To say that the peace process in Afghanistan was hardly running smoothly before Tuesday's audacious attack on Kabul's Intercontinental Hotel would be an understatement. As one State Department official said earlier this month at a private meeting with Afghan leaders, "there is no peace process yet."
Tuesday evening's attack just raised the stakes even further for the nascent negotiations process. And if talks looked tenuous before, they are downright fragile now.
The Intercontinental is a Kabul stand-by that has borne witness to the Afghan capital's shifting fortunes over the past several decades. In the 1960s it was a stylish hangout with hilltop views and a lovely look at the nearby mountains. By 2001 all the hotel's windows had been blown out, and the hulking husk of a frame stood as a testament to a city that had seen too much. In recent years the Intercontinental has won back some of its former glory. Though it plays second-string to the glamorous, four-star Serena Hotel, with its marble floors and hushed garden, the former has come to be seen as a safer, sturdier option for meetings, with better security because of its hilltop vantage point and less flashy scene. A mix of weddings, handicrafts fairs, dignitaries' meetings and women's conferences regularly take place there. And I, personally, have always been a fan of the gift shop, which offers sodas and cheerful service.
It is, in other words, a place where normal life goes on. And by hitting it with a spectacular attack on an unspectacular evening, the Taliban have made their point: They can strike anywhere they please, when they please, in a big way. The attack demonstrated that even the capital isn't safe. The security transition to Afghan forces is a fine idea in theory, but NATO back-up was still necessary in reality against a foe that proved to be resourceful, fearless and welcoming of as many casualties as achievable.