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.