By Sanchita Bhattacharya
A spike in targeted killing in Afghanistan has seen Anti-Government Elements (AGEs) hitting critics and opponents with increasing frequency. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), in its Mid Year Report of 2012, noted that casualties resulting from targeted killings of civilians by AGEs increased by 53 per cent in the first six months of 2012 in comparison to the corresponding period of 2011. UNAMA documented the killing of 255 civilians between January 1 and June 30, 2012, as compared to 190 civilian fatalities during the corresponding period of 2011. A total of 495 persons were killed in targeted killings in 2011, up from 461 in 2010; 225 in 2009; and 293 in 2008. AGEs have targeted community leaders, governmental authorities and civilians whom they suspect of supporting the government or military forces.
Significantly, on May 2, 2012, the Taliban had announced that their Spring Offensive of 2012, codenamed Al-Farooq, would specifically aim to kill civilian targets, including high ranking government officials, members of Parliament, High Peace Council (HPC) members, contractors and “all those people who work against the Mujahideen”.
International humanitarian and human rights laws prohibit the deliberate and systematic targeting of civilians, categorized as a war crime and the violation of the right to life.
In 2011, the Taliban had claimed responsibility for numerous targeted killings of civilian government officials, tribal elders, government workers, contractors, drivers, translators and other civilians, and also included civilians in their public lists of targets to kill or capture. In an October 2011 statement, responding to the Government’s convening of a Loya Jirga (Grand Assembly), the Taliban identified a broad range of civilians participating in the Jirga or associated with the Government as ‘lawful targets’, declaring:
The Islamic Emirate wants to warn every person who wants to participate in this so-called Loya Jirga that such traitors will be pursued by Mujahideen of Islamic Emirate in every corner of the country and will face severe repercussions. The country’s trustworthy scholars have passed a decree in this regard and every participant of this convention shall be charged with treason if caught. The Islamic Emirate also calls on its brave and courageous Mujahideen to target every security guard, person with intention, participant and every follower of this convention.
A variety of methods have been employed to execute targeted killings, including shootings, Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and suicide attacks. The Taliban often publicly broadcast names of intended targets over mobile radio stations before the killing. In a number of cases where AGEs use remote-controlled IEDs (RCIEDs) targeting Pro-Government Forces, civilians have been disproportionately harmed, particularly when AGEs target military objectives in civilian populated areas.
Targets have included civil servants at all levels, tribal and religious elders, humanitarian aid workers, civil society members, political figures, individuals who joined the Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program and their relatives, and family members of AGEs who sought to re-integrate into Afghan communities.
On another plane, the insurgents systematically target the educational infrastructure, destroying schools. According to partial data collected by Institute for Conflict Management, 1,178 targeted incidents on schools have taken place in Afghanistan since 2008. The more bizarre attacks have included poisonings, either by contamination of drinking water or by the release of unknown substances into the air, at schools. Ironically, in a statement, issued on March 7, 2012, the Taliban identified the promotion of education as one of their main objectives, declaring that education was the “need of the new generation”.
Some of the most significant targeted incidents include:
August 13, 2012: Ishkamesh District Mayor, Abdul Aziz, Takhar HPC member Haji Hashim and three others were killed in a roadside-bomb attack in Takhar Province. Local officials blamed the bombing on the Taliban.
August 12, 2012: The Governor of Alishing District of Laghman Province, Faridullah Neyazi, was killed, along with three of his bodyguards, when his vehicle was hit by RCIED.
May 13, 2012: Arsala Rahmani, a close adviser to President Hamid Karzai, and former HPC member was killed by a gunman in Kabul city.
March 24, 2012: Haji Khairo Jan, a former Afghan senator, was killed along with four persons, when their vehicle was targeted with a RCIED near Tiran Kot, capital of Uruzgan Province.
December 6, 2011: A suicide attacker targeted civilians by detonating his explosives at the entrance to the Abulfazl mosque, belonging to Shia sect, in Kabul, killing 56 civilians and injuring 195 others. The Shias have frequently been targeted in sectarian attacks by the Taliban.
September 20, 2011: Former Afghanistan President and head of the HPC Burhanuddin Rabbani was killed in a suicide bomb attack at his home, close to the American Embassy in Kabul.
July 17, 2011: Jan Mohammad Khan, a senior advisor to President Hamid Karzai, and Hashim Watanwal, a Member of the Afghan Parliament, were killed when two assailants stormed Khan’s house in Kabul city.
July 12, 2011: Ahmad Wali Karzai head of the Provincial Council of the Kandahar Province and younger brother of President Hamid Karzai was assassinated by one of his guards at his residence. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the incident.
February 22, 2010: Mohammad Zaman, prominent military and political leader was killed in a suicide bombing, while addressing refugees in Khogyani District of Nangarhar Province.
September 2, 2009: An attack in Mehterlam city of Laghman Province targeted and killed the Deputy Head of National Directorate of Security (NDS), Abdullah Laghmani and four other NDS staff. 18 civilians were also killed. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
August 25, 2009: At least 46 civilians were killed and more than 60 injured when a truck bomb exploded in Kandahar city of Kandahar Province. The target was National Directorate of Security building.
April 28, 2008: An attack targeting President Hamid Karzai was carried out during a military parade in Kabul. A Member of Parliament, Fazel Rahman Samkanai, and two others were killed.
February 17, 2008: A suicide bomber blew himself up in the Nagahan Rudkhana area of Arghandab District in Kandahar Province killing Abdul Hakim Jan, a prominent leader of the Alokozai tribe and the commander of the District’s contingent of the [now disbanded] Afghan National Auxiliary Police (ANAP) force and another 12 ANAP personnel. The attack also killed at least 67 civilians and wounded some 90 others.
Targeted killings have destroyed tremendous potential of creating an independent political culture in the country, creating a chilling effect on those who seek to participate in democratic processes and structures. The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), notes, moreover, “There is often no clear delineation between where intimidation ends and violence begins. The insurgents specifically use targeted assassinations as a form of intimidation, to impact on the population far beyond the individual victim(s).”
The social and political order in Afghanistan remains extremely fragile, and targeted killings have undermined the emergence of any effective alternative to the current regime of dominance by the International Security Assistance Force. The incipient democratic and national security institutions in the country are reeling under the impact of the Taliban violence, and the tentative consolidation of the structures of stable governance in Afghanistan is put at extreme risk by targeted attacks that impose a pall of terror on the wider population and on those involved in the tasks of administration.
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management