At least 80 people were killed and hundreds critically wounded when a massive truck bomb ripped through Kabul’s diplomatic quarter, shattering the morning rush hour and bringing carnage in the streets of Kabul. So far no one has taken responsibility for this action. The Taliban have denied responsibility and condemned the attack for having no legitimate target and targeting civilians alone. It is being speculated that ISIS is probably behind this attack as in March it killed over 50 people after an attack on a hospital in Kabul.
The attack which took place near the German Embassy jostled in the city as a large plume of smoke rose over the capital. The Embassy staffers also got injured in the dastardly attack on Wednesday.
— TOLOnews (@TOLOnews) May 31, 2017
The CNN quoted the German Foreign Minister, Sigmar Gabriel’s views on the attack.
“The attack was aimed at civilians and those who are in Afghanistan to work with the people there for a better future of the country,” Gabriel said. “In the attack, officials of the German embassy were also injured. In the meantime, all employees are safe.”
The Indian Embassy was near the blast site but there are no reports of damages, casualties or injuries.
The Minister for External Affairs tweeted “By God’s grace, Indian Embassy staff are safe in the massive Kabul blast,”
By God’s grace, Indian Embassy staff are safe in the massive #Kabul blast.
— Sushma Swaraj (@SushmaSwaraj) May 31, 2017
The Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi condemned the blast and vowed to fight the menace of terrorism.
India could use this to garner support on terror as a common threat when he meets his German counterpart in his European tour.
“We strongly condemn the terrorist blast in Kabul. Our thoughts are with the families of the deceased & prayers with the injured,” tweeted Modi, who is currently on a six-day four-nation tour of Germany, Spain, Russia and France.
We strongly condemn the terrorist blast in Kabul. Our thoughts are with the families of the deceased & prayers with the injured.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) May 31, 2017
He further said “India stands with Afghanistan in fighting all types of terrorism. Forces supporting terrorism need to be defeated.” Currently, Mr Modi is in Germany as part of his European tour, and it is expected that will no doubt use this as an opportunity to try and blame and isolate Pakistan.
India stands with Afghanistan in fighting all types of terrorism. Forces supporting terrorism need to be defeated.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) May 31, 2017
A statement issued by the Pakistan foreign office also condemned the attack as well as confirmed that some of their diplomats and staff have sustained minor injuries in the attack and their residences were also damaged.
The people &Govt of Pakistan extend their heartfelt sympathies &deepest condolences to Govt and people of Afghanistan &the bereaved families
— M. Nafees Zakaria (@ForeignOfficePk) May 31, 2017
Last one week has had heavy fatalities for Afghans. There have been a series of such attacks claimed by ISIS and the Taliban. A suicide car bomber attacked Afghan police providing security to US forces in eastern Afghanistan, killing at least 18 people last Saturday. Over 130 people have died in the last week alone counting today’s tragedy.
What Should the US do?
The gruesome attacks are gaining in intensity and frequency at a time when the Trump Administration is about to announce its new policy towards Afghanistan. The attack in a highly protected area is a further indictment of the non-ability of the Afghan state apparatus to curb inimical groups like Taliban and ISIS. However, it is important for the US to think through various aspects before promulgating any policy for the fragmented country.
The Taliban are holding about 58 percent of Afghan territory and are attacking Afghan and foreign forces with latitude. After the deadly attack on 209 corps headquarters last month which claimed lives of 150 Afghan soldiers, the Taliban carried out two attacks on military installations in Kandahar this week claiming the lives of 25 soldiers.
The US has been forced to mull over a new policy for Afghanistan in light of the deteriorating situation. General after General has been calling for a troop increase in the country. Going through the chatter and opinions of those that matter in US circles it seems the country is weighing towards a military-centric policy by increasing soldiers on the ground. This seems to be the reason why they also employed the GBU 43 bomb against IS last month in Nangarhar. Pakistan also it seems will continue to be seen through the prism of Afghanistan. This is another weakness of the US policy.
There has been a $190 cut in financial aid to Pakistan this year by the Trump Administration. It has proposed $344 million in financial assistance to Pakistan including $100 million in foreign military funding, a massive $190 million reduction in grant as compared to the 2016 fiscal year.
A change in the Afghan policy was deemed indispensable and necessary because of Taliban’s resurgence. However, the Trump administration being led by the Pentagon is once again going down the route of increasing numbers of soldiers – this despite the fact that at its height of the war – when over 100,000 soldiers were present in the country the issues were not resolved.
