US forces in Afghanistan have relied on local warlords to maintain peace, and time and again, this has proved to be a chaotic strategy. How long can this cycle continue?

Yesterday, Afghanistan was shattered. 

When initial reports appeared claiming that Kandahar's powerful police chief, General Abdul Raziq Achakzai, commonly known as General Raziq, was killed during a meeting with high-ranking officials including General Austin “Scott” Miller, the top NATO and US commander in Afghanistan, many Afghans were shocked. 

Over the last few years, Raziq had earned a reputation as one of the country's most famous and notorious pro-government figures. He was known as the leading strongman in southern Afghanistan—often referred to as the 'Greater Kandahar' region—and a staunch enemy of the Taliban. 

Reportedly, Raziq was shot during the meeting by an assassin. Immediately after the attack, the Taliban claimed responsibility and praised a young man named 'Abu Dajana' as the one who carried out the ambush. 

According to the militants, the “brutal commander” was killed by the attack. Later, a more detailed statement claimed that, “the actual targets were the American commander Miller and Kandahar's brutal commander Abdul Raziq.”

While Miller survived unharmed, three Americans, including one soldier, were wounded. Additionally, Momin Hassankhel, the local chief of the NDS—the Afghan intelligence service—was also killed. 

Zalmay Wesa, the governor of Kandahar, was also severely wounded. 

There are still contradicting reports whether he is alive or not. The deaths of Raziq and Hassankhel have been confirmed by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

The Taliban have effectively wiped out the leadership of one—strategically important—province in a single day.

Strongmen breed strong resistance

Two days before the country goes to vote in parliamentary elections, this attack is not just a warning: it is a clear sign that so many Western-backed policies in Afghanistan have not worked, and instead created more chaos. 

One such policy was the shortsighted approach to rely on brutal warlords and strongmen to “maintain” security in the country.

In fact, Abdul Raziq himself was an embodiment of this. Leading politicians and many common Afghans alike are mourning the man who was much more than a regular police chief. He's been called a martyr, patriot, and hero, but that's not all that Raziq was. 

Raziq carried a reputation as a brutal commander who often tortured and killed his prisoners personally through brutal means like suffocation, crushing the testicles, pumping water into their stomach and administering electric shocks, among many other gruesome acts. 

Human Rights Watch called Raziq “Kandahar's torturer-in-chief” and said the Afghan strongman “has become synonymous with systematic torture, extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.” 

In the past, journalists offered detailed accounts of Raziq's crimes. According to American journalist Anand Gopal, more than 40 unidentified bodies, mostly with smashed heads and missing noses and eyes, were found in the Kandahar province just in October 2013. 

Last year, the United Nations Committee against Torture explicitly named Raziq and described “numerous and credible allegations” that the police chief is “widely suspected of complicity, if not of personal implication, in severe human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings and secret detention centers.” 

The committee demanded the prosecution of Raziq by the Afghan government which, unsurprisingly, did not happen. 

Raziq denied all allegations.

At the same time, many Afghans celebrated Raziq who had been successful in battling the Taliban and in securing their former stronghold, Kandahar. 

There are also many stories about his kindness and generosity, especially towards his fellow police men. 

In Afghanistan's political environment, the rise of figures like Raziq is nothing new, but his, in particular, was a success story. 

Additionally, while he was known to be a notorious Taliban hater, he apparently changed his position during the last years of his life. He repeatedly talked about peace, Afghan unity and even praised leading Taliban figures such as Mullah Mohammad Omar as “heroes”.

But in the end, it was the Taliban who killed him. 

According to a New York Times journalist, by 2013, Raziq had survived more than 40 attempts on his life.

While some Afghan observers tend to explain recent events with conspiracy theories and disconcerting explanations, the basic machinations of radicalism and militancy are being ignored. 

Strongmen like Raziq are not, as some assume, the solution to the Afghan war. They do not solve problems, they are in fact a part of the problem. 

In Afghanistan, warlords and strongmen have been popping up for years—in particular since 2001 when the US and its allies invaded the country—and have been working closely ever since with Western forces. 

It was no coincidence that General Miller met Raziq. In fact, the police chief used to be the White House's closest ally in southern Afghanistan, and whatever Raziq and similar individuals like him have done in the past—like loot, rape, torture amnd mass murder—was simply ignored. 

But the backlash was a foregone conclusion. 

For that reason, the result was not the dissipating of the insurgency but its strengthening. Raziq himself knew that the Taliban want to see him dead and knew exactly why.

Other figures faced similar fates, noteworthy the former NDS chief Asadullah Khaled, who survived a Taliban attack and was badly injured in 2012 or commander Azizullah Karwan who was killed by the insurgents last July. 

Both Khaled and Karwan have a long record of human rights violations. They rose up during the early years of the 'War on Terror' in Afghanistan, and they became important allies of American forces on the ground. 

When Karwan was killed, many people shared eulogies on social media, praising the notorious commander as a strong pillar against terrorism.

The very same thing is now happening with Raziq.

The truth, however, is that Raziq and his ilk are nothing more than the natural products of the 'War on Terror' in Afghanistan: strongmen who create security by using brutal means, which ironically then fuels extremism and militancy. 

Regardless of how generous and patriotic they appear to be, in the end, most people just fear them. And when they are gone, they leave a vacuum that other brutal men will likely soon fill. 

The fight for the the throne of Kandahar now begins.

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