Attacks are on the rise again in Afghanistan

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Two employees of Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission were killed in a blast on Saturday morning when a magnetic improvised explosive device was attached to their Toyota Corolla vehicle. The employees were identified as Fatima Natasha Khalil, 24, a donor liaison coordinator, and Jawed Folad, 41, a driver.

The incident not only shows a continued surge in attacks in the capital and throughout the country, but also a new trend in militant groups not claiming recent assaults.

Yesterday’s attack - for which no group has declared itself responsible - came just days after announcements had been made that direct negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government could be starting in the coming weeks.

“I am cautiously optimistic that the talks between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban negotiation teams will indeed start in the next few weeks in Doha, during the month of July,” Deborah Lyons, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, said.

Attacks have surged in recent days. On Monday, five employees of the Attorney General’s Office who worked at the Bagram detention centre were shot on the outskirts of Kabul on their way to Bagram.

On the same day, the Afghan National Police detected a total of 18 roadside bombs in the provinces of Logar, Khost and Paktia, that were, according to the Ministry of Interior, “planted to target civilians.”

In rural Afghanistan, donkeys are both used to carry goods and luggage and as transportation. Stefanie Glinski for The National

Villagers near Khaja Gulrang in Afghanistan's Badakhshan province return home, walking through an empty river bed. Stefanie Glinski for The National

Shakira Nuddin, 30, sits in her house in Khaja Gulrang village, Badakhshan, holding her youngest son. Stefanie Glinski for The National

In rural Afghanistan, donkeys are used to carry goods and luggage and as well as for transportation. Stefanie Glinski for The National

Travelling by donkey in rural Afghanistan. Stefanie Glinski for The National

Khair Mohammed, 48, in Arashakh Poen village, Takhar province.

A man suspected of being infected with the coronavirus gets tested at Taloqan's coronavirus hospital. Stefanie Glinski for The National

Khaja Gulrang village in Badakhshan, Afghanistan, a far-flung community, hours away from the nearest hospital. Stefanie Glinski for The National

Arashakh Poen village in Afghanistan's Takhar province is cut off from the main road both by mountains and a river. Stefanie Glinski for The National

The view from Arashakh Poen village in Afghanistan's Takhar province. Stefanie Glinski for The National

Last week on June 19, an explosion in the western Kabul’s Paghman district targeted the family members of Afghan writer Assadullah Walwalji, killing a total of four, including his wife and daughter.

Days before, Nuristan province’s governor Hafez Abdul Qayum survived a gun attack on his car while driving to Kabul that killed one of his bodyguards.

Attacks have spiked to such dimensions that it has become difficult for civilians to keep track of the killings, let alone process them.

“Over the past 18 months of negotiations between the US and Taliban, one of the more notable shifts in the conflict was a marked decrease in high-profile attacks in Kabul; at one point nearly six months went by without a major explosion,” the International Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst Andrew Watkins told The National.

“But since the US-Taliban agreement was signed in late February, bombings, killings and disruption of daily life are back on the rise. In some cases the responsible parties seem clear, but in many the details are murky. The timing suggests that whether one party or many are responsible, there are strong interests aligned against peace,” he said.

Yesterday’s attack has shaken Kabul’s civil society, with outcries from the Afghan and international community demanding an investigation into the targeted killing.

“When my Natasha was born, we didn't have 500 Rupees to pay [for] the midwife. Poverty didn't lead her to become a terrorist. She knew five languages by age 16 and had two degrees by 22… She knew Islam more than her killers,” her sister Lima Ahmad said.

“The pain is so devastating. The loss is so great,” Ahmad’s husband Omaid Sharifi said.

Cries echoed through the city as family members and friends called each other, none of them willing to accept the young girl’s death who had just graduated from the American University of Central Asia in Kyrgyzstan.

Her colleague Jawed Folad left a wife and three children. Both human rights defenders have since been buried.

“Fatima was driven, bold, committed. She signified hope and courage. Jawed was kind, courteous and loyal. They came from different parts of Afghanistan and had different life journeys. What they had in common was that they were both Afghan civilians, working for human rights and peace,” the Independent Human Rights Commission’s Chairperson Shaharzad Akbar said in a tweet.

As attacks increase, Afghans recall the year 2014, when former US President Barack Obama announced that it was “time to turn the page on a decade in which so much of our foreign policy was focused on the [war] in Afghanistan […],” announcing plans to withdraw the last US troops from the country by the end of 2016. Fearing an escalation and a further insecure future, hundreds of thousands of Afghans left their country, many joining the wave of people heading towards Europe.

Since the February 29 agreement between the US and the Taliban, US troops have started decreasing, as violence has once again picked up. Many fear that the situation will further deteriorate.

Qary Ahmad, a former Al Qaeda trainer who liaised closely with the Taliban, says that the Taliban has become much stronger since the US peace agreement, with part of their recent growth attributed to fewer airstrikes.

“I don’t think the Taliban will make peace with the Afghan government, but if they joined the government and accepted democracy, many fighters would join other militant groups. As for the future, I think it will continue to be violent,” he said.

Updated: June 28, 2020 07:43 PM

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