Violence in Afghanistan Ignites Tension Before Election

Three separate bombings in Afghanistan over the last week have killed at least 48 people and wounded dozens more as the country’s election approaches on Sept. 28. The attacks, which come only days after the US ended peace talks with the Taliban, began on Sept. 15 and have targeted locations of significance to the upcoming elections.

The first two suicide-bombings took place on Tuesday, Sept. 17. The earlier attack began at 11:30 local time at an election rally in Parwan Province for President Ashraf Ghani, who was in attendance. According to reporters and statements made by the Afghan goverment, a suicide bomber drove a motorcycle loaded with explosives into an entrance of the venue hosting the campaign rally. The resulting blast killed 26 and injured 42 in a crowd of approximately 2,200, many of whom were civilians. Ghani, who was inside the building at the time of the explosion, was reportedly uninjured.

The second attack occurred only hours later at 13:00 local time in the middle of Kabul, the nation’s capital. This explosion occurred at a crowded intersection near Massood Square, in close proximity to both the US Embassy and The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) headquarters in Afghanistan. Official reports from the Afghan government say that the blast killed 22 people and wounded an unspecified amount of others. The Taliban, who claimed responsibility for both attacks, said that the Kabul explosion was targeted at an army base for Afghan troops.

Shortly after the attacks, Ghani condemned the actions of the Taliban. He posted a public statement on Twitter, saying “Kabul was also hit by a coward enemy and again the target was civilian lives. I offer my heartfelt condolences to victims of today’s tragedies in Kabul and Parwan and pray for the speedy recovery of those who were wounded. We stand united in this hour of grief.”

This was not the end of this week of violence, however. On Sept. 18 a third incident occured, when multiple gunmen and at least one confirmed suicide bomber entered a goverment building in Jalalabad, a city in Eastern Afghanistan. The building that was targeted is a distribution center of national identity cards, a form of identification which will allow citizens to vote in the upcoming election. Reports say that attackers first detonated bombs outside the building before entering with armed men.The Afghan government has not yet released an official statement on fatalities, though Minister of Interior Nashrat Rahimi confirmed at least two of the attackers were killed by Afghan government forces as they entered to take back the building.

This mounting violence has occurred directly before the Sept. 28 national elections, which the Taliban openly oppose. Following the first suicide bombing on Sept. 17, the insurgent group made a statement saying “we already warned people not to attend election rallies, if they suffer any losses that is their own responsibility.” They have threatened to disrupt the election process further and have released a warning against using schools and community buildings as election centers, as well as having students and teachers working at election centers, saying they “do not want to cause the loss of lives and financial losses for civilians, teachers and students.” Despite the recent attacks and threats, a spokesperson for the Afghan election commission said the government is “committed to holding elections on the announced date, and such threats from the Taliban cannot prevent us from holding them.”

The Taliban attacks occur mere weeks after the Trump administration ended peace talks for the 18-year conflict with the Taliban on Saturday, Sept. 7, following the death of an American soldier. If elections are to proceed, it will be the fourth nation-wide election since the US ousted the Taliban government in 2001. The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) reports that as of Sept. 18 there are 9.6 million Afghan citizens have registered to vote, but some estimates suggest that as many as one in twelve of the election centers may be closed due to security threats.

Airstrikes in Afghanistan

U.S airstrikes killed eight Afghan policemen in Uruzgan, a southern province of Afghanistan, on Sunday, September 18th, as well as an extremist Pakistani Taliban official on Sunday, September 25th. The United States carried out the attacks to aid the Afghan security forces in their fight against the Taliban who came close to capturing the province’s capital. Local and government officials in Kabul have confirmed the U.S airstrikes. The United States also confirmed both airstrikes, but have yet to comment on whether or not the first strikes killed the policemen.

The first airstrikes happened on a highway near the province’s capital, Tirin Kot. Eight policemen were guarding a post on the highway when one of them was struck; when the seven others returned, a foreign aircraft came and killed all of them. Several reports claimed that the reason the eight men were killed was due to the fact that they were wearing civilian clothing while carrying weapons. U.S. forces responded by calling the airstrikes self-defense against, “individuals firing on and posing a threat to our Afghan partner.” Abdul Karim Khadimzai, head of Uruzgan’s provincial council commented, “It was a mistake from the American side. There was bad communication between them and the police,” The U.S military could not confirm the killing of the policemen with Colonel Michael Lawhorn, a spokesman for the U.S. military, saying, “U.S. forces conducted two airstrikes down there against individuals that were firing on Afghan forces. Beyond that I can’t confirm anything.”

