Breaking: Deadly Suicide Blast Kills Several In Kabul
NEW DELHI: Several people were killed in a bombing in the centre of the Afghan capital Kabul, President Ashraf Ghani has said. As details emerge and numbers are still sketchy, initial reports pin the number of people killed at 24 with over 190 people injured.
Interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said a suicide attacker had detonated a vehicle. "The first blast was carried out by a suicide bomber in a car and possibly one or two bombers are still resisting," the interior minister has been quoted as saying.
The blast took place in a residential neighbourhood located close to the military and defence compounds in the capital city on Tuesday morning. The entire area, the interior ministry said, has been cordoned off. At the time of writing, gunfire can still be heard in the area.
The Taliban claimed responsibility, with the attack coming a week after the militant group formally declared its “spring offensive” -- when better weather conditions enable a push in fighting.
In a statement released last week, the Taliban said, “"Jihad against the aggressive and usurping infidel army is a holy obligation upon our necks and our only recourse for reestablishing an Islamic system and regaining our independence… The present Operation will also employ all means at our disposal to bog the enemy down in a war of attrition that lowers the morale of the foreign invaders and their internal armed militias.”
The announcement came just weeks after the Afghan peace process finally collapsed, with the Taliban rejecting the talks in March this year. The move came as a bit of a surprise, as just days before the Taliban’s rejection, Pakistan had announced that it would be hosting the talks that involved -- in addition to Pakistan and Afghanistan -- the United States and China.
The current offensive has been dubbed "Operation Omari" in honor of Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar -- whose death provided the first blow to the peace process. Although rumours have circulated regarding Omar’s death for a long time, the Taliban officially confirmed the news for the first time last year. This removed a unifying figure for the militant group and emboldened the powerful factions that were opposed to the peace talks, with Afghanistan witnessing a sharp rise in Taliban-led violence. Further, militants who were opposed to a peace dialogue with the Afghan government reneged on their pledge to new leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, who is seen as close to Pakistan. The BBC, in fact, quoted a Taliban spokesperson saying that newly appointed leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour had not been appointed "by all Taliban", going against Sharia law. A breakaway faction appointed another leader -- Mullah Mohammed Rasool -- and vowed to push on with their fight against the Afghan state.
Since then, the peace process has struggled to get back on track, despite the US and China intervening. And although at one point it seemed as if the talks would finally take place, the truth of the matter is that the process was beset with problems from the start. For one, Mansour’s position on the talks remains unclear. In July last year, when Pakistan pressured the Taliban leadership to sit down for talks, Mansour disappeared, with his phones turned off. Even more importantly, although Mansour is the Taliban’s appointed leader, the extent of his command and mandate is a big question mark. Is Mansour going to be able to impose his will on the entire Taliban, especially as large numbers of militants have denounced his leadership? Unlikely.
In addition to the Taliban itself being a mood dampener, the Afghan public too is largely skeptical of Pakistan. The reason why Pakistan could push the Taliban leadership to agree to talks is because of the fact that Taliban leaders are based there — mostly in Quetta, in Baluchistan Province — and fighters depend on cross-border sanctuaries to escape Afghan and NATO security forces. Pakistan has a lot of leverage over the Afghan Taliban, no doubt, but this fact is the reason for the skepticism. Afghans have long maintained that Pakistan has aided and abetted terrorism, by providing training, finances and sanctuaries to militants active in Afghanistan (side note: India has a similar grievance in regard to militancy in Jammu and Kashmir).
Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai echoed the above skepticism, hitting out at Pakistan repeatedly as relations between the two countries dipped to historic lows. The current Afghan President Ashraf Ghani came to power singing a different tune -- that of talks. The strategy seemed to be bearing fruit, with the Taliban agreeing to a peace dialogue with the Afghan government in July -- a first in the 13 years since the fall of the Taliban government. The talks, and with it Afghan-Pak relations, hit a roadblock in August with the death of Omar, exposing the factionalism within the Taliban and making clear the fact that resolution through dialogue was not going to be easy in the least.
The upswing in violence that followed Omar’s death led to a volt face in Ghani’s rhetoric, as he employed language similar to Karzai and hit out at Pakistan for not doing enough to reign in terror. Till this point, there was an upswing in relations as Ghani soon after being sworn-in visited Pakistan, and then Pakistan’s army chief and head of intelligence visited Kabul.Delegations from the two countries made visits across the border; six Afghan army cadets were sent to Pakistan for training; military efforts were coordinated across the shared border; and Ghani and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif both issued statements in support of cooperation and bilateral ties.
All this has been the source of much criticism. In an interview with The Guardian, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai -- said that the country’s historic struggles against British imperialism and Soviet invasion will have been in vain if it succumbs to pressure from Pakistan.
Caught between all of the above are the Afghan people, as the country witnesses one of its most violent periods yet. The Taliban has seen some of its biggest gains in the last few months including the fall of the city of Kunduz, Sangin district, Lashkar Gah, Gurian district and Warduj district. This, whilst civilian casualties touch record highs. UN figures for 2015 show a consistent upward trend in civilian casualties from the year 2001. At least 3,545 non-combatants died and another 7,457 were injured by fighting last year in a 4-percent increase over 2014. Further, according to a recent UNAMA report, women and children show the sharpest rise in casualties.