13 people killed by a suicide bomber. But who did it? Finding out what really is behind incidents like this one is extremely difficult. Facts are rare, versions and opinions, however, ample to find.
While a suicide attack in a bazaar in Western Farah province on 20 November that claimed at least 16 lives made headlines worldwide, a similar incident a day earlier in Southern Uruzgan went by almost unnoticed. Even though it happened exactly on the day of President Hamed Karzai’s inauguration for his second term of office which received a lot of coverage, it failed to attract the attention of the international media. There was just a three-sentences piece by Reuters and a not much longer version from the Kuwaiti news agency. BBC who had the Farah attack prominently on its world news website did not report the attack at all. Reporting from Afghanistan in general is a bit irregular.
The explosion happened shortly after noon in the bazaar of Dehrawud, a district town some 90 minutes drive west of the provincial capital Tirinkot (or Tiri, as the local people call it), in front of a row of shops that included a pharmacy and which were damaged. It killed 13 people – all civilians – and injured at least 15 others, some of them seriously. Amongst the killed were two boys of between 12 and 14 years who – according to the deputy police chief of the area – were selling plastic bags in the street.
The owner of the pharmacy, a close friend of an Afghan friend living in Tiri, was killed. I was sitting in a couple of meetings when phone calls went out and came in and the names of the killed were exchanged.
The target of the attack, many said, was Haji Payend (actually Payenda Muhammad), a Nurzai elder and former Jihadi commander. He is amongst the killed. The same morning, a shura – or rather a meeting of elders and maleks – with some foreign visitors (both civilian and military) had taken place in Dehrawud. Such meetings are a target of choice for the Taleban who have declared any Afghan working or even meeting the foreign kafiran a legitimate target. Haji Payend was there. But the meeting had ended earlier than expected, said some who had been there. That led to speculations that the suicide bomber was late and then had to hit the elders on the street. The police had another version and said that one of their convoys was the target. But no policeman was killed, they added.
But were the Taleban really responsible for the attack? Usually they claim responsibility for many attacks – except for those which kill only civilians because that is against the principles stated in the layha – a kind of handbook for the taleb in the field about ‘does & don’ts’ issued by their leader Mulla Muhammad Omar. One article says that the fighters should ‘try their best to avoid harming the common people’. But it not sure whether each and every Taleb always sticks to it. It is even not sure whether all of them read it (many are illiterate) or whether there are trainings to familiarize the fighters with its content. Or whether it is just a propaganda exercise addressed to us. )
FOLLOWING PARA ADDED (with thanks to an alert reader):
The Taleban issued a statement on their Arabic language Saut al-Jihad (Voice of Jihad) claiming responsibility for the attack and naming the indiviual who has carried out the attack. However, their description of where the incident happened is incorrect. We habe sufficient (police and non-police) eye-witnesses who confirm that it happend in the bazaar and not, as the Taleban claim, inside the police station. Also the casualty figure given is exaggerated. (You can read the statement in Arabic here and an English translation here.)
On the other hand, the spontaneous answer of most Afghans I asked about the incident replied that this was surely an ‘intra-government job’. What they mean is that this deadly attack could be part of a cycle of tit-for-tat killings by rival factions of local former commanders. Payend Khan was accused by some that he – together with a relative who is commander of an Afghan militia hired by US forces in the area – had been responsible for the killing of another commander, Khodainazar, two years ago and of a second one, Abdul Ali Aka, a months or so ago. There is some old rivalry between both groups which goes back to the time of the jihad where they belonged to different tanzim (mujahedin ‘parties’) but the people I talked to did not (or did not want) to tell me what exactly it was about. All I got was: ‘Oh, it is just about who is in control’. This might well be. Control means access to resources, and that’s what’s often scarce.
But all of this is not proven. Abdul Ali might have become the victim of Taleban who have been filtering in from neighboring Helmand province after Western and Afghan forces launched an offensive there earlier this year. He had controlled some check-posts on the way from Helmand to Dehrawud and this would not have earned him much love amongst the Taleban.
Another possibility is that the Taleban – who know what is called the ‘human terrain’ of the area very well – being aware of the rivalries have let the 19 November attack look like a ‘job’ done by the rival faction in order to set both sides on each other.
Whatever the case, perception often counts more than facts – which are difficult to get anyway. And it is obvious that almost everyone thinks that the government – or its local incarnation – it capable of doing such things.
‘Many people have personal conflicts’, one man in Tiri told me, ‘but when they join the government they “nationalize” [German has a better word for it: verstaatlichen] these conflicts’. Their positions give them a much more powerful position vis-à-vis their adversaries. And everyone knows that when things change – and they have often in the past 30 years – the last’ll be the first and the revenge will be theirs.
Whether it was the reason for the killing in Dehrawud or not: This cycle of ‘nationalised’ badal – as it is called in Pashto – and the impunity involved has to be broken when we want to get a better government in Afghanistan.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020