Furthermore, to treat and keep relations with Pakistan, the largest Muslim country in the region with strong institutions, strong army and a nuclear state, through the Afghan lens relationship is an ongoing weakness of US policy which is not paying them any dividends. Yet, while there have been many deliberations and statements on Pakistan, but Lt Gen McMaster is the first senior official who clearly talked about the new policy will apply to Pakistan also.
“And so what we’ll have at the end of the next few weeks is an opportunity for a much more effective strategy for the problem set in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the region broadly,” Gen McMaster told a White House news briefing earlier this month.
There are voices which are clamouring to take action against Pakistan. Recently a US Republican Congressmen Adam Kinzinger, a Congressman from Illinois has asked President Trump to resume air strikes inside Pakistan at alleged terrorist’s hideouts, which are stoking trouble in Afghanistan.
Here it must be stressed that the US has already started to twist Islamabad’s arm mainly due to the ever-worsening situation in Afghanistan. There has been a $190 cut in financial aid to Pakistan this year by the Trump Administration. It has proposed $344 million in financial assistance to Pakistan including $100 million in foreign military funding, a massive $190 million reduction in grant as compared to the 2016 fiscal year.
The US has been forced to mull over a new policy for Afghanistan in light of the deteriorating situation. Going my all chatters and opinions the US is looking to employ a Pakistan-centered Afghan policy.
In addition, in order to further squeeze Islamabad the administration has proposed the $800mn- a cut of US $100 million compared to the previous time – in its annual budget proposals under the Coalition Support Fund (CSF), a Pentagon program to reimburse US allies that have incurred costs in supporting counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations.
Despite the need for cooperation, ties between the two countries are not healthy. However, there have been hints at a concerted effort to solve the Afghan puzzle.
US Acknowledgement of Pakistan’s concerns
Top spymasters in the US admitted that Pakistan deems increasing Indian footprint in Afghanistan detrimental to its interests and hence it will go in the Chinese camp to offset the influence.
In a weekend briefing Director National Intelligence, Daniel R Coats pointed out Pakistan’s strategic thought and worldview in a congressional hearing. “Pakistan is concerned about international isolation and sees its position through the prism of India’s rising international status, including India’s expanded foreign outreach and deepening ties to the United States,” he said
The assertions by Coates echo Pakistan’s actual threat perceptions and something which Pakistani strategic fraternity has time and again tried to reason out with the US.
The chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lt General Stewart while talking about Pakistan’s India paranoia said “Pakistan views Afghanistan — or desires for Afghanistan some of the same things we want: a safe, secure, stable Afghanistan. One addition — one that does not have heavy Indian influence in Afghanistan.”
“They view all of the challenges through the lens of an Indian threat to the state of Pakistan. So they hold in reserve terrorist organizations… so that — if Afghanistan leans towards India, they will no longer be supportive of an idea of a stable and secure Afghanistan that could undermine Pakistan interests,” the general said further
US understanding rather than browbeating Islamabad so that healthy relations with Islamabad ensure its long run extrication from the Afghan swamp. There is an old military saying that never reinforce a failure. The US besides lacking strategic acumen continues to employ a wrong war-fighting concept against the warring divisive factions in Afghanistan.
Disproportionate force application did little to target the Taliban’s center of gravity during the period when the Nato forces were the highest. The results are evident and there for all to see. Taliban’s war-waging capability has got a new bite and hence they continue to take swathes of territory; they are a military and a political force much stronger than the unstable NUG government. It is difficult to hope that a military surge would compel the Taliban to come back in the fold especially when the mainstay of their resurgence is their resistance to foreign intervention. Indeed, if the 2010-upsurge is any guide, then this as the ‘new policy’ is unlikely to be successful.
The US has to support an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process if it wants a negotiated end to the war in Afghanistan. The US should also accept Russian overtures of countering the menace of the ISIS in this case in the Afghan theater. It has organized three multi-nation conferences and has asserted that reconciliation with the Taliban is a key to peace. Besides, Russia deems the Taliban is an effective bulwark in the global fight against the Islamic State. The US had refused to partake in the peace conference last month in Moscow. It must cooperate with Russia to counter IS in this region as it is contemplating to do so in Syria.