Political Landscape

AAN Election Blog No. 1: Rockets over Kabul


Two days ago, my local radio station called me to describe how I experienced the recent rocket attack on Kabul early Tuesday (4 August) morning.

I hoped I could explain a bit about this but soon the conversation switched to the Taleban, the ceasefire with their Badghis branch and to the question whether there were moderate Taleban or not or whether you could talk to them or not. (For more on the rocket attack click here. Listen to the interview in German here).

Since I have written extensively about this in a recent AAN report I thought I write here what I did not have the chance to tell over the radio. Around 3 o’clock in the morning, insurgents – according to Afghan police – fired eight rockets of a 110 mm calibre into Kabul from an unpopulated area in Deh-e Sabz, some eight kilometres outside Kabul. A ninth rocket was found there that did not go off. The report also said that they used a rather primitive mechanism to fire the missiles: something with dripping water that would close a contact and then trigger them.

The rockets’ impact was rather widely scattered. One hit the main road of Wazir Akbar Khan (WAK), the so-called diplomatic quarter of the city with embassies, private houses of diplomats and Afghans officials, some Western or Dubai-style supermarkets etc. It left a little crater in the concrete road, blew out window panes and glass flying around injured a child and one or two guardsmen. (There are different accounts.) I thought that it would have caused a severe bloodbath if the rockets had been fired five hours later or so when WAK main road is usually jammed with traffic.
The other rockets hit Abdul Haq square near Microrayon, Qala-ye Zaman Khan and Khwaja Rawash areas, both on the other side of the airport.

A Taleban spokesman said that they targeted the airport. Well, if that’s the case, they missed it by quite a distance. They in fact hit poorer parts of town. And this contradicts the much-publicised updated layha, the code of conduct distributed amongst all Taleban fighters recently. One of its major premises is not to harm the civilian population…

Despite the Taleban claim of responsibility – they claim a lot of things and sometimes this is true and sometimes not – this indeed to me looked more like what the mujahedin of Hezb-e Islami, one of the seven major Sunni mujahedin organizations, did during the Soviet occupation and the PDPA/Watan regime. And possibly that was exactly the déjà vu effect the people who fired the rockets wanted to create a few weeks before election time.

Hezb, as it is shortly called by Afghans, is led by notorious Engineer Gulbuddin Hekmatyar from Imam Saheb district in Kunduz province. Currently, it has joined the Taleban-led insurgency, but as a separate entity. Its notoriousness, however, stems from the late 1980s and the early 1990s when its mujahedin were exactly doing the same thing: firing barrages of rockets into Kabul calling the population to leave the city (everyone left would be considered a communist collaborator), trying to undermine the moral of the regime and spreading terror. Afghan TV showed pictures of killed and wounded people every night. What happens today is really not very much, in comparison. (This attack was the first one of this range for many months.)

(I recently found an interesting cross-reference to Gulbuddin in a book where he is called Gulbuddin Kunduzi and to have carried out an acid attack against a female student at Kabul University for wearing a skirt. See: Paul Fitzgerald/Elizabeth Gould, Invisible History: Afghanistan’s Untold Story, City Light Books: San Francisco, pp. 114-5.)

But why did they do it at 3 am when there was no one in the streets? There are a couple of possible explanations. First, they cannot run such an operation at any other time because they would be caught. Or, secondly, maybe they did not want to cause a bloodbath and just wanted to send a warning sign that they are theoretically able to do it. That, in turn, would mean that Hezb – or whoever it was – sticks to the Taleban strategy of threatening the security before E-day and deter as many people as possible to participate in the poll.

With love from Kabul
Thomas

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Thematic Category: Political Landscape