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Spectator: Al-Qaeda's New War

Author: Ahmed Rashid, Journalist and Author, Lahore
December 10, 2011

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Ahmed Rashid argues that sectarian bloodshed is employed in Afghanistan and Egypt as a tool to thwart democracy and diplomacy.

From a distance, the devastating attacks on Shia Muslims in three Afghan cities this week looked like the type of sectarian religious attacks which we got used to in Iraq. The faultline between Sunni and Shia is one of the greatest and most violent in the world, and now and again it divides countries. But in Afghanistan, nothing is ever this simple. For all its woes, it hasn't seen a sectarian religious attack for ten years. And while the Taleban have had their history persecuting the Shia, it is highly unlikely they were responsible. The more likely ­explanation is less obvious — and even more sinister.

These attacks were intended to kill as many as possible. In Kabul a suicide bomber walking among the crowds detonated his bomb killing at least 54 people and wounding over 150. A similar walking bomber detonated himself in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, killing four and wounding 20, while a third bomb left on a bicycle in a bazaar in Kandahar missed the procession and instead wounded two policemen.

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