IN the last seven days, Afghanistan has suffered from three major attacks in the cities of Kabul and Jalalabad that resulted in the deaths of at least 123 persons and injuries to more than 200.
The attacks, claimed by the Taliban (the Intercontinental Hotel and Sedarat Square in Kabul) and the militant Islamic State (IS) group (office of the Save the Children in Jalalabad), come as the Trump administration proclaims that its strategy in Afghanistan “is working” and that “we’re closer to talks with the Taliban and the peace process” than ever before.
Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, made that statement just three days before the Taliban’s 12-hour attack on Kabul’s iconic Intercontinental Hotel. Then, just five days before the attack on the Save the Children office in Jalalabad, Resolute Support, the international military coalition in Afghanistan, said that 1,600 IS fighters had been killed in 2017, as if to imply an improved security situation.
On the day of the Jalalabad attack, Germany deported 19 Afghan refugees, bringing the total number of Afghans deported from Germany since 2016 to 155. For years, Berlin has operated on the belief that there are “safe areas” (Kabul and Jalalabad included) to which Afghans can be deported. Despite Berlin’s assertion, Afghan refugees in Europe and Turkey insist that nowhere, not even the major cities, are safe from attack.
Last year, Amnesty International came out in support of the refugees and officially refuted Berlin’s assertion. They put it very simply, saying: “No Afghan should be returned to Afghanistan.”
Meanwhile, after each attack come the condemnations. In response to Saturday’s bombing, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah adopted a particularly harsh tone and said in a tweet: “Terrorist attack on civilians & hospital in #Kabul is insane, inhuman, heinous and a war crime. We will bring its perpetrators to justice & take necessary measures to avoid such barbarism in the future… This is the moment when we all need to stand together and punch our enemy hard. This is enough!”
While Abdullah was typing, at a newly built high-rise building less than a kilometre from the attack site, a middle-aged man went door-to-door distributing halwa to his neighbours.
“We made this because of the explosion, so we are giving out khairat,” he said as he handed out each portion. It was a small token, but for him and his family, every portion amounted to a little bit of solace at a time when the city was once again enveloped by confusion, terror and sadness.
Despite civilian casualty tolls that continue to reach record highs each year, the Afghan people are told that the armed opposition groups are losing and that their attacks on cities, hospitals and mosques are somehow a show of weakness. In a bid to show that “weakness”, the national unity government in Kabul has been issuing reports about Afghan and the coalition’s aerial and ground operations that have heavily targeted (and eliminated) what officials say are hundreds of fighters belonging to the Taliban and IS throughout the country, as if to say they now pose less of a threat.
But for too many Afghans, the truth of the matter is that all the promises of new policies and reports of increased operations in the villages of Afghanistan have amounted to very little. As much as officials in Washington and Kabul want to spin narratives of some sort of impending shift in the war, the Afghan people have seen few, if any, signs of positive change.
On Saturday night, hundreds of families in Kabul were mourning those who were killed and caring for those who were injured by an ambulance the Taliban packed with explosives and detonated near a hospital. In the villages, men, women, and children will soon be awakened by doors being knocked down and the buzz of drones in the air. Some of those captured and killed will be allied to the Taliban or IS, others will not.
In the morning on Sunday, as families in Kabul prepare to bury their dead, we will see triumphant tweets and headlines declaring the overnight deaths of people belonging to the very groups that continue to stage horrific attacks on our people.
This has become the sad reality in Afghanistan. As much as things purportedly change, they stay very much the same. The people are fed promises of progress and condemnations of “heinous” attacks which they are told amount to war crimes.
Despite these words, issued in a multitude of languages, the killings continue unabated, and the Afghan people continue to suffer the lack of the much-promised progress.
Published in Dawn, January 28th, 2018