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Peace Prompts Taliban Figures To Return To Afghanistan

This photograph shows the aftermath of a U.S. drone strike that reportedly killed the Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansur in Pakistan's southwestern province of Balochistan.
This photograph shows the aftermath of a U.S. drone strike that reportedly killed the Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansur in Pakistan's southwestern province of Balochistan.

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- Mullah Abdul Rauf claims to have raised funds for Afghanistan’s hard-line Taliban’s war from his hideout in southwestern Pakistan for more than 15 years.

But the former member of the Taliban’s finance commission returned to Afghanistan with his family three months ago. He is a prominent beneficiary of an amnesty scheme pioneered by General Abdul Raziq, the powerful security commander of Kandahar Province in southern Afghanistan.

“The promises of peace and security guarantees prompted me to return to Kandahar,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan in Kandahar’s rural district of Panjwaee on August 29. “Raziq’s open arms and guarantees to welcome all Taliban [willing to return to live peacefully] have encouraged many to return to this district.”

Rauf is one the 15 former Taliban leaders and senior officials that Raziq recently claimed have returned from Quetta, the capital of the southwestern Pakistani province of Balochistan, to live peacefully in Kandahar. Teeming Quetta has served as a de-facto Taliban capital after the demise of their hard-line regime in late 2001.

“They include some small and major military commanders and at least two governors who served in the Taliban regime in the 1990s,” Raziq told journalists on August 27. “This is the result of relentless efforts by local tribal leaders.”

In an unprecedented Afghan effort to undercut Pakistan’s sway over the Taliban late last year, Raziq promised to provide a “safe zone” for insurgent leaders and foot soldiers if they abandoned their sanctuaries in Pakistan.

If successful, this initiative could turn the tide of the Afghan war. Since 2002, Afghan and Western officials have accused Islamabad of providing safe havens and covert assistance to the Taliban. Last week, U.S. President Donald Trump warned Islamabad that Washington “can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond.”

Rauf is still careful about what he says publicly about his former colleagues and hosts in Pakistan but speaks of exhaustion and a lack of any real decision-making power.

“We were only playing in the hands of others and had no real independence [in running our affairs],” he said, adding that he and other Taliban leaders realized that the war in Afghanistan was being imposed upon them.

“I occasionally face threats from my former comrades, but some contact me to explore how they can join me here,” he said. “I personally know of some 60 diehard Taliban members who have returned, but people I know speak of hundreds more who have returned. These include members of various leadership commissions, governors, and commanders.”

Mohammadullah Khan, another former Taliban member, is reluctant to divulge details of his role in the insurgency. He says he was one of 500 Taliban inmates who escaped from Kandahar’s notorious Sarpoa Prison in 2011.

Khan told Radio Free Afghanistan he decided to return to Kandahar after Pakistan forced hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees to return to Afghanistan last year.

“I was living in Quetta and was disappointed by the Pakistani crackdown of Afghans,” he said. “They even forced families, women, and children to leave. This made me worry about my family’s fate, and I returned.”

The Taliban, however, contested claims that their cadres have joined a government amnesty scheme. In a statement, they labeled the issue as “far from reality.”

Abdul Salam Zaeef, a former Taliban diplomat who now lives in Kabul, however, confirmed that some Taliban leaders have abandoned Pakistan.

“Pressures in Pakistan have prompted many Taliban to leave the country along with their families,” he told Voice Of America. “Some of them have gone to the regions controlled by the Taliban, but I do not know much about those returning to the areas controlled by the Afghan government.”

Nevertheless, Zaeef says such returns are a good omen for peace in Afghanistan.

“If dealt with tactfully, this can be a boon to peace in the country,” he noted. “If all Afghans, whether pro-government or in opposition, return to the country, it will help in regaining sovereignty and future peace.”