Afghanistan: Kandahar Mosque Explosion Kills More Than 65

At least 65 people were killed in a suicide bombing at a mosque in Kandahar on Friday, reports an attendee of a burial ceremony held for the victims on Saturday. “The prayer had ended. We were preparing to leave the mosque when we heard gunfire outside” claimed one witness who narrowly escaped the blast. “A few seconds later, there was a blast inside.”

The bombing was the work of Islamic State (IS), a militant group who claimed responsibility for a similar attack just one week earlier, which killed as many as 80 Shi’ite Muslims in Kunduz last week. According to the mosque’s Imam, Sardar Mohammad Zaidi, two of the four attackers blew themselves up at the entrance, clearing a path for the remaining two to shoot their way in and detonate their explosives.

“Friday’s blast shows that the Taliban are struggling to guarantee security even in Kandahar, their historical stronghold” wrote Margherita Stancati and Ehsanullah Amiri in a recent article for the Wall Street Journal. Coming so quickly in the wake of the Kunduz attack, many are becoming increasingly skeptical about Afghanistan’s future security under the Taliban. In spite of the Taliban’s repeated assurances that the country is secure—Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s spokesperson, went so far as to blame the former government for the security breakdown—attacks from extremist groups like IS have only escalated since the Taliban victory in August. “The Taliban have been dismissive of Islamic State’s threat” said Asfandyar Mir, Afghanistan expert at the United States Institute of Peace. “It is showing how wrong they are.”

Islamic State and the Taliban have a long and complex history. Both groups practice extreme versions of Sunni Islam. Both groups aim to subject the country to an authoritarian regime and strict sharia law. The Taliban may have persecuted Sunnis in the past, but recently their position has become less extreme, insisting that, under their rule, Shiite Muslims will be protected. Islamic State, on the other hand, insist on the ceaseless persecution of Shiites, regarding them as infidels. In other words: what essentially differentiates the two groups from one another, according to the Guardian’s Jason Burke, is “major strategic differences”. This also goes for other militant groups like al-Qa’eda. The events of the past few weeks, writes Burke, have “revealed the deep fault lines that have weakened the jihadist movement in the past decade”.

The future is not looking bright. In the wake of the Taliban takeover back in August, it is especially difficult to attempt to contrive solutions to the continuing attacks across Afghanistan. Sunni scholars such as Shawki Abuzeid, who fled the country during the evacuation, have expressed their hopes that “Islam’s tolerant message” will outlive the Taliban. He hopes that the Taliban will fulfil their promise to allow women in Afghanistan to continue to study.

In the short term, hunger in Afghanistan is surging uncontrollably. Education and healthcare systems are under collapse—on top of the suicide bombings threatening the lives of civilians en masse. Afghanistan’s foreign donors need to take immediate action to slow down the escalation of these problems, Human Rights Watch reported in September. One of the major problems is that potential donor governments are wary of giving their support to the Taliban—unsurprising, in light of their track record.

Despite these reservations, governments need to start working together on a cohesive plan of action to provide the country with the bare minimum of the support in needs. “To prevent a dire situation from becoming even worse, donors should urgently agree to support international agencies and nongovernmental groups that can provide emergency aid for food, health, and education” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch. This will require the cooperation of the Taliban authorities. The country is already facing economic collapse. If action is not taken now, Afghanistan will quickly become the site of a major humanitarian catastrophe.