Steps Towards Peace Provoke Violent Responses In Afghanistan

Twelve were killed and thirty were wounded in a suicide bombing in Kabul last Monday. The attack took place outside of the Rural Rehabilitation and Development Ministry. The bomber detonated an explosive vest at the ministry’s gate as workers rushed to get home. Tragically, “the ministry has a kindergarten where the employees bring their children. Casualties among those children are possible but for the moment we don’t know exactly,” said Fraidoon Azhand, a spokesperson (reports Reuters). Many of the victims were ministry employees.

ISIL claimed responsibility for the attack, however, it is likely that the attack was carried out by the Haqqani network, which is associated with the Taliban. This is especially noteworthy because the attack came immediately prior to the Taliban’s announcement of a three-day ceasefire recognizing the Eid-Al-Fitr holiday, which comes at the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. This happened days after the government announced its own ceasefire—the first of its kind in several decades. This ceasefire, however, pertains only to the Taliban—the government will continue to fight the Islamic State and other groups.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said that “the ceasefire is an opportunity for Taliban to introspect that their violent campaign is not winning the hearts and minds but further alienating,” reports Al Jazeera. “With the ceasefire announcement, we epitomize the strength of the Afghan government and the will of the people for a peaceful resolution to the Afghan conflict.” This follows a February offer to recognize the Taliban as a “legitimate political group”, an offer which has the potential to end 16 years of brutal conflict. Still, the Taliban are not overtly cooperative—they declared that their ceasefire was not a response to the government’s actions, rather a way to ensure that their fighters can celebrate the holiday in peace.

Just days before the government announced the ceasefire, Afghanistan’s top religious leaders convened in Kabul. They issued a fatwa—a religious edict—condemning suicide bombings and similar forms of violence. The meeting itself was attacked by a suicide bomber who killed seven people, reports Al Jazeera. It is possible that Monday’s bombing was in response to these religious leaders—a direct statement of defiance.

It is yet another in a string of attacks over the past several months. In April, two explosions in two days killed 26 people including nine journalists who had arrived to report on previous bombings. The journalists were specifically targeted by the bomber. The previous week, 60 were killed and 100 were wounded by an explosion outside of a voter registration center. Kabul is a hotbed of chaos and violence, especially as security deteriorates in anticipation of October’s elections.

The situation is tenuous. The ceasefire not only puts a pause on rampant violence, but it provides a glimpse of a long-awaited peace that could come from negotiations between Ghani and terrorist groups. However, some military experts argue that the ceasefire merely gives the Taliban a critical chance to regroup. “From a military perspective, it is not a good move,” says former general Atiqullah Amarkhel. Similarly, although the fatwa is a compelling condemnation of violence, it potentially provokes violent responses. Still, government and religious leaders should not let these setbacks deter their ultimate objective—restoring peace.