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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

Afghanistan continues its slide into violence

Recent attacks ahead of a possible Eid truce struck at the architecture of the state

Afghans mourn nine victims of a suicide attack in Kabul on August 16, 2018. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP
Afghans mourn nine victims of a suicide attack in Kabul on August 16, 2018. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP

Following a slew of deadly terror attacks this week, peace in Afghanistan looks increasingly implausible. And four years after Nato troops departed, the country – which is contending with a bloody two-pronged insurgency – finds itself at a watershed moment. Since last Friday, attacks have struck the city of Ghazni, a military base in Faryab province, a school in Kabul and most recently a training facility overseen by Afghanistan’s intelligence agency.

Overall hundreds have died, among them dozens of students, offering a grim reminder that education and extremism are fundamentally at odds with one another.

And while the nature and perpetrators of the attacks might be different – the school attack bore all the hallmarks of an ISIS bombing, while the Taliban has claimed the Ghazni offensive – they all hint at a further deterioration of Afghanistan’s fragile security apparatus. And what hope is there for lasting peace when the architecture of the state appears so compromised by those who kill with impunity?

The timing of these attacks is not aleatory. The Afghan state and the Taliban are lurching towards a potential ceasefire to coincide with Eid next week. It follows a unilateral truce observed by both sides in June, which sparked genuine jubilation; the sight of rival fighters embracing one another raised hopes of a lasting resolution. But today, after a week of gratuitous bloodshed, a second Eid ceasefire seems unlikely.

And with ISIS and the Taliban vying for violent supremacy, the situation has rarely seemed so precarious.

Some suggest the Taliban's Ghazni onslaught, which lasted five days before US and Nato airstrikes repelled them, was an exercise merely in exerting dominance. Their intention, the theory goes, is to perpetrate large attacks, demonstrate their power, sow fear and discord and depart. It could imply that the group hopes to enter talks from a position of strength, suggesting a ceasefire could yet arise.

But that is of little consolation to the residents of Ghazni, where communications and electricity networks were dismantled and where local hospitals ran out of body bags. Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN’s special representative for Afghanistan, appealed on Wednesday for an end to the violence. Meanwhile, the UAE has “called upon the international community to close ranks and uproot the evil of terrorism”. When it comes to global mobilisation, Abu Dhabi’s pleas should be heeded.

But hope is quickly dissipating among Afghans. Their president Ashraf Ghani – studious and well-intentioned – has tried his utmost to instil a sense of order. But even his most ardent supporters would acknowledge he has struggled to fulfil that core responsibility.

Today, recriminations are of little use. Instead we mourn the victims of this senseless cruelty and hope, still, that the essence of Eid – a time for rejoice and affection, rather than pain and mourning – can bring a semblance of stability to Afghanistan.

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