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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Fatal Afghan bombing exposes fragile peace

Performing a civic duty by registering to vote should never come at such a great cost

A suicide attack claimed by ISIS killed 57 people outside a voter registration centre in Kabul on Sunday.    Omar Sobhani / Reuters
A suicide attack claimed by ISIS killed 57 people outside a voter registration centre in Kabul on Sunday. Omar Sobhani / Reuters

In Kabul, there is little respite from extremists. Afghanistan’s battered capital had barely begun its recovery from the slew of terrorist bombings that ripped through the city in January when a fresh attack on an election base killed 57 people. Among the victims of the suicide bomb, claimed by ISIS, were 22 women and eight children, queuing outside a school in western Kabul to register to vote in Afghanistan’s long-delayed parliamentary elections. Their deaths, occurring as they performed their civic duty, highlight the risks of Afghanistan's fragile peace. The voter registration was necessitated by the government’s decision to scrap millions of existing voter IDs in the hopes of reducing vote-rigging. But this move to enhance the legitimacy of the Afghan state has also exposed its vulnerability to attacks and the existential challenge it faces from an assortment of militant groups, including ISIS and the Taliban.

As the nation remains deeply divided by internal bickering, incoherent governance under an academic but ineffectual president in Ashraf Ghani, security failures and ongoing problems with corruption and extremism, ISIS has been steadily spreading its insidious influence and is now as great a threat as the Taliban. Earlier this month, ISIS suffered a major setback when US forces killed its Afghan leader Qari Hikmatullah. The recent spate of attacks, however, suggests that the group has regrouped quickly. In the past week alone, election officials have been kidnapped in the province of Ghor, a pair of police officers guarding an election centre in the city of Jalalabad have been murdered and a voter registration centre in Badghis province has come under attack. Another five people were killed on Sunday in an IED attack near an election centre in Baghlan province. This is the bloody backdrop against which Afghanistan’s government is asking its citizens to come forward and register to vote.

The Afghan parliament’s mandate ran out three years ago but the process of renewing it is proving impossible: only 190,000 voters out of 14 million have registered so far. Sunday’s suicide bombing could have a calamitous impact on the vote, scheduled for October, as its perpetrators hoped it would. Afghanistan embarked on an ambitious nation-building exercise in the most unenviable of circumstances. But the fraying commitment and uncertain strategy of the US and its allies, combined with rampant corruption at home, have fostered the conditions for the re-emergence of militant groups. The Afghan state will continue to be stalked by a crisis of legitimacy if the parliamentary elections proceed with negligible voter participation. A concerted political and military effort is now required to defeat ISIS, subdue other militant groups and regain the confidence of voters. The men and women who lined up to register to vote on Sunday put their lives on the line. Exercising their fundamental right as citizens to vote should never come at such a great cost.