Kabul Bombings Reveal Mounting Challenges Faced by the Karzai Government

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 3 Issue: 27

A bomb detonated outside the Afghan Justice Ministry on July 4, injuring several civilians and shattering windows in nearby buildings. Three additional devices exploded across Kabul on July 5, 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, July 5). As foreign embassies implemented enhanced security protocols, purported Taliban spokesman Mohammad Hanif claimed responsibility for the violence. “These attacks in Kabul are part of the 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, July 6).

Officials blamed the violence on foreign infiltrators. Speaking in Washington on July 6, 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 is 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 July 2 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, July 7). That foothold appears to be growing. On July 7, purported Taliban spokesman Qari Yousaf Ahmadi claimed that insurgents had captured Helmand’s Sagin and Baghran districts. Sagin residents later corroborated that statement, disputing official denials by provincial police chief Nabi Mulakhel (Pajhwok Afghan News, July 7).

This interior base of operations allows Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah to rally tribal allies while minimizing cross-border incursions (Terrorism Focus, May 31). It also sets the stage 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 stronger military discipline and tighter unit cohesion. In regions where the Taliban agitate, they seek to degrade support for President Karzai through disruptive violence. Taken together, these developments suggest a shift away from the Taliban’s traditional warrior mentality to a classic insurgent strategy.

Recent events support this conclusion. On July 2, insurgents launched a nighttime raid on a coalition base in Sagin, killing two British paratroopers and wounding four others (Pajhwok Afghan News, July 2). A third soldier died in an ambush on July 3, bringing recent British losses in Helmand to six. On July 6, Taliban forces fired rockets at a coalition base in Zabul province’s Seri district. On July 8, they ambushed a coalition convoy in nearby Shahjoi (Afghan Islamic Press, July 8). Combined with routine skirmishes between Canadian infantry and insurgents in Kandahar, Dadullah’s summer offensive shows no sign of subsiding.

This offensive comes at a time when Afghanistan’s government faces mounting international frustration and burgeoning domestic resentment. Those sentiments stem from three interrelated dilemmas. The first is security. With the ANA fielding only half its mandated manpower, the coalition’s “light footprint” strategy compels close cooperation with militias dating from the Afghan civil war. Reliance on these private forces perpetuates ethnic factionalism, empowering regional warlords at the expense of the national government. As one Afghan civil society leader told The Jamestown Foundation, “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 criminal 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 see the benefits of the current system,” noted Jamestown’s anonymous coalition source 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 July 2, farmers in Kabul’s Paghman district protested an alleged land grab by former warlord and Wolesi Jirga member Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf (Pajhwok Afghan News, July 2). Such demonstrations are common. District and provincial officials routinely divert scarce resources to their own family and tribal networks, enriching themselves while enraging Afghan villagers. 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 a vacillating central government and an increasingly vigorous Taliban insurgency.