ISLAMABAD / KABUL: Twin explosions tore through a demonstration by members of the Hazara community in Kabul on Saturday, killing at least 80 people and wounding more than 230 in a suicide attack claimed by the Islamic State.
Graphic television footage from the site of the attack showed many bodies lying on the bloodied road, close to where thousands of Hazara had been demonstrating over the route of a planned multimillion dollar power line.
If confirmed as the work of IS, the attack would represent a major escalation for a group which has hitherto been largely confined to Nangarhar province.
“We were holding a peaceful demonstration when I heard a bang and then everyone was escaping and yelling,” said Sabira Jan, a protestor who witnessed the attack and saw bloodied bodies strewn across the ground. “There was no one to help.”
The Taliban, a fierce enemy of IS, also known by its Arabic acronym Da’ish, denied any involvement and said in a statement posted on its website that the attack was ‘a plot to ignite civil war’.
The attack succeeded despite tight security which saw much of the city centre sealed off with stacks of shipping containers and other obstacles and helicopters patrolling overhead.
A statement from the interior ministry said 80 people had been killed and 231 wounded, making it among the deadliest single incident since the Taliban were driven from power. The worst previous attack against the Hazara was in December 2011, when more than 55 people were killed in Kabul during Ashura. That attack was claimed by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.
President Ashraf Ghani declared a national day of mourning and vowed revenge, while the top United Nations official in Afghanistan, Tadamichi Yamamoto, condemned the attack as a war crime. The United States offered any assistance needed to investigate the attack.
Saturday’s demonstrators had been demanding that a 500kV transmission line from Turkmenistan to Kabul be rerouted through two provinces with large Hazara populations, saying they feared being shut out of the project.
The government said the project guaranteed ample power to the provinces, Bamyan and Wardak, which lie west of Kabul, and that altering the planned route would delay it by years and cost millions of dollars. But the resentment felt by many Hazaras runs deeper than simple questions of energy supply.
In November, thousands of Hazara marched through Kabul to protest at government inaction after seven members of their community were beheaded by militants and several protestors briefly tried to force their way into the presidential palace.
The protests by a group whose leaders include members of the national unity government have put pressure on Ghani, who has faced growing opposition from both inside and outside the government.
The transmission line, intended to provide secure electricity to 10 provinces, is part of the so-called TUTAP project backed by the Asian Development Bank, linking energy-rich states of Central Asia with Afghanistan and Pakistan.
PM Nawaz condemns twin blasts
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Saturday strongly condemned the blasts in Kabul and expressed his “deep grief and anguish over loss of precious lives.”
“Terrorism is a common enemy and must be fought with collective and concerted efforts. Pakistan has been bearing the brunt of terrorists as a frontline state in war on terror,” a press release issued by the Prime Minister’s Secretariat quoted the premier as saying. He said terrorists have no faith and respect for humanity. “Their indiscriminate acts must be dealt with iron hands.”
Premier Nawaz expressed solidarity with the government and people of Afghanistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 24th, 2016.