Devastating attacks rocked Kabul this month, killing over a hundred people and raising concerns over a resurgent Taliban. Repeated failures by the national government, Camelia Entekhabifard argues, have Afghans looking elsewhere for a defense against the terrorist insurgency: Donald Trump.
On Sunday the Eiffel Tower went dark once again. Around the world people mourned the atrocity in Afghanistan the day before, 27 January, when more than 130 people were killed and over 300 injured in a single bombing attack in a busy Kabul street.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for this act of savagery, using language that may have described fumigating a pond to rid it of mosquitos. Just days earlier, they had crossed security checkpoints and entered Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel to conduct another ‘fumigation’, hunting people down room by room, killing 22 people and injuring more than a hundred.
In the past eight months, the Taliban or associated terrorist groups have been responsible for up to ten suicide attacks in Kabul.
The turbaned men of the Pashtun Taliban appear in video clips; often with an RPG on-shoulder, long hair, bushy beards and a toothpick, as though to mock the international community and its unproductive peace talks.
The insurgent Taliban, financed and supported by Pakistan, enter peace talks on and off, which are mainly seen as opportunities to buy time while its fighters rack up victims among the Afghans.
The increased number of attacks, especially in Kabul, where most residents are ethnic Tajiks, and at Shia mosques and centers for Hazaras, has raised alarm that the Taliban's new strategy may be to incite a sectarian war in Afghanistan.
President Hamid Karzai who ran the country (2001-14), after the United States and NATO allies ousted the Taliban in 2001, refused to call the Taliban a terrorist group; preferring instead to refer to them as ‘dissatisfied brothers.’ During his time in office, he pursued a power sharing arrangement and sought to negotiate with the Taliban.
Mohammad Ashraf Ghani Ahmad Zai succeeded Karzai as president after a rigid and disputed election in 2014, according to the US, UN and the EU, all of whom monitored the election. Once in office, he achieved little. His ‘unity government’ (with Ghani as president and Abdullah Abdullah as chief executive) is regarded as a product of US stewardship, meant to wrap up the election before President Obama left office.
This unity government was unable to unify its own two main leaders and failed to improve the security and stability of the nation. Afghan elites and the opposition have been accusing President Ghani of favoring his own Pashtun background, organizing the massive fraud that helped him get elected, failing to fight the Taliban insurgency adequately, and refusing to call the Taliban terrorists. Only in 2016, for the first time, did Ghani label the Taliban terrorists.
The Saturday massacre in Kabul resembles another attack conducted by the Taliban in May 2017, which killed over 90 and injured more than 460 Afghans. Huge amounts of explosives hidden inside a car and driven inside one of the most populated areas during rush hour indicate the Taliban’s good logistical and intelligence support. The government’s weak security, and the terrorists’ ability to conduct back-to-back suicide attacks in the capital and inside military bases, raise the question of whether the terrorists have infiltrated the security system and have access to management and security operation data.
According to government sources, over the past three years the military and the police have hired many Pashtuns without a security background check in order to take the lead from former Mujahideen commanders, mainly Tajiks, who had a major role in defeating the Taliban in 2001 with the help of the US. It seems that many Taliban agents were able to enter the army, police and security forces.
But as of today the Taliban have been able to eliminate most key Mujahideen commanders. A member of the Taliban even assassinated Afghanistan’s former president, Burhanuddin Rabbani, himself an influential jihadist leader. That killing took place in 2011. The assailant posed as a messenger bearing an important message for Rabbani about the peace talks with the Taliban; at the time Rabbani was head of the Peace Council formed by President Karzai for the talks.
Now Afghans are feeling more hopeless than ever about peace with the Taliban; they are frustrated by a corrupt government, and see a war on terrorists as the best option left. It’s not a surprise, then, that President Trump became extremely popular in Afghanistan when he announced his strategy about South Asia, saying he would cut aid to Pakistan for failing to seriously fight against terrorism and/or the Taliban.
“When you see what they’re doing and the atrocities that they’re committing, and killing their own people, and those people are women and children ... it is horrible,” Trump said at the White House on 29 January in reaction to the latest explosion in Kabul. “We don’t want to talk to the Taliban. We’re going to finish what we have to finish, what nobody else has been able to finish, we’re going to be able to do it.”
The Afghan government welcomed Trump’s comments but perhaps the US president must first to start with Afghanistan’s ‘government of unity’, which has so far resisted confronting the Taliban.
Afghans are waiting impatiently to see what Trump will do to help them as their own president, Ghani, fails to protect Afghan citizens.
Camelia Entekhabifard is an Iranian/American journalist, political commentator and author of Camelia: Save Yourself by Telling the Truth, Seven Stories Press, 2008.