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Foreign Policy: From Bad to Worse

Author: Anand Gopal
December 6, 2011


Anand Gopal argues that the recent attacks on a Shia Muslim procession in Afghanistan, which killed fifty-eight people, are only the latest in a string of violent episodes that indicate profound lack of control in the region.

You would think that, after ten long and bloody years, there would be little new the Afghan war could offer in terms of brutality. But Tuesday's twin suicide strikes on Shi'a Muslim processions in Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif, leaving 58 dead and more than a hundred wounded, marks an unprecedented insurgent assault on civilians. Never before in the current war have Afghanistan's Shi'a been deliberately targeted, and rarely has an attack been so completely devoid of a military target.

What do the bombings say about the evolving nature of the Afghan insurgency? On the one hand, they don't seem to be the work of the Afghan Taliban at all, but of a Pakistani group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi al-Alami (LeJ-Alami), whose specialty is assassinating Shi'a in Pakistan and who claimed credit for the attacks. LeJ-Alami was behind the kidnapping and executionof Taliban godfather and spymaster Col. Imam (despite Taliban efforts to stop it), and is seen by many in the Afghan Taliban leadership as dangerous and uncontrollable. In fact, in a rare move, the Afghan Taliban issued a strongly worded condemnation of the attacks. Over the years, the Afghan Taliban have assiduously strived to portray themselves as a national movement, representing the aspirations of all Afghan ethnicities and sects. They have developed detailed guidelines for their foot soldiers and field commanders, put forth political representatives to explore the possibility of talks, and have even begun to circulate documents that examine in a serious way the nature of a post-American government. One document, meant internally for the Taliban leadership, decried the country's ethnic and sectarian divides and declared they should "try to bring an environment of fraternity among all [ethnicities] of Afghans."

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