By Arab News
By Rahimullah Yusufzai*
The deadly suicide bombing in a packed wedding hall in a Shiite Kabul neighborhood on Saturday turned an occasion of great, universal joy into a calamity, as 63 people, including children, were killed and 182 sustained injuries. Reports said 1,200 guests had been invited to attend.
Weddings in Afghanistan are an easy target for militants because security is relatively lax for the usually large number of guests.
The Afghan capital has suffered scores of attacks in the course of the long-drawn-out war, but this was the deadliest this year. The tragedy was compounded by the fact that, a year ago, a suicide bomber sent by the militant group Daesh had attacked a tuition center also located in a Shiite-populated western Kabul area, killing 48 and injuring 67 high school students. Afghan Shiites, who are almost all from the Hazara ethnic group, have suffered discrimination and persecution in the past.
Suspicion immediately fell onto Daesh, which has frequently claimed responsibility for attacks on Shiites and considers them apostates. Before long, the local chapter of Daesh, known as the Khorasan Province, made a claim of responsibility. The claim was believable given the group’s past record, although the Afghan government’s investigations into the attack are in their early stages.
The Taliban quickly denied involvement, condemned the bombing and termed it “forbidden and unjustifiable,” while indulging in verbal sparring with President Ashraf Ghani, who tweeted that the Taliban “cannot absolve themselves of blame, for they provide platform for terrorists.” In response, a Taliban spokesman alleged that foreign “aggressors” and “the puppet Afghan regime” paved the way for such incidents.
As the suicide blast took with it a huge number of innocent lives, it sowed deep seeds of doubt. Questions were raised about whether peace in Afghanistan would ever be achievable, and whether Daesh could be defeated following a peace deal with the Taliban.
The Taliban’s commitment to peace has also been questioned, with the fate of ongoing talks with the US coming into sharp focus against the background of heightened violence in the war-ravaged country. According to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, casualties of the conflict in July were the highest since May 2017.
A few days before the Kabul suicide bombing, an explosion at a Taliban-run mosque and madrasa near Quetta in Pakistan had already cast a shadow over the future of the Taliban-US peace talks, even though the year-long negotiations have entered their final phase. The remote-controlled blast during Friday prayers in Kuchlak killed the mosque’s prayer leader, Hafiz Ahmadullah, the brother of Taliban supreme leader Haibatullah Akhundzada.
Though the Taliban issued a statement saying the Quetta incident would not derail peace talks with the US, the attack’s timing caused concern that many more such attempts would be made to damage the peace process.
It also appears that the Kabul suicide bombing was timed to thwart peace efforts. It makes sense that Daesh was indeed involved in the attack, because the group would do anything to block peace negotiations. It fears that the stakeholders in the Afghan conflict, including the Taliban, would likely build a coalition to fight Daesh once a settlement with the Americans is concluded. In fact, the US, Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan, among others, are hoping the Taliban will continue to fight Daesh after a settlement is reached to keep in line with their commitment to deny space in Afghanistan to militant groups that threaten other countries.
That militant attacks increase whenever the peace process makes progress is nothing new. Such attacks ought to strengthen the resolve of the stakeholders to renew their commitment to the cause of peace, especially as there is a real possibility, for the first time since 2001, that the conflict in Afghanistan might end.
Targeted attacks against the Hazara Shiites have in recent years sparked big protests by the community and brought the beleaguered Afghan government under pressure to improve security. This could happen again and cause unrest, with political ramifications.
A deteriorating security situation would increase uncertainty ahead of the Afghan presidential election, which is scheduled to be held on Sept. 28. The election campaign, which officially began on July 28, has yet to pick up and most of the 18 candidates are reluctant to start campaigning. The election has been delayed twice this year and there is speculation it could be postponed again in view of the ongoing talks between the US and the Taliban.
The latest Kabul tragedy happened two days before the 100-year anniversary of Afghanistan’s independence from the British, giving President Ghani little choice but to delay the festivities. After the carnage that transpired at what was meant to be a happy wedding celebration, there was very little left to celebrate.
- Rahimullah Yusufzai is a senior political and security analyst in Pakistan. He was the first to interview Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar and twice interviewed Osama bin Laden in 1998. Twitter: @rahimyusufzai1