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Dissidents Blamed for Bomb Attacks

Security chiefs vow to pursue “saboteurs” as explosions continue to shake the capital.
By Mohammad Naseem

(ARR No. 44, 17-Jan-03)


A rise in bombings and other incidents in Kabul in recent weeks has prompted a warning from the head of an international force in Afghanistan that “destructive elements” are trying to sabotage peace in the country.


Most if not all of these attacks have been blamed on remnants of al-Qaeda or supporters of dissident mujahideen leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose artillery and rockets destroyed large parts of Kabul in the mid-Nineties in a power struggle with rival leader Ahmad Shah Masood, and who has since turned his attentions against United States. But so far, there has been no firm evidence linking them to the attacks.


In one of the most serious incidents in the capital, two US soldiers were injured on December 17 when a young Afghan threw a grenade into their jeep. The 17-year-old youth was arrested before he could throw two other grenades, and another young man was arrested after fleeing the scene.


Two days later, two Afghans were killed and two French journalists injured outside the main base of the International Security Assistance Force, ISAF, when a disabled Afghan with four grenades hidden in his clothing tried to enter the compound. When he was not able to do so, he blew himself up.


On December 23, bombs were planted near the French, German and United Arab Emirates embassies in Kabul, but were discovered and defused by ISAF experts.


Early in January, security forces seized two cars in Kabul, one containing an 82 mm artillery shell with what the national BIA news agency described as an electronic device, and the other containing a kilo of explosives.


Fortunately, none of the incidents have come close to matching one on September 6 last year, when bombs placed in a taxi and a bicycle in the centre of Kabul killed 28 people and injured over 150. Many of the victims were women and children.


A deeply worrying trend has been the discovery of explosives hidden in plastic toys, dolls and pens, which are clearly aimed at children. Commander Abdul Hafiz Salangi, of Share-e-Naw police post, said that on December 22 two kilos of explosive were found packed in a plastic toy car.


While Salangi pointed the finger at al-Qaeda or Hekmatyar, an ISAF spokesman told IWPR, “Investigations in connection with those arrested following recent incidents have not been completed. We cannot say whether they belong to al-Qaeda or Taleban until that time.”


On January 3, Interior Minister Mohamad Wardek met the commander of the central military corps in Kabul and the head of the police national security department to discuss “recent tensions and crimes”, the BIA agency reported.


Three days later, the ISAF commander, Turkish General Hilmi Akin Zorlu, warned, “We are obviously aware that there are destructive elements that are intent on trying to destabilise the peaceful situation in Kabul.” he added that a US-led war against Iraq could provoke further attacks against foreigners in the city.


“If there is a war in Baghdad, there may be many in Afghanistan who sympathise with Iraq,” Zorlu told reporters. “It may cause an increase in terrorist actions or activities against all foreigners, including ISAF forces, United Nations personnel, non-governmental organisations, coalition forces and all civilian businessmen also coming to the country.”


He insisted, however, that recent grenade attacks and other incidents were isolated events and not a sign that security was flagging, and added that he had no plans to increase the strength of the 22-nation ISAF force from the current level of 4,300 - even in the event of war against Iraq.


National police commander General Mohammad Haroon Asifi had a different slant on the recent upsurge in violence, saying he believed it was a sign of weakness among the dissident forces ranged against the transitional government headed by President Hamed Karzai.


“They are unable to disrupt our government’s programme, with the Afghan people and the United Nations behind us,” he told IWPR. “After 23 years of war in Afghanistan, we can expect such incidents to occur for some time to come, because weapons of former combatants have not been collected and there is still fighting in the provinces between rival warlords.


“Our patrols are getting better each day, and I can assure my countrymen that we will soon arrest these enemies and prevent these attacks.”


Delays in the UN-sponsored weapons-collection programme have been highlighted by a number of officials and ordinary people, many of whom blame the international community for what they perceive as a deteriorating security situation in Kabul. The situation outside the capital is worse, according to reports in local media.


Just last week a group of 60 Afghans heading for the town of Gardez, south of Kabul, to buy their tickets for their Haj pilgrimage to Mecca were ambushed en route by armed thieves and robbed of around 1,500 US dollars each.


Despite the confidant predictions of ISAF and police commanders that the security situation was under control, many ordinary people remain unconvinced, and worried about the future.


Fouzia, who works in the education ministry in Kabul, said the attacks were persuading some Afghan refugees who recently came back to their country to leave again, “Our neighbours have just come home from Peshawar, but because of these attacks they are going back. Many more will leave the country if these incidents increase.”


Mohammad Naseem Shafaq and Habiburahman Ibrahimi are freelance journalists in Kabul.


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