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Afghan Strongman Defends Tactics Against Taliban

Afghanistan -- Security Chief Abdul Raziq at a press conference in Kandahar, November 21, 2011.
Afghanistan -- Security Chief Abdul Raziq at a press conference in Kandahar, November 21, 2011.

General Abdul Raziq, the security chief in Afghanistan's southern city of Kandahar, is a controversial figure. Afghan and Western officials see him as a bulwark against Taliban attempts to return to their former Kandahar stronghold, but critics accuse him of committing grave rights abuses in his dealings with insurgents.

In an interview with RFE/RL correspondent Abubakar Siddique, Raziq defended his violent campaign against the insurgents, who he claims are fighting a proxy war for Pakistan’s security service, the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency, or ISI.

RFE/RL: Credible sources in the southwestern Pakistani province of Balochistan, which borders Kandahar, recently told us that your Adozai clan is involved in a festering blood feud with the Taliban hiding in Balochistan. They claim that this rivalry is behind frequent murders in the region. How do you respond to these allegations?

General Abdul Raziq: These murders are not the work of the Taliban. They are all carried out by Pakistan's ISI to pressure us so that we cooperate with them in certain ways.

RFE/RL: But these sources told us that you are behind the killing of Taliban leaders such as their influential ideologue Maulana Abdullah Raziq, who was killed in Balochistan's capital, Quetta, in December. Is this true?

Raziq: The Taliban have their own internal problems. The Taliban are divided into many factions. Some of them work with the ISI, while others work with various militant networks. So these are their internal problems.

But the Afghan tribal leaders who are frequently assassinated in that region, most of them are not known to us. The ISI is behind all this because they want to pressure us one way or the other. They have made us several offers to entice us into cooperation with them. They have told us that doing so will end our problems.

I can assure you that such pressures have no effect. We cannot be pressured this way because death is a determined fact. So they are engaging in a futile effort.

RFE/RL: Why would the ISI want to pressure you?

Raziq: They want to increase their influence inside Afghanistan. They have their own objectives in Afghanistan, which are against the interests of our country.

But we cannot let them reach their goals. We are ready to pay every price for defending our homeland. We cannot let anybody interfere in our country.

RFE/RL: During the past decade, Afghan leaders have repeatedly said that Taliban leaders are planning attacks inside Afghanistan from hideouts in Quetta and other parts of Pakistan. In your view, why has the United States and the rest of the international community failed to persuade Pakistan to do its part to restore peace in Afghanistan?

Raziq: It is the responsibility of our central government to do so. But the whole world knows that all the Taliban -- foot soldiers and leaders--are in Pakistan. All the Taliban dead and wounded are taken back to Pakistan.

Everything they do happens with the permission of the ISI. I have no doubt that they cannot do anything without ISI's approval and the ISI can prevent them from doing what they are doing. It is because of ISI's pressure that they come here and die in vain.

RFE/RL: In recent months the Taliban have attempted large attacks in Kandahar and neighboring provinces in southern Afghanistan. What has been the impact of these attacks?

Raziq: In Kandahar and in Helmand, ethnic Punjabis [from Pakistan] are now leading battles [against our forces]. The Punjabis are the trainers and Punjabi doctors accompany the fighters. [The hard line Pakistani jihadist organization] Lashkar-e Taiba is leading this campaign. Basically, these are all ISI operatives who now work in this way.

RFE/RL: What proof do you have that Punjabis from Pakistan are fighting inside Afghanistan?

Raziq: We have documents and we have captured fighters. We also have the dead bodies of fighters.

RFE/RL: You reportedly told journalists this week that government forces should shoot Taliban fighters instead of arresting them. Don't you think such tactics are a violation of Afghan laws?

Raziq: We have seen this report, but I didn’t say anything like this. During recent days we have captured 65 Taliban fighters, and all of them are being detained in Kandahar's prison. They are our prisoners and we are questioning them. We also captured some 22 wounded Taliban fighters. We could have killed them but we didn't.

Anyone who comes here to fight our forces must be eliminated or should surrender. Our soldiers, obviously, cannot surrender to them. This cannot happen. Our soldiers must defend our country.

RFE/RL: Reports by Western media and rights watchdogs have accused you of committing grave human rights abuses. How would you respond to such criticisms?

Raziq: This is all hearsay. I can never tell my soldiers to surrender our homeland to the enemy. If we surrender a remote checkpoint to them, they will move to occupy a whole district. If we abandon a district to them, they move in to occupy a whole province. This leaves us with no choice but to defend our homeland.

RFE/RL: Do you ever see peace returning to Afghanistan?

Raziq: I don't see any hope for peace in Afghanistan. All the efforts towards peace are a waste because we can't have peace in our homeland unless we stop Pakistan from interfering in our country. Without holding Pakistan accountable, thinking of establishing peace here is futile.