A committee was recently appointed to lead the investigation in Uruzgan. The names will remain anonymous for security reasons. Uruzgan was not the only province bombed last Sunday; other regions of the country, including a Kabul province, were also targeted. The province’s security has recently declined since the death of Matiullah Khan, a respected police chief. Khan was killed by a suicide bomber in Kabul last year. He rose to power through tribal politics and was strongly supported by international forces. Afghan forces are responsible for their country’s security against the Taliban, but U.S. forces are authorized to carry out airstrikes to protect Afghan civilians in the 15-year-long Taliban fight.

The airstrike on the 25th happened overnight in the Bermal district of the Patrika province across the Pakistani border. The attack killed a senior commander of the extremist Pakistani Taliban, Azam Tariq, his son, and many of his partners. Afghanistan’s Ambassador to Pakistan, Hazrat Omer Zakhilwal, read a statement confirming the loss. Zakhilwal commented, “The killing of top TIP commander Azam Tariq in an operation by Afghan security in Oaktika is yet another proof that Afghanistan forces is not in business of harboring terrorists as ‘assets’, regardless of who they intend to target, and does not distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ of them.” For security reasons, the U.S military refrained from discussing any further details on this issue. For most Afghans, the attack on Tariq came as a celebration, since the Pakistani Taliban is blamed for the killings of thousands of people in Afghanistan and Pakistan over the last decade.

Speaker Discusses Situation in Afghanistan

This past Wednesday, Malalai Joya, former member of the Afghani Parliament and an accomplished writer and activist, came to the College to give a talk about the current situation in Afghanistan.  Also the author of Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice, Joya was expelled from the Afghani Parliament after she denounced members of the assembly for being “warlords and drug smugglers.”

Her previous lecture, planned for earlier in the semester, was originally delayed by the U.S. State Department, who did not grant her a Visa until a grassroots campaign forced the government to change its decision.

Joya spent some time discussing why she thought she was not allowed to enter the country.  She said she believes that her view of the war in Afghanistan is one that the American government does not want the public to know.  “I know that billions of U.S. dollars are going to the warlords and indirectly to the Taliban,” said Joya.

There were few pleasant words towards the U.S. government and the NATO coalition that are currently fighting the decade long conflict. She described that the U.S. and NATO forces “pushed us from the frying pan and into the fire.”

According to Joya, this conflict has “not freed women” while over 8,000 civilians have been killed during the last four years of the occupation.  She continued by saying that the “10 years of occupation has doubled, tripled the miseries of women.”

Joya stated the “warmongers” within the U.S. government were doing their best to spin the story in a positive light by celebrating the fact that democracy is coming to Afghanistan.  However, Joya said that “democracy is nothing more than a thin curtain,” and even though “Western leaders and media like to talk about democracy,” it does not exist in Afghanistan.

When discussing the difference between Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Joya said that “Obama is a second and more dangerous Bush.”

Joya referenced the surge and how “[President Obama] brought more war and conflict” during his time in office.  She even went so far as saying that “[Defense Secretary Robert] Gates and [General David] Petraeus should be sent to court for following bad policies.”

Joya then stated what she believed U.S. and its NATO allies should do next.  The “only solution,” in her words would be “to get rid of U.S. troops.”  She later added that it would be “better today than tomorrow.”

“It won’t be heaven,” Joya said, “but it would be easier to fight two enemies [the Warlords and Taliban] if the third enemy [U.S. and NATO] left the country.” She continued by saying that if the U.S. left, “the financial backbone of the warlords would be broken.”

When answering a questions about why she  didn’t stay in the government and become rich, Joya said that “death is better than being a part of this government; death is better than silence.”

At the end of the talk, many members of the audience were left speechless by the power of Joya’s words.  Senior Allison Bailey said that the talk was “excellent and that [Joya] was very inspiring.”

Junior Danielle Doubt said, “[Joya] was a very powerful speaker, I’m honored for her to be here and [she] empowers students to make a difference.”

When she introduced Joya at the beginning of the program, Professor Sahar Shafqat said that this was the “most exciting event I’ve been associated with while at St. Mary’s.”  Shafqat continued by saying that “[Joya] has a message that we don’t hear often in the U.S.”

“To me, it is telling that the fact that she was denied a visa by the U.S. and expelled from Parliament makes me think there are a lot of people who want to silence her,” concluded Shafqat, “[it’s] very special and meaningful to have her here.”