It has been a literally bloody prologue to the profoundly solemn occasion of the Prophet’s birthday. The intra-religious strife in Afghanistan has deepened to a horrific degree with Tuesday’s killing of no fewer than 55 clerics by a suicide bomber. Though no militant group has as yet claimed responsibility, both the Taliban and the local ISIS affiliate have in the past targeted religious scholars who are close to the government.
The identity or precise label of the assassin is of relatively lesser moment in the overall construct. Suffice it to register that it is one of the deadliest outrages in Kabul in recent months. The fact that it was perpetrated on the eve of Milad un-Nabi heightens the enormity of the tragedy. The bomber had targeted an assembly of hundreds of Islamic scholars and the casualty toll might rise given that 83 members of the clergy were wounded in the attack, and at least 20 of them are in critical condition.
It was a surgical strike at the clergy when Muslims marked the Prophet’s birthday. The attack underlines the fragility of the government helmed by President Ashraf Ghani, who has condemned the bombing as “an attack on Islamic values and followers of the Prophet Muhammad. It is an attack on humanity.” Shorn of the NATO backup and left to its own devices, the dispensation in Kabul ~ whether helmed by Hamid Karzai or Ghani ~ has failed miserably to stem the murderous tide.
Afghan security forces have struggled to combat the twin insurgencies ever since the US and NATO formally ended their combat mission in 2014. In point of fact, the government has shifted to a support and counter-terrorism role. President Trump’s decision last year to send in additional US forces has had little, if any, impact on the ground.
The Taliban carry out attacks almost every day, targeting security forces and government officials across the country. At another remove, the ISIS affiliate has bombed gatherings of minority Shiites, killing hundreds of civilians. Tuesday witnessed an unusual offensive against the devoutly Islamic. It was only to be expected, therefore, that the killings would cause a flutter in the geopolitical roost, verily in the echo chambers of Islamabad and New York.
The UN Security Council has condemned the attack and expressed sympathy to the families of the victims. Similar sentiments were echoed by Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Imran Khan. Afghanistan and the United States have consistently accused Pakistan of harbouring the Taliban, whose leadership is based on the Af-Pak frontier.
Pakistan has denied the allegations, saying it has used its limited influence over the group to encourage peace efforts, intrinsically an abortive endeavour by successive dispensations. For every Taliban killed, two are born. The death sentences awarded by Pakistan’s military courts have only steeled the resolve of Islamist fundamentalists on either flank of the Af-Pak frontier. The Afghan Ulema Council had issued a decree against suicide attacks and called for peace talks. The defiant militant soldiers on.