Kabul Bombings Reveal Mounting Challenged Faced by the Karzai Government

Tags: ,

Categories: Publications,Security

Terrorism Monitor
Vol. 3:27 (July 2006)

Washington, DC — A bomb detonated outside the Afghan Justice Ministry on 4 July, injuring several civilians and shattering windows in nearby buildings. Three additional devices exploded across Kabul on 5 July, targeting buses carrying Afghan government personnel, as well as an Afghan National Army (ANA) convoy in Pul-i-Charkhi. By the end of the day, confirmed casualties totaled one dead and more than 50 wounded. (Pajhwok Afghan News, 5 July 2007). As foreign embassies implemented enhance security protocols, purported Taliban spokesman Mohammad Hanif claimed responsibility for the violence. ‘These attacks in Kabul are part of he overall plan to launch organized attacks across Afghanistan’, he declared. ‘We will have more intensified attacks in the north in the near future’. (Gulf Times, 6 July 2007).

Officials blamed the violence on foreign infiltrators. Speaking in Washington on 6 July, Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta reiterated Kabul’s concerns regarding insurgent strongholds in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). ‘Just over the Afghan border there is a social fabric whose sole purpose in to create terror’, Spanta told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. ‘This is the same terror we have seen in London and Madrid and New York’. Spanta’s comments echoed earlier statements by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. ‘The situation in the provinces bordering Pakistan is not good’, Karzai noted in a 2 July interview with the BBC’s Pashto Service. ‘The situation has been deteriorating for the last two years’.

Although traffic from the NWFP remains a legitimate concern, mounting violence cannot be explained by Pakistani conduct alone. To the contrary, the geographic distribution of recent insurgent activity indicates Taliban dominance in large areas of Helmand and Uruzgan provinces (Afghan Islamic Press, 7 July 2007). That foothold appears to be growing. On 7 July, purported Taliban spokesman Qari Yousaf Ahmadi claimed that insurgents had captured Helmand’s Sagin and Baghran districts. Sagin resident later corroborated that statements, disputing official denials by provincial police chief Nabi Mulakhel (Pajhwok Afghan News, 7 July 2007).

This interior base of operations allows Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah to rally tribal allies while minimizing cross-border incursions (Terrorism Focus, 31 May 2007). It also sets the state for a protracted struggle. In regions where the Taliban dominate, they divert local manpower and resources to their cause. In regions where the Taliban operate, they now demonstrate strong military discipline and tighter unit cohesion. And in region where the Taliban agitate, they see to degrade support for President Karzai through disruptive violence. Taken together, these developments suggest a shift away from the Taliban’s traditional warrior mentality and towards a classic insurgent strategy.

Recent events support this conclusion. On July 2, insurgents launched a nighttime raid on a collation base in Sagin, killing tow British paratroopers and wounding four others (Pajhwok Afghan News, July 2) A third soldier dies in an ambush on 3 July, bringing recent British losses in Helmand to six. On 6 July, Taliban forces fired rockets at a coalition base in Zabul province’s Seri district. On 8 July they ambushed a coalition convoy in nearby Sahjoi (Afghan Islamic Press, 8 July 2007). Combined with routine skirmishes between Canadian infantry and tribal insurgents in Kandahar, Dadullah’s summer offensive shows not sign of subsiding.

This offensive comes at a time when Afghanistan’s government faces mounting international frustration and burgeoning domestic resentment. Those sentiments stem form three interrelated dilemmas. The first is security. With the ANA fielding only half its mandated manpower, the coalitions ‘light footprint’ strategy compels close cooperation with militias dating from the Afghan civil war. Reliance on those private forces perpetuated ethnic factionalism, empowering regional warlords at the expense of the national government. As one Afghan civil society leader observed, ‘when Karzai decides against the warlords, they bomb Kabul and blame it on the Taliban’.

The second dilemma is drugs. Poppy production is now at historic highs, financing and terrorist networks while trapping ordinary Afghans in a cycle of feudalistic subsistence. Narcotics also support regional warlords, including some of Kabul’s nominal allies in southeastern Afghanistan. With the Taliban poised to capture more territory, rigorous drug enforcement risks undermining these alliances. ‘These groups don’t the benefits of the current system,’ observed a coalition commander in Kandahar. ‘Everyone has a plan to make a profit today because they think it will all melt away tomorrow’.

The third dilemma is corruption. On 2 July, farmers in Kabul’s Paghman district protested an alleged land grad by former warlord and Wolesi Jirga member Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf (Pajhwok Afghan News, 2 July 2007). Such demonstrations are common. District and provincial official routinely divert scarce resources to their own family and tribal networks, enriching themselves while enraging Afghan villages. The result is widespread resentment—resentment that now extends to President Karzai’s ethnic Pashtun base. With Kabul trapped by limited resources and competing prerogatives, southern tribal leaders may soon find themselves choosing between vacillating central government and an increasingly vigorous Taliban insurgency.