Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 20 September 2019

Blasts mar Afghanistan's independence centenary

Dozens injured in Jalalabad bombings days after deadly suicide attack on wedding in Kabul

Afghanistan’s centenary Independence Day celebrations on Monday were marred by explosions in the eastern city of Jalalabad, which wounded scores.

The attacks came as Afghans were still reeling from the brutal ISIS attack on a wedding celebration in Kabul two days earlier, which killed 63 civilians and injured 185.

The Afghan Health Ministry said 66 people were injured when six bombs detonated across the central market in Jalalabad, capital of the eastern province of Nangarhar where ISIS and Taliban insurgents are active.

Several children who were out taking part in the independence celebrations were among the wounded, the ministry said.

In another attack, rockets were fired at independence day celebrations in the neighbouring province of Laghman, injuring six people.

The heightened security threat, especially against civilian gatherings, has angered Afghans.

“Those who attacked today’s celebration are actually afraid of democracy and don’t have any respect for the people's emotions,” Mohammad Ilyas, an activist who lives in Jalalabad, told The National.

Despite the deadly bombing on Saturday night, citizens poured on to the streets of Kabul in a display of national pride.

Young men were dressed in red, black and green, cars were painted in similar colours, and others took to the streets carrying large flags.

Thousands gathered at the top of Kabul's many hills, planting flags, chanting slogans and cheering for their war-torn country.

People ride in a convoy waving Afghan national flags to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the country's Independence Day in Kabul on August 19, 2019. AFP
People ride in a convoy waving Afghan national flags to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the country's Independence Day in Kabul on August 19, 2019. AFP

The holiday meant an increase in trade for shops and restaurants that have otherwise had a drop in business as people avoid going out because of increasing violence.

“We definitely do a lot more businesses on such happy holidays,” said Mansoor Arifi, 25, manager at shop that sells sheer yakh, the Afghan ice cream.

"But on days when then are attacks, no matter how far from our shop, we notice drop in customers. People are scared and don’t want to step out of the house when there are many attacks.”

On Monday his shop was brightly lit and festooned with green, red and black balloons.

All the employees, including Mr Arifi, wore cowboy hats with the same colours as they waited for custom from families out for the independence day celebrations.

Children who usually sell trinkets on the street had switched to large flags and other patriotic goods. But even amid the celebrations, the fear and dread were palpable.

“Today we celebrate Amanullah Khan’s victory over the British,” said Rashid, 12, who works on the streets of central Kabul to support his family of 12.

"We had a day off from school and I sold my flags, so it is a good thing."

He saw, however, a contradiction in the day's celebrations.

“King Amanullah Khan won independence for us so we could be more happy and have security," Rashid said.

"But my question is, if we have independence, why are there still so many attacks on us? What kind of independence is this?

“I am scared every minute I have to spend on these streets. An explosion or an attack could happen. But what option do I have? I am helpless and I have to support my family.”

He was not alone in questioning the meaning of independence.

Jawad, 25, who has a degree in anthropology, sells fruit from a cart in Kabul because of the lack of job opportunities.

“There are 34 provinces in this country and each one is at war. People are dying," Jawad said. "Are we really independent then?”

He said attacks like the one on the Kabul wedding hall made him less hopeful about the future.

“What is independence when 100 people can die in a hotel while celebrating marriage?” Jawad asked.

Attacks on civilians have mounted over the past year, causing massive casualties, despite the ongoing peace talks between the Taliban and the US administration.

There were more than 3,800 civilian casualties in the first six months of this year, the UN said.

Updated: August 20, 2019 12:05 PM

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