Afghanistan has been getting battered with targeted assassinations, killings of journalists, civil society members, current and former security force members. Interestingly, these attacks remain unclaimed. Insurgencies and terror groups heavily tout their ability to create mayhem. They thrive in the limelight of violence. But this is a whodunit story. To clarify; plausible deniability is the oxygen of intelligence agencies, not insurgencies.
Unclaimed attacks smell of the need for secrecy. One thing common between an insurgency and democracy is that both die in darkness. The Taliban spokesperson, Zabiullah Mujahid, vehemently denied any role in these attacks. Labeling Kabul’s allegations as “propaganda”, Mujahid said, “We have condemned these killings and reject any involvement in these.”
The noise pollution emanating from Kabul should never blind us to their ulterior motive: the derailment of the peace deal that the US and Taliban signed in February 2020. It is not the Taliban, but Kabul and New Delhi, that need an earthquake to change the status quo and shake the peace deal. That is what Zalmay Khalilzad was referring to when he tweeted, “Those perpetuating violence seek to undermine the peace process and the country’s future. They do not reflect the will of Afghan people, who yearn for peace.” This is not the first time Khalilzad warned of spoilers.
The strategy of unclaimed attacks is serving Kabul to some extent, because for the first time, the US military finally blamed the Taliban for them, despite the IS claiming responsibility for some of them. However, unfortunate for the Kabul-New Delhi duo, the peace deal remains intact despite their collective shenanigans. At the start of 2020, there were close to 13,000 US troops in Afghanistan. That number has shrunk significantly, thanks to the peace deal. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, “No US servicemen have been killed in Afghanistan in almost a year, and Afghans are finally discussing peace and reconciliation among themselves. Such incredible progress.” Again, thanks to the peace deal. But the conflicting messages from US military and State Department are a cause for concern.
Every time major news outlets try to lend some veracity to Taliban being behind the attacks, they use phrases such as “officials said they have little doubt the Taliban is behind the surge of attacks” or “the timing makes most officials believe that the Taliban are” behind them. Who are these officials? They are members of the same criminal gang run by Amrullah Saleh with Ashraf Ghani’s blessing.
The reality is not lost on the Afghan people, who can clearly see Kabul’s fingerprints on this violence. Dawlat Waziri, a former Afghan general and military analyst, said there are those who “want the peace talks to collapse and support a civil war, because the more chaos and war in this country, the more they will benefit”.
Lately, in Afghanistan, it has been designer violence — meant to achieve one thing: the furthering of the rhetoric that peace remains distant in Afghanistan and the Taliban are to be blamed for that. More importantly; America must not exit now. Davood Moradian, director of the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies, said, “The Taliban are telling the new [US] administration, ‘Don’t you dare reopen the deal’.” It is more plausible that actually Kabul is sending that message.
In October 2020, an Afghan reported on an Afghan forces’ raid on a mosque school in Takhar, where 12 civilians were killed, mostly children. That person was arrested for practising journalism. Saleh had then tweeted, “The person responsible for the spread of this venomous & fake news was arrested immediately.” That person’s identity remains unclear. Among the journalists and activists assassinated in these unclaimed attacks, I wonder if he was one of them?
Published in The Express Tribune, January 7th, 2021.