan for this meeting which was first announced by Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid a couple of days ago.

Mujahid’s statement had set February 18 as the date of the talks and said a formal invitation had been issued by Pakistan. In addition, he said, the Taliban delegation would also meet the Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan.

A day later, Pakistan’s information minister Fawad Chaudhry confirmed the talks during a press conference, calling it a “game changer.”

“The next round of negotiations with the Taliban will be in Pakistan, and as a result of these negotiations, there is a chance of stability in Afghanistan,” he said.

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FILE – Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan (R) speaks with U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad (3rd L) during a meeting at the Prime Minister’s office in Islamabad, Pakistan, in this handout photo released Jan. 18, 2018. VOA

Afghanistan’s Foreign Ministry reacted strongly to the announcement of a meeting in Islamabad, saying it was in violation of a United Nations Security Council resolution.

“#Afghanistan complains to #UNSecurityCouncil on #Pakistan’s engagements with the Taliban on which #Afg Govenrment is not consulted,” Tweeted Sibghatullah Admadi, a spokesman for the Afghan foreign office.

Previously, Afghanistan launched a similar complaint against Russia for allowing Taliban members to travel to Moscow for a conference in which nearly 50 Afghans, including various political leaders, former jihadi commanders, and civil society activists were invited. However, the Afghan government was not invited to that conference because the Taliban have so far refused to engage with the Kabul administration despite pressure from the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and others.

President Ashraf Ghani lashed out at those attending the conference saying they had no “executive authority” to make any agreements.

“Let hundreds of such meetings be held,” he said.

Some analysts say Ghani’s statements indicated his frustration at being left out of the negotiations between the Americans and the Taliban that first started last Summer. Since then, the two sides have held several rounds of talks.

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The last meeting in Doha early January lasted for six days and Khalilzad said the two sides had agreed “in principle” to a withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan in return for guarantees that Afghan soil will not be used by any terrorist groups or individuals.

Speaking in a public event at Washington based United States Institute of Peace, Khalilzad said the Taliban do not want to “sit with the government alone” because they did not want to give President Ghani an advantage in the presidential elections scheduled in July.

“There are indications that they will be willing to sit with the government in a multi-party arrangement,” he said. (VOA)