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Feb. 27 2010 - 8:25 am | 412 views | 4 recommendations | 3 comments

Why Kabul Was Attacked Yesterday

Since the shooting ended yesterday morning, I’ve done a series of radio reports for the BBC and others, explaining the situation on the ground here.

The question that presenters keep asking me is “Was this attack a response to Operation Mushtarak, currently underway in Helmand?”

My answer is (and was) no. In my view there are a few reasons why insurgents attacked the capital yesterday and none of them have to do with Helmand.

The Taliban want to show that they can get inside the capital and strike at will. They want Afghans to know that the government can’t keep them safe and even one of the most heavily guarded areas of the country–Kabul’s City Center–is vulnerable. The fact that this area is a short drive from the Presidential Palace was also intended as a message to President Karzai. Namely, that insurgents can get as close to him as they like and his security apparatus can do little about it.

Then there is Pakistan.

Nine Indians were killed in yesterday’s attack, more than any other type of foreign national. A guest house used by Indian doctors was one of the main targets of the assault. Two days ago talks between India’s foreign ministers began, though they ended in acrimony. India is one of the largest donors to Afghan reconstruction and has lately offered to help train Afghan military forces, an offer that has infuriated Pakistan.

I do not believe in coincidences.

Pakistan has used the Afghan insurgency to target Indians here before, most recently last October when the Indian embassy in Kabul was hit by a massive bomb, the second attack on that embassy since July 2008.

Afghan and US officials have told me that they suspected Pakistan’s intelligence service had a hand in both of those attacks and I would bet a steak dinner* that they had something to do with yesterday’s violence.

Pakistan desperately wants a role in whatever reconciliation process takes place in Afghanistan. Their interests include hundreds of miles of disputed border territory (known as the Durand Line,) a desire to have an Islamabad-friendly government in Kabul and basic regional security concerns. If Pakistan can get India out of Afghanistan, there is less chance that India will play a role in those aforementioned reconciliation talks and thus a greater chance that Pakistan will get an outcome that it wants.

Launching attacks on Indians might convince the Indian government to take a step back from this conflict, but I seriously doubt it. India also has vital interests here, not the least of which is counter-balancing Pakistani regional influence. They may also view Afghanistan as a path to resource-loaded central Asia, specifically oil deposits north of here.

If two attacks on their embassy wasn’t enough to drive Indians out of Afghanistan, I’m not sure how yesterday’s attack will make much an impact either.

*Steak dinner offer valid through NATO withdrawal date, only redeemable at Red Hot Sizzlin’, Kabul, Afghanistan. Beverages not included.


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  1. collapse expand

    Every time I read of such an attack on Kabul, I worry about your safety, as I imagine many of us do. I hope and pray you stay safe there, PJ.

    • collapse expand

      It’s funny how this stuff works. You think, “there are 3.5 million people in Kabul, what are the odds”. I might as well worry about you in Montreal, Caitlin – all those gangland murders that sound pretty ugly to a Calgarian.

      When the Madrid bombings hit Atocha station on 3/11, it abruptly struck me that my brother’s apartment is just six blocks north.

      The fact that (a) he doesn’t take the train to work and (b) nothing short of high-explosives would have him out of bed at 6:30 AM, didn’t matter – I nearly sprained my finger hitting the phone buttons to call him from work. (He, too, was touched – I rarely call on his birthday or any other time.)

      The guy in the next office explained that he goes through this every time something is blown up in Israel, since he has friends in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and other large centres, and concluded with “Sorry Roy….welcome to the club.”

      I’ve never forgotten the ending of P.J. (no relation) O’Rourke’s 1988 article on Northern Ireland, as P.J. asks an old sargeant:

      “You don’t see any end to it?”. He looked slightly puzzled. “This is an acceptable level of violence”.

      …they’d simply become inured to losing a hundred-odd citizens per year to gunfire and explosion. (And Dublin and Belfast together have a smaller population than Kabul).

      Getting inured is a Bad Thing, but it is good to realistically assess your odds, which frankly are lower than death by traffic accident. Particularly in Kabul.

      Except for journalists, of course: the one bunch besides firemen than can be found rushing towards the worst place to be. Just, please, temper that natural urge with caution, P.J. A lot of caution.

      And maybe a flak jacket. The new spring line is about to come out.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  2. collapse expand


    I am so touched by this, thank you. I have some good friends here and we all look out for each other when something like this happens. I’m in good hands!

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    About Me

    I’m a writer and reporter living in Kabul, Afghanistan. For the past four years I’ve been an investigative reporter at various Village Voice Media weeklies, and before that I worked on documentary films in New York City.

    I am currently a journalism mentor and news editor for The Killid Group, a not-for-profit radio and print organization based in Kabul, with five radio stations and many bureaus throughout Afghanistan.

    My writing has appeared in The Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, Christian Science Monitor, Village Voice, Modern Drunkard and other fine publications.

    Originally from Philadelphia, I’ve also worked in south Florida and Nashville, Tennessee.

    See my profile »
    Followers: 165
    Contributor Since: June 2009
    Location:Kabul, Afghanistan