After 4 hours, the clash between the militants and the government troops came to and end. Taliban sources put the toll to 31 soldiers killed and 22 injured, while other independent sources said 12 people, including 7 militants and 3 Afghan security personnel, were killed and 71 injured.
Earlier, in 2008, the Taliban had sworn in a statement posted on their website that they would take revenge for the murder of more than 30 Taliban prisoners in Pulli-Charkhi Jail by the Kabul Security Forces on the eve of Eid-ul-Adha.
They frequently launched attacks on the capitals of Khust, Paktia, and Logar provinces in 2009, killing a number of government officials and security personnel.
Last August, the Taliban captured main government buildings in Khust in a bold attack in line with the Kabul attack, while Afghan presidential aspirant Ramazan Bashardost was on elections campaign in the province.
Since 2001, when the Taliban was ousted as a result of American aerial bombardment, this was the most coordinated attack by the militants. The impact of the attack was more psychological than physical.
“We are proud of the heroes who, in the broad day light, braved the sophisticated technology of the enemy and kept them at bay for the whole day,” said a statement by Taliban after the attack.
On October 28, 2009, the Taliban attacked the UN Guesthouse in Kabul, killing six international workers. After that, the UN evacuated more than half of its foreign staff from Kabul.
As a result of the instability caused by militant attacks in a dramatic U-turn, the run-off elections were canceled after an abrupt visit by John Kerry, chairman of Senate Foreign Relations Committee to Kabul, and closed-door meetings with incumbent Karzai.
The Haqqani Group
The Afghan and American intelligence agencies ascribed the Kabul attack to the Haqqani Group, which is based in North Waziristan. This group is now headed by Sirajuddin, son of Jalaluddin Haqqani who was one of the main commanders during the Afghan resistance against the former Soviet Union occupation.
Haqqani the father was an affiliate of Hezbe Islami Afghanistan that was led by Maulavi Younus Khalis from Nangarhar province and located in Southeast Afghanistan. He died while working on the issuance of a fatwa calling for Jihad against the American forces in Afghanistan.
Haqqani the father was not part of the Taliban at the beginning of the movement, but he joined the Taliban after it emerged in Sangsar, Uruzgan province, under the leadership of Mullah Omar in 1994. He was minister of tribal affairs during the Taliban government.
At the beginning of the American attack on Afghanistan in 2001, there was a strong pressure on Haqqani the father from Islamabad to renounce Taliban leader Mullah Omar and accept a high slot in the coming Afghan government, but he refused to do this.
Motives Behind the Attacks
Afghan observers who closely monitor the armed opposition of the Afghan government believe that the Taliban attacks imply more than what happened ostensibly.
Some differences became visible between the political leadership and military commanders of Taliban after the recent messages of Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, who put forward negotiation as an option for the solution of the Afghan issue, hoping it could lead to withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan and formation of an Islamic government in the country.
The political wing of Taliban is led by Mullah Brader Akhund, while the military wing is led by Mullah Abdullah Zakir, a close friend of Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, and a former detainee of Guantanamo Jail who was transferred to Afghanistan in 2007.
Taliban commanders in general believe in a military solution to the Afghan issue. They think the offer by the installed Afghan government to the Taliban for peace talks is a distraction from the momentum of the current resistance.
They consider the recent package of $1 billion from the Pentagon as a way to lure the Taliban. As evidence shows, Washington wants to divide the Taliban rather than reach a political solution. So why lose time on pointless efforts?
However, the political wing believes that the Taliban, as a movement and government, should have parallel strategies and options for the settlement of the Afghan issue. They argue if they can achieve their goal through dialogue, why should they not keep this option open?
Therefore, these attacks point to a hard fact that the military wing of Taliban may want to thwart possibility of peace talks between the two sides in the future. The same is true for some neo-conservatives in Washington and intransigent generals in the Pentagon who believe that, before peace talks, the Taliban should be weakened at the battlefield. Then, they would be offered amnesty and jobs for their surrendering to the government in Kabul.
Soon after the Kabul attack, US defense secretary Robert Gate said that the Taliban were irreconcilable. He maintained that reconciliation with Taliban leadership would not be possible until they were weakened. So the launching of such attacks serves the hawks among the Taliban and Pentagon to brush off the more moderate elements.
The Kabul attack will overshadow efforts of some NATO member countries like Germany, which favors a negotiated settlement in the recent international conference on Afghanistan held in London on January, 28. But, at the same time, the attack will heighten people’s pressure on the Kabul government to come to terms with Taliban.
The first priority of common people in Afghanistan is security, which could not be achieved until the Afghan government and the occupying forces hammer out a clear strategy of reconciliation with Taliban.
Similarly, the Taliban leader Mullah Omar in his recent circular letters has strictly directed Taliban provincial governors in Afghanistan to sack all those armed Taliban members who misbehave with the common people.
He instructed them that Taliban commanders should not collect Ushar (i.e., alms tax) from people by coercion, but rather by preaching and exhortation. Some armed Taliban warriors and commanders have been disarmed for being found violating articles of the Book of Conduct issued by Taliban leadership in May 2009.
Such attacks will slow down this process, because, in case of heavy fighting with the American troops, Taliban leadership would have to condone misconduct of their fighters in order to keep them in their ranks.
No doubt, attacks on provincial centers in Southeast Afghanistan and the capital Kabul are an indication of the Taliban’s determination to show the White House that their new strategy is a failure in Afghanistan and their most touted commander General Stanley McCrystal is not able to turn the tide, but simultaneously, they point to an internal tussle between opponents and supporters of peaceful settlement of the Afghan issue.
So, for the time being, the Kabul attack would certainly frustrate the Taliban political wing and individuals like Rahm Emanuel, the White House Chief of Staff, and Senior Adviser David Axelrod who believe that Washington should make overtures for reconciliation with the Taliban. Likewise, if this momentum is kept unabated, next spring will herald more fighting in Afghanistan between the two sides.
However, much of this will depend on the final decisions at the London conference on Afghanistan, whether they come with a reconciliation strategy for Afghanistan or just endorse the current American military surge to finish its job there.
Indeed reconciliation has become the probable option, but the details and the actual way it will be implemented are still a mystery, and much of it still has many question marks that need to be pondered upon.
By Suhail Shaheen