Kabul blasts test Afghan president's peace plan

2015-08-07 22:47
Afghan security forces members inspect the site of a suicide attack near a bank in Jalalabad, east of Kabul. (AP)

Afghan security forces members inspect the site of a suicide attack near a bank in Jalalabad, east of Kabul. (AP)

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Kabul - Two massive attacks in Kabul on Friday, one striking near a government and military complex in a residential area and the other a suicide bombing outside a police academy, killed at least 35 people, sending the strongest message yet to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani - that militants are still able to strike at his heavily fortified seat of power.

No one claimed responsibility for the attacks, though officials indicated they blamed the Taliban.

The implications of the assaults, however, undermine claims by security services and the government that the capital is immune from devastating attacks. They also pose a major challenge to Ghani, who has made the peace process with the Taliban the hallmark of his presidency since taking office last year.

In the evening hours, a suicide bomber dressed in a police uniform struck outside the gates of a police academy in Kabul, killing at least 20 recruits and wounding 25, Afghan officials said.

The attacker walked into a group of recruits waiting outside the academy and detonated his explosives-laden vest, said a police officer, who goes by the name of Mabubullah. Many Afghans use only one name. Another police officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters, said there were at least 25 wounded among the recruits.

Earlier in the day, a massive truck bomb killed at least 15 people near a government complex and a military base in a residential area of Kabul. That 01:00 blast flattened an entire city block and also wounded 240 people, officials said.

It was one of the largest ever in Kabul - a city of 4.5 million people - in terms of scale, flattening a city block and leaving a 10m crater in the ground.

The president's office said 47 women and 33 children were among the casualties in that attack. The president's deputy spokesperson Zafar Hashemi said about 40 of the wounded would remain hospitalised. It was unknown how the attackers smuggled a large amount of explosives into the heavily guarded city.

Ghani threatened a rapid and forceful response to the bombing, saying it was aimed at diverting public attention from the Taliban's leadership struggle.

Dead two years

Last week, Afghan authorities announced the death Mullah Mohammad Omar, the one-eyed, secretive head of the Taliban who hosted Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaida in the years leading up to the September 11, 2001, attacks. Mullah Omar had not been seen in public since fleeing over the border into Pakistan after the 2001 US-led invasion that ousted the Taliban from power.

The Afghan intelligence agency said Mullah Omar had been dead for more than two years. The Taliban leadership confirmed his death - and even appointed a successor - but the revelation still sparked a leadership struggle among senior Taliban figures, raising concerns of a succession crisis that could splinter the group.

Pakistan, which wields significant influence over the insurgent group and which hosted the first round of landmark Afghan-Taliban peace talks last month, denied that Mullah Omar had died in Karachi. The peace talks were indefinitely postponed following the announcement of the leader's death.

Ghani, freshly returned from medical treatment in Germany, visited the wounded in hospital as social media carried calls for blood donations

"We are still committed to peace. But we will respond to these sort of terrorist attacks with force and power," Ghani said in a statement, condemning the high civilian casualty count.

Hashemi, the president's deputy spokesperson, blamed the Taliban and said the attackers aimed to "hide the cracks between their own factions and create terror."

The appointment of Mullah Omar's deputy, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, to succeed him sparked protests from his brother and son, and appears to have led to serious rifts that internal committees are now trying to heal.

Taliban has split into four

An Afghan security official - speaking on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to give information to media - said the Taliban had split into four factions, all with powerful political credentials and substantial armed followings.

He said that agents of Pakistan's ISI intelligence agency - believed to have sheltered the Taliban leadership since their regime was overthrown in a US-led invasion in 2001 - were in Quetta to help the Taliban resolve the crisis.

Mullah Akhtar is believed to have led the group into informal and formal peace talks at the behest of Islamabad. Other contenders for the leadership might not be so open to a dialogue with the Afghan government, possibly believing that apparent success on the battlefield this year puts victory within sight.

"The peace talks are on ice for the moment until the Taliban can come up with a coherent political voice," said Graeme Smith, Afghanistan analyst with the International Crisis Group.

"The Afghan government has no choice but to wait for the leadership crisis to be resolved. There is no one to talk to right now. Peace negotiators need someone to talk to," he said.


Read more on:    taliban  |  ashraf ghani  |  afghanistan

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