Two bombs in Kabul in the space of 24 hours bode ill both for the sputtering peace process and the associated talks, and for the future peace of Afghanistan itself. The internal affairs of the Afghan Taliban have never been transparent, but the death of Mullah Omar, whenever or wherever that happened, has provoked a churn that has no obvious ending. The Kabul attacks have to be seen in that context. In the first, a massive truck bomb detonated in the centre of the city, killing at least 15 civilians, wounding another 240 and overwhelming the city hospitals. The Taliban, true to form, have yet to claim the attack as is the norm when civilian casualties are high. The second, for which the Taliban claimed responsibility, targeted police cadets lined up for a security check prior to their entering the Kabul police training academy. At least 20 cadets were killed. This represents a serious breach of security at the premier training facility for security forces.
Decoding Taliban intentions with such attacks is imprecise, but at the least they are designed to demonstrate that they remain a potent and effective fighting force, capable of mounting successful operations in the heart of the capital city. A clear message has been delivered to the civilian population and the Afghan fighting forces that oppose the Taliban. They are facing their first fighting season without the support of Nato troops and this at a time when the Taliban are being forced into a leadership contest that is inevitable, now that the death of Mullah Omar has been revealed.
The contest was deferred, and now lays bare splits in the Taliban ranks that could be either opportunity or threat. A Taliban, divided and consumed by internal conflicts and struggles for primacy, is a Taliban weakened and offers a chance to drive any number of wedges. Failure to capitalise on that opportunity allows the Afghan Taliban time to put their house in order and return to the fray re-energised. Effectively, the peace process is paused while the leadership contest is resolved one way or the other. There is unlikely to be a swift or painless outcome.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 10th, 2015.
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