By Afrasiab Khattak-The bloodbath in Kabul on May 31 will never be forgotten. Like a terrible nightmare it will haunt the memory of generations to come, not that Kabul had not seen atrocities before.
Unfortunately, Afghan blood had callously been shed by both foreign oppressors and local warlords at different points in time. Particularly after 1992, Kabul has seen the wild ferocity of warring factions supported by different foreign powers. The Taliban have taken responsibility of a number of spectacular attacks mercilessly killing dozens of people during the last so many years. But there would be at least some pretense, however weird and questionable, of justifying the target, such as having some alleged connection with the state authority or security institution, being “undesirable foreigners” or accused of some kind of “ infidelity”. Needless to say that there is no justification for any terror attack. Period, but the Wednesday massacre (occurring on the first day of Muslim holy month of Ramazan) had not even an iota of the aforementioned so-called pretexts. It was a crystal clear crime against humanity. It targeted people of all ethnic origins having various religious beliefs and profession backgrounds. The majority was common civilians. Being a human was the only qualification for being part of the target. Pure and simple.
The most heart wrenching was the agonies of the children and women victims who seem to have borne the brunt of the barbaric terrorist attack. The numbers of the victims, killed and injured, were horrifying. But these figures can’t cover the enormity of the tragedy as the victims weren’t mere statistics. They were human beings with families/social relations and many of them were quite young. Terror attacks have also taken place in other parts of Afghanistan, but the scale was different altogether in the May 31 massacre, much like the massacres in APS Peshawar, in Quetta Hospital or Sufi Shrine in Sehwan, Pakistan. The Taliban seem to have resorted to spectacular attacks once again after failing in capturing a single province in their all out war of the last three years after the drawdown of international forces.
Afghanistan is the unlucky country kissed almost to death by “friends”. Russia and USA have taken turns in doing that. They brought Cold War polarisations to Afghanistan but not the security and prosperity which they had promised. The so-called Muslim neighbours, Pakistan and Iran in particular, have left no stone unturned in pursuing historical animosity towards Afghanistan. Arab sheikhdoms have lavishly financed extremists and terrorists. But the external factors do not absolve Afghan rulers, as Afghanistan has also serious internal challenges. Mired in corruption and bad governance the Afghan ruling elites have failed to fulfill the promises they had made during their election campaigns. The government of National Unity unfortunately does not reflect the character which is claimed by its name.
Be that as it may, the external factors, the double games played by different players, have kept the conflict alive in Afghanistan at the cost of Afghan blood. Many countries in Asia and Africa have internal problems not very dissimilar to Afghanistan. But as external players, the neighbouring countries in particular don’t interfere; the problems don’t get out of control. For example, if China and India had actively intervene in Nepal’s internal strife that country’s situation wouldn’t have been different from Afghanistan. The Pakistani project of the Taliban in particular, is the main source of bloodshed in Afghanistan.
This is Pakistan’s fourth war in Afghanistan although she has lived in denial. The first one was fought from 1981 to 1989 against the Soviet forces. It was of course supported by the US and numerous other countries. The second one was fought from 1994 to 9/11, when Talibanisation of Afghanistan was at its peak. The third war started from 2003 when Taliban and Al Qaida were allowed to regroup in Pakistan for starting a new war across the Durand Line. The fourth war started in 2014 after the drawdown of the ISAF from Afghanistan. Pakistan’s deep state and its mouthpieces use the presence of TTP in Afghanistan to justify Pakistani support for the Taliban’s war against the Afghan state. This isn’t convincing for many reasons. First of all TTP is a terrorist network but it can’t be compared with the Afghan Taliban’s parallel government waging a full fledged war throughout Afghanistan from their sanctuaries in Pakistan. Second, TTP is mainly based in areas controlled by the Afghan Taliban. The government of Pakistan is knocking the wrong door. Thirdly, the Afghan government has taken action against TTP. More TTP commanders have been killed in Afghanistan during the last three years than they were killed in Pakistan during the last decade when TTP was fully based inside Pakistan.
The Kabul massacre is a moment of truth for all external players in Afghanistan. They need to go for introspection. The question for US is to clarify its position. After sending its troops to Afghanistan after 9/11 for eliminating terror in South Asia why did she opt to go to Iraq and lose focus on the original project? What is the use of bilateral security agreement if it can’t protect sovereignty of Afghanistan and the lives of its citizens? Russians also have to think twice before burning their fingers once again. Elements from Al Qaida and the so-called IS have entered Afghanistan with Taliban. Their next destination would be Central Asia and Southern Russia. Playing the card of religious militancy against the rival big powers is disastrous as the experience of Afghanistan and Middle East has proved beyond any doubt. China has to realise that extremist religious militancy can be the most important roadblock before OBOR. The East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) is member of the regional terror syndicate. These terror networks will swim or sink together. Flirting with one is flirting with all. India has every right to have best of relations with Afghanistan but she shouldn’t induct Pak-India rivalry or proxy war with Pakistan in Afghanistan. Pakistan needs to take a clear break with its four decades old Afghan policy. Befriending Afghanistan will be possible only when Pakistan stops controlling Afghanistan through Taliban. The day Pakistan recognises Afghanistan as a sovereign and independent country in practice (not just in words) there will be a dramatic change in Pak-Afghan relations.
Two last things about the Kabul massacre. One terrorist war against Afghanistan is acquiring genocidal proportions. What is the international community doing about it? Will there be war crimes prosecution? Two, the way brave sons and daughters of Kabul faced the massacre, helped the victims of attack and resumed their duties soon after clearly shows that Afghans as nation will stay the course come what may.
Afrasiab Khattak is a retired Senator and an analyst of regional affairs