Afghan President Hamid Karzai cancelled a trip to the UK following the Bonn conference due to several bombings in Afghanistan that occurred on the Shi’ite holy day of Ashura. Lhaskar-e-Jhangvi, a militant organisation based in Pakistan, has since claimed responsibility for the attack, although this has not been confirmed. Karzai has responded by putting pressure on Pakistan to investigate the attack. The Pakistani government has yet to respond.
On Tuesday, at least 63 people were killed and 214 wounded in multiple blasts across Afghanistan that police say were meant to target those gathered for Ashura events. Tuesday’s blasts were especially shocking, even in a country experiencing a growing number of serious attacks. There is concern that the blasts may cause larger Sunni-Shia conflict in Aghanistan. Sunnis make up a majority in Afghanistan, and some have been irked by the widespread celebrations of Ashura by Shi’ites across the country. One of the blasts resulted in a scuffle between adherents of the two sects.
Commentators with knowledge of Afghan history suggest that tit-for-tat violence is not likely to break out, since Afghanistan does not have trained militant groups from both Sunni and Shia sides, unlike Pakistan. President Karzai and other Afghan leaders have appealed for the people to stay calm, and not satisfy the culprits, who “want to trigger a sectarian war in Afghanistan.”
The Taliban quickly and vehemently disowned the attack, condemning it as “un-Islamic.” The Afghan Taliban high command declared it would “never let anybody take action against out compatriots based on their religious sect, ethnicity or regional origin.” However, there are some who say the Taliban groups should not be ruled out, as they have committed sectarian-oriented war crimes before.
In a twist likely to cause a wave of commentary, the Pakistani interior minister has thanked the country’s Taliban for not staging attacks during Ashura this year, in contrast to the bombings during Ashura in Afghanistan. The comment is likely to invite criticism, if not uproar, given that many believe Pakistan’s government is deeply connected to the perpetrators of the bombing.
The Ashura bombings may be in line with the motives of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, but the coordinated nature of the attacks suggest that it could not have been carried out without help from the Taliban, or alternatively, from the Haqqani network.
The Haqqani network has long been suspected as a “veritable arm” of the ISI—Pakistan’s intelligence agency, which moves independently of the Pakistani government. Considering Pakistan’s absence from the recent Bonn conference, if the blasts had truly been enabled by the Haqqani network, they may be an expression of Pakistani anger against the US, and be a concerted attempt to make the exit of Western forces from Afghanistan as humiliating as possible.
Alternatively, some have attributed the attack to al-Qaeda. Defence analyst and former British officer Crispian Cuss says al-Qaeda see Shia as legitimate targets, and aim to set the stage for increasingly radicalised sectarian conflict between the Shia and Sunni. For Cuss, however, this does not mean al-Qaeda are back in Afghanistan.
Despite some agreement among commentators about militant organizations as the culprit of the blasts, on the scenes of the bombings, the people of Afghanistan directed their anger at Afghan security forces for their failure to secure the event, as well as towards Pakistan, who has been increasingly blamed for violence in Afghanistan, and also towards the United States.
Although Lashkar-e-Jhangvi have claimed responsibility for the attack, commentators are likely to continue to blame various other parties with stronger motive and greater capability in the region.
Report: Karzai ramps up pressure on Pakistan over massacre [CNN, 7 December 2011]
Report: Kabul attacks: who is behind the suicide bombing? [The Guardian, 7 December 2011]
Report: Attacks point to new Afghan conflict [The Wall Street Journal, 7 December 2011]
Commentary: Complicating sectarianism in Afghanistan [Al Jazeera, 7 December 2011]
Commentary: Is Pakistan intelligence implicated in Afghanistan bombings? [BBC, 7 December 2011]