As the deadliest bombings this year hit Afghanistan, there are doubts about the deployment of some NATO troops in southern parts of the country, raising concern in the government as well as the people about the security in the country.
This week for Kandahar province was one of the deadliest weeks since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. On Monday, a suicide bomber driving a motorcycle plowed into a wrestling match in the town of Spin Boldak in Kandahar, killing himself and more than 20 others. Earlier in the day, there was another bombing in the center of the province in which an Afghan soldier and three civilians were killed.
On Sunday, another bomber drove his pickup into a convoy of Canadian soldiers, killing a senior Canadian diplomat and two bystanders. Thirteen others were injured, including three Canadians, two of them seriously (CBC, January 16).
On Saturday, Mulla Khaksar, a prominent former Taliban commander was gunned down in Kandahar. He was a deputy interior minister in the Taliban Administration who defected to the government (Islah in Dari, January 15). Also on Saturday, there were two explosions in the southeastern province of Khost, killing one person and injuring 22 others.
The bombing in Spin Boldak is the worst of its kind this year. In mid-2005, a similar bombing in a mosque in Kandahar killed more than 20 people including the Kabul Chief of police (Arman-e-Milli, January 15).
The new wave of bombings drew wide condemnations from the Afghan government, the UN Secretary General and the UN Security Council. The attacks are suspected to be designed to scare the NATO countries that are planning to deploy troops in Afghanistan to replace American troops and strengthen the peacekeeping forces in the country.
Commenting on the bombings in Kandahar, President Karzai appealed to foreign forces to not leave Afghanistan, saying this would encourage the insurgents. He said: “We are in a joint struggle against terrorism, for us and for the international community. If you don’t defend yourself here, you will have to defend yourself back home, in European capitals and America’s capitals” (RFE/RL, January 17).
The same sentiments were echoed by Francesc Vandrell, special representative of the EU in Kabul, in a comment about the deployment of NATO troops in Afghanistan. Speaking about the reported reluctance of the Dutch in sending troops to Afghanistan, Vandrell warned that it “would be a ‘heavy blow’ to Europe’s commitment, and Afghanistan’s future, if the Dutch failed to agree to their deployment” (The Independent, January 17). Although the Dutch government has agreed to the deployment of troops, the final decision is to be made by the parliament. In a conversation with Jamestown, the spokeswoman of the Green Party in the Dutch parliament said that her party is opposed to the deployment, as is one of the three parties in the government coalition. She said it is unlikely that the parliament will approve the deployment of about 1,400 troops in the province of Uruzgan. She said sending a peacekeeping force to a war zone would not be for peacekeeping but for combat.
The same apprehension is expressed about the deployment of the British troops in southern Afghanistan. The British contingent made up of 3,500 soldiers will replace about the same number of U.S. forces that are expected to be withdrawn from the region.
As to who were behind those deadly attacks, the Taliban have claimed responsibility for some of the assaults, but not for the bloodiest suicide bombing in Boldak. A spokesman who claimed to represent the extremist group denied involvement in the bombing. Yet usually these types of attacks are blamed on the Taliban, and they also give conflicting statements about an attack. (Paktribune.com, January 18).
With the involvement of the Taliban comes the blame of their traditional supporters, sympathizers in the Pakistani establishment. Although the government in Kabul has not specifically blamed anybody by name, the governor of Kandahar province, specifically blamed Pakistan for failing to rein in the Taliban. Assadullah Khalid, the governor of the southern province of Kandahar, in a statement accused sympathetic elements in the Pakistani government of orchestrating the recent bombings in the province, saying: “There are documents indicating that Pakistan was heavily involved in recent bombings in the country.” According to Khalid, Pakistan is sheltering and training anti-government insurgents on its soil.
The Pakistani Embassy in Kabul noted that similar accusations have been made on several previous occasions by the governors of Afghan provinces bordering on Pakistan. (Erada in Dari, January 17).
There were also demonstrations in the city of Spin Boldak protesting Pakistan’s alleged involvement the incidents. “We took to the streets to condemn Pakistan’s double game,” protestor Jawid Ahmad said. “They claim they fight against terrorism but in secret they support terrorists and al-Qaeda, they support instability in Afghanistan,” he said (AFP, January 18).
There is no doubt that the insurgents carry out these attacks, as President Karzai said, to “frighten” off the West. Yet any reluctance on the part of NATO or the international community to send troops would embolden the Taliban and demoralize the existing anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan. The Afghan peace is not irreversible; yet if instability worsens, the blame will be squarely put on the shoulders of the West for once again abandoning Afghanistan.