Last weekend provided a rude shock to the authorities in Kabul, as they prepare for the October 9 presidential elections and celebrate the declaration of the capital “free of heavy weapons”. On Sunday August 29 a truck loaded with construction wood and packed with explosives was detonated by remote control outside the office of the U.S. security company DynCorp, which provides bodyguards for Afghan President Hamid Karzai and trains the national police. The casualties were given officially as two U.S. citizens, three Nepalese and two locals, and comes three days after a Taliban web posting threatening “a flood of jihad” against the Americans and their allies in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The bomb was accordingly claimed by the Taliban, who promised more attacks in Afghanistan’s capital. Subsequently the bombing was claimed by al-Qaeda, who claim it was “carried out with the help of our Mujahideen brothers from the Taliban”. It represents the most serious challenge to security in Kabul since January, when two peacekeeping soldiers were killed in suicide bombings on successive days. It also adds to the weekend’s tally of 10 deaths, nine of which were children, as a result of a bomb blast at a school in Paktia province southeast of Kabul.
Beyond the challenge this represents to government claims to restoring order, the incident also raises a question mark as to the prospects for the upcoming presidential elections slated for October 9. The last weekend also witnessed an improvised explosive device attack in Nangarhar province east of Kabul upon a vehicle of the Joint Electoral Management Body, one of a series of bombings directed at electoral workers since a voter registration campaign begun last December. The Taliban have vowed to disrupt the election and in this respect their campaign appears, at least partially, successful. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe has concluded that ‘current and anticipated conditions in Afghanistan are significantly below those regarded … as the minimal necessary for any meaningful election observation’. With large parts of the country no-go areas for the international community, the combined foreign and Afghan observers are expected to be able to monitor ‘only 12% of polling stations’, and these exclusively in urban centers, leaving most of the country prey to intimidation and electoral fraud. The bombing in Kabul, vaunted as the most secure place in Afghanistan, is not only injurious to security, it is also politically damaging. Coming in the run-up to elections, both in Afghanistan and the United States, it also demonstrates astute political timing, suggesting that it was indeed al-Qaeda that was behind it.