Taliban attack on Mohammed’s birthday

It was around 6:30 this morning when we were woken up by a violent blast. As it turned out, it was another of the ‘complex’ (or multiple) attacks using suicide bombers and ‘commandos’ armed with small arms for which the Taliban have regularly claimed responsibility. The main targets seem to have been two guesthouses in ...

BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images

It was around 6:30 this morning when we were woken up by a violent blast. As it turned out, it was another of the ‘complex’ (or multiple) attacks using suicide bombers and ‘commandos’ armed with small arms for which the Taliban have regularly claimed responsibility. The main targets seem to have been two guesthouses in Shahr-e Nau used by Indian aid workers, next to the Safi Landmark hotel and City Centre, a shopping mall, both in one building. This big building -- in which some Indian and Australian embassy staff live -- also is heavily damaged. At least 15 people were killed, amongst them apparently four Indians. At 1 pm Kabul time, shots still could be heard from the area. It is particularly remarkable that the attack happened on Prophet Mohammed’s birthday, or Maulud-e Sharif, a religious holiday and claimed many Afghan (Muslim) casualties.

Since the responsibility for the attack already has been claimed by the Taliban through their spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed who said that ‘two buildings used by foreigners’ were the targets, this attack raises many questions, mainly to the Taliban. The spokesman vaguely refers to ‘foreigners’ in general but it is known that both attacked guesthouses (Hamid’s and Park Residence) are used by many Indian nationals. It seems that amongst the killed are Indian doctors. Additionally, the Safi Landmark hotel might have been seen as Indian-owned but it is owned by Khalid Abdullah al-Ghurair group in the UAE. The large Park Residence is frequented also by many journalists.

The timing is also striking. Yesterday, the first Indo-Pakistani talks after the Lashkar-e-Taiba attacks in Mumbai on November 26, 2008 were yesterday in New Delhi on the foreign secretary level. This possibly is no coincidence. In this connection, today’s attack in Kabul can be read as another attack on Indian targets in Kabul (the Indian embassy here was bombed in July 2008) and -- indirectly -- on initiatives to improve the Indo-Pakistani relationship?

It was around 6:30 this morning when we were woken up by a violent blast. As it turned out, it was another of the ‘complex’ (or multiple) attacks using suicide bombers and ‘commandos’ armed with small arms for which the Taliban have regularly claimed responsibility. The main targets seem to have been two guesthouses in Shahr-e Nau used by Indian aid workers, next to the Safi Landmark hotel and City Centre, a shopping mall, both in one building. This big building — in which some Indian and Australian embassy staff live — also is heavily damaged. At least 15 people were killed, amongst them apparently four Indians. At 1 pm Kabul time, shots still could be heard from the area. It is particularly remarkable that the attack happened on Prophet Mohammed’s birthday, or Maulud-e Sharif, a religious holiday and claimed many Afghan (Muslim) casualties.

Since the responsibility for the attack already has been claimed by the Taliban through their spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed who said that ‘two buildings used by foreigners’ were the targets, this attack raises many questions, mainly to the Taliban. The spokesman vaguely refers to ‘foreigners’ in general but it is known that both attacked guesthouses (Hamid’s and Park Residence) are used by many Indian nationals. It seems that amongst the killed are Indian doctors. Additionally, the Safi Landmark hotel might have been seen as Indian-owned but it is owned by Khalid Abdullah al-Ghurair group in the UAE. The large Park Residence is frequented also by many journalists.

The timing is also striking. Yesterday, the first Indo-Pakistani talks after the Lashkar-e-Taiba attacks in Mumbai on November 26, 2008 were yesterday in New Delhi on the foreign secretary level. This possibly is no coincidence. In this connection, today’s attack in Kabul can be read as another attack on Indian targets in Kabul (the Indian embassy here was bombed in July 2008) and — indirectly — on initiatives to improve the Indo-Pakistani relationship?

So, why do the Taliban make themselves an instrument of those — by claiming responsibility — who do not want to see such an improvement to happen? Does the whole Taliban movement support such a strategy? What about Mullah Omar’s statement of late last year that the Taliban do not threaten any neighboring and also any other country? Does that not apply for India? Does Zabihullah Mujahed speak for Mullah Omar or not?

Or has this attack been carried out by other elements: Pakistani Taliban, the Haqqani network or those linked to groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba or al-Qaeda that has declared ‘Hindu’ India a target, too? Are Afghan elements linked to these groups (like the Haqqanis) out of Mullah Omar’s control? This would apply to spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed, too.

What repercussions does that have for the Taliban’s readiness to look for a political solution that was assumed for the Taliban leadership in Kandahar or, at least, elements of it? Possibly, the attack is another element in a development assumed by some observers here that the ISI currently is staging a turn-over in the overall Taliban leadership, away from politically people minded to radical ‘hawks,’ In this reading, the arrest of reportedly pro-talks people like Mullah Baradar, Maulawi Kabir and former Zabul shadow governor Mohammed Yunos would be another indication that this assumption is true. This would not augur well for chances of a political solution in Afghanistan.

The Taliban also have a ‘collateral damage’ problem that should be addressed in practice and not only in their layha. This code of conduct for their fighters advocates caution vis-à-vis civilians during suicide attacks although it does not rule it out as a tactical instrument.

Where are those Taliban who have argued a few years ago that the massive use of suicide bombers and the killing of scores of Afghan civilians are ‘un-Islamic’? And where are their ‘Islamic’ credentials when they cause such an atrocity on Mohammed’s birthday, one of the holiest days in Muslims’ calendar?

Thomas Ruttig is the co-director of the Afghan Analysts Network, where this was originally published.  He speaks Dari and Pashtu.

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