The blast shook Kabul’s streets as the incident appeared to be near a central part of the city with offices of European Union, a shopping market area and a hospital. The bomb exploded in the crowded street at 12:15pm Kabul time on Saturday January 27 by the attacker who passed through a very tight security checkpoint disguised as a driver in a hospital van.
This is the third largest attack in Afghanistan of killing 103 people, wounding 235 in Kabul inside eight months. Last October, 176 people died in one week alone with Afghan security forces facing massive losses and casualties battling the Taliban. In May 2017, another 150 people were killed in Kabul. Cited by the Afghanistan government, as the true perpetrators were the Pakistan-backed Haqqani group, although no evidence has become known. It is also worth stating unlike before the Taliban have now claimed responsibility for this massacre.
Are the Taliban really succeeding?
Most military analysts will concede that the Taliban at present is a much more rejuvenated, technology-savvy, military and politically armed group than the one that dispersed in the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. However, that is not to say that they do not have problems within their own camp.
With the assassination of their leader Mullah Dadullah's in 2007, a new breed of leaders, kingmakers and fighters have joined the ranks. For Taliban, this has meant that they have become more of an umbrella group that consists of a coalition of fighter groups. To their detriment, the Taliban realize that many of their own fighters do not necessarily share the objectives of the central leadership of Hibatullah Akhundzada. For the Taliban, they can neither marginalize the extremist jihadist fighters nor bring more moderates into their fold. The far bigger worry that is shared by the older Taliban leaders is that splinter groups are now developing rapidly. These groups of fighters are often younger, faster, present in social media, more efficient in the art of bombing, technology and explosive warfare, more extremist in their ideology, have a way to access regional players, warlords, smugglers, criminal networks and Intelligence agencies. What they do lack is a clear strategic policy that aligns with the Taliban. A key example of this was the defection of the one-time governor of Nimruz Province, Mullah Muhammad Rasul, along with his fighters broke away from the Taliban to form his own High Council of Afghanistan Islamic Emirate group in 2015. Along with his group, Rasul continues to amass considerable fortune controlling cross-border drug smuggling through Nimruz province. This drives the fear of the new reality that unlike the past, the new generation of individuals and their networks have alliances that are always shifting, sometimes even against the Taliban’s own objectives as access to money, firearms and the ability to plan attacks are much more feasible now than they were before. This has been possible mainly because since 2011 a large contingent of US Army forces have left Afghanistan. The small contingent of American forces that are supporting the Afghan Army have very little knowledge of comprehending the torrential landscape or the networks of rural villages which for many of these new generation of fighters have an advanced knowledge.
What is the Afghanistan government's response?
Kabul, home to President Ashraf Ghani’s government used to be one of the safest cities in Afghanistan but now it is becoming increasingly dangerous. Additionally, the new presence of Islamic State or ISIS as they are known in Afghanistan has also added fears. The emerging fears of Afghans does not look to have alarmed the central government. Though the government has condemned such attacks and blame Pakistan, they are also dangerously embroiled in corruption of their own. In October of 2017 President Ashraf Ghani told CNN that being President of Afghanistan “is the worst job on earth”. The frustrations of this former World Bank Anthropologist lies in his own battle in finding credible Ministers, domestic and international partners to bring added vibrancy to a battered Afghan economy. President Ashraf Ghani is well versed in the art of nation building. In 2006, he built the Institute of State Effectiveness. He is all too aware that with his own government are rampant corruption. Perhaps even more so in rural development, which was central in developing nearly 35,000 of the roughly 40,000 villages across the country at the very basic level providing 70% of Afghans with vital infrastructure, such as midwife clinics, schools, waterworks, bridges, roads, women’s training centers, and solar power projects. A program such as this would have provided jobs, local infrastructure and a process to develop other domestic programs to combat poverty, alienation and going back to the days of taking up arms. The sad reality is that it wasn’t the Taliban or its competing terrorist groups that halted such an initiative, rather the political class themselves who wanted greater share in the profits of this program. In real terms, the Afghan central government is too weak to take on the ardent tasks and initiatives they themselves set forth let alone taking on a re-energized Taliban.
What can be done?
The Military aid from foreign donors, which in 2009 included $4 billion from the United States was 16 times Afghanistan's domestic military expenditures but with such high figures have not produced an effective fighting force in the Afghan National Army who continue to face heavy losses against the Taliban or against its competing groups. Similarly, the NDS (National Directorate of Security) the key Afghan Intelligence agency have begun a process to warming up to Pakistan even more than previously but this has not paid dividends as some of the deadliest of attacks are continuing from 2017 onwards.
The terrorism problem will continue but a political settlement specific to Taliban’s demands and its affiliates has to be reached soon before an unconceivably all-out war breaks out. At present, that is less likely. The air support provided by the United States military for now has kept a minimalist bulwark against greater advances for the Taliban, but that is only specific to Kabul. The Taliban has large outside territories under their control. Corruption has crippled the Afghan government to be effective. A weak Afghan army maybe battle-hardened but that has not resulted in any win in their own offensives. Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s ethnic groups are all victims to how all this will playout. It is difficult to understand what lies ahead in Afghanistan. What will happen when and if more United States military forces were to leave? Will Iran and Pakistan divide the spoils or will the Taliban and its affiliates become even more brutal to consolidate their grasp on Afghanistan. The answer may be more difficult to swallow than the pain many Afghan’s endured from losing their loved ones in this tragic massacre of an attack.