The impact of yesterday’s suicide attack in Takhar, which killed the police commander of the northern zone General Daud and six others, is wide ranging. The international security forces and those counting on a smooth transition have lost an important partner. The Jamiat-based networks have lost a battlefield commander. The (northern) youth have lost a potential leader. Politicians from the original anti-Taleban coalition feel vindicated and justified in their criticism of the government, that in their eyes threatens to sell the country’s gains to the insurgents – cheaply and irresponsibly. And the Taleban have killed one of their most significant opponents, who had been battling the movement hard throughout the north since his appointment in August 2010.
The attack took place inside the governor’s office after a high-level security meeting, which had been chaired by General Daud and among others attended by the governor, the police chief and the German ISAF commander. As the participants left the room, the attacker who had apparently posed as a security guard waiting in the corridor, detonated his explosives.^ Pictures show smoke billowing from the building and the survivors are said to have received burn wounds.
Immediately after the attack government officials denied the reports that General Daud had been killed,* but as relatives and confidantes acknowledged his death to an increasing number of people, this quickly became untenable. During the evening reports circulated that Takhar governor Abdul Jabbar Taqwa had also succumbed to his injuries, while President Karzai offered his condolences to the Germans for the death of their commander Markus Kneip – both reports however proved to be incorrect. So far seven deaths have been confirmed: General Daud, commander of the 303 Pamir northern police zone; Shah Jehan Noori, Takhar’s provincial police chief; the governor’s secretary Nasrullah; Nasir Ahmad, a security guard; and three German military.
The attack is the latest in a string of high-profile, targeted killings by the Taleban. These include most prominently the deadly attacks on theKandahar police chief Khan Mohammad Mujahed on 15 April 2011 (a suicide attack inside his police headquarters – he had survived two earlier attacks in February 2011); Kunduz police chief, Mowlana Abdul Rahman Seydkheili on 11 March 2011 (a suicide attack targeting his motorcade); and Kunduz Governor Engineer Omar on 8 October 2010 (a bomb explosion during Friday prayers in Takhar).** In combination with other recent high-profile assaults – such as the hour-long stand-off in Kandahar, and the suicide attackers that managed to enter the Ministry of Defence, the ANA/ISAF base in Laghman and the military hospital in Kabul – they generate a strong sense of insecurity: not only is the government unable to protect its population, it cannot even keep its own key leaders alive.
As security chief of the northern zone, Daud had been highly pro-active, not only supporting the US military in its drive against the Taleban, but also launching independent operations by Afghan forces. The meeting he chaired before his death had been discussing the launch of a new anti-Taleban operation, code-named Omid, or hope, which is said to have started in Kunduz today. (The Taleban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahed, claimed the attack and said they had successfully turned ‘omid into na-omid’). Daud was one of the most senior figures, to have been killed by the Taleban (only the former NDS deputy, Abdullah Laghmani, killed in September 2009 would have outranked him).
But this is not just about senior police officials being killed by insurgents. The four police chiefs – Daud, Noori, Mujahed and Seydkheili – had similar profiles. They had mujahedin backgrounds with roots in the Jamiat-e Islami. Three of them had been controversial in the police reform process: Noori, Mujahed and Seydkheili did not meet the reform criteria in the last round of the 2006 police reform, but were appointed as provincial police chiefs anyway. At the time this lead to a protracted tug of war between the President and the international community. Daud was Deputy Minister of Interior (Counternarcotics) at the time and was considered professionally capable, although there were consistent allegations of involvement in drugs. Times changed and as the ability to fight the Taleban became more important than considerations of formal professionalism, all four were re-labelled as ‘effective and experienced’ – among the local population, the international partners and obviously also the Taleban.
General Daud in particular was seen as a rising star among the non-Pashtuns of northern Afghanistan. He had been close to Ahmad Shah Massoud and comrades say he participated as a youth in the 1980s jihadagainst the Soviet occupation. He became a commander of increasing importance on the Takhar front during the maqawamat or ‘resistance’ against the Taleban regime, finally taking the surrender of large number of Taleban in Kunduz in 2001. He was appointed as commander of the 6th army corps after the fall of the Taleban, but realised early on that post-2001 there would be new routes to power and was one of the first to join the disarmament program and the government in a civilian capacity. He did not seem to be tainted by the same allegations of crude abuses as many of the other and older commanders, although there were accusations of ethnic bias. He learned English, had been studying part-time for a degree at the American University and was more sophisticated than most. His accessibility to journalists and little things like his use of Twitter and Facebook seemed to suggest to a younger generation the possibility of a new type of political leader.
The deaths of these ‘heroes of the jihad and maqawamat‘, as they are consistently referred to by supporters and friends, now threaten to exacerbate suspicions and further inflame some already very fraught relations.
In his first reaction on Tolo TV, Dr Abdullah described a recent conversation at the Palace where General Daud had apparently been told off for engaging in tribal warfare. He is quoted in one of the newspapers as saying that the government did not understand the value of Daud’s activities and consistently tried to curb his successes. Both Abdullah and Saleh in their responses to Daud’s death repeated their recurrent criticism of the government: that it does not know friend from foe – a clear swipe at the, in their eyes, ill-advised and premature entreaties to the Taleban.*** Ustad Mohaqeq also used the opportunity to criticize the government for its one-sided efforts to engage in peace talks, which according to him had “only emboldened the terrorists”. President Karzai’s condemnation of the attack, calling those who were killed true sons of the country who tirelessly worked for peace and stability, is unlikely to mollify his critics – nor is his insistence that the attacks were carried out by ‘foreign forces’.****
In terms of the prospects for a smooth transition, Daud’s death illustrates the weakness of a strategy that strongly relies on partnerships with personalities – particularly in the context of a war that is increasingly fought by means of targeted assassinations by both sides. The ability of the Taleban to time and again get people and explosives onto secure compounds illustrates how pervasive the problem of infiltration and possible cooptation is.
But the attack mostly leads to a deep and widespread feeling of weariness: the killing continues, it just doesn’t stop. Key leaders, foot soldiers, innocent bystanders – they all continue to be targeted or unintentionally caught in the crossfire. They suffer and die.
There is confusion, frustration and anger. This is possibly best summarised in this tweet from a women’s activist, referring to media reports earlier today that in Helmand two women and twelve children were killed in a NATO air strike (only a day after Karzai had – again – called for an end to such air strikes):
“NATO kills civilians, but Taleban kill leaders & those who’re ready to die for a better Afg, who is successful?”
^ Updated: There is confusion about what exactly happened. Amid reports that the authorities had information that an attack by a policeman was planned, the NDS came out saying that the explosion was in fact caused by a remote controlled explosive device and not a suicide bomber. On 31 MayGeneral Daud’s brother and others claimed that both Daud and Noori were wounded but still alive after the initial explosion and were killed by gunshots.
* Daud’s spokesman told Tolo TV that he had been far from the scene of the attack and would answer the phone shortly – which was reminiscent of the confusion that ensued after the suicide attack on Ahmad Shah Massoud in September 2001 (for several days Massoud’s aides and relatives insisted that he was still alive and would be holding a press conference soon).
** Several Afghan commentators have added to this list the pro-government elder Malek Zarin who was killed in a suicide attack in Kunar on 13 April 2011, two days before the killing of Khan Mohammad. One commentator (political party leader and military analyst, Jawed Kohistani, on Tolo TV) went further back and also included the death of then MP Seyd Mustafa Kazemi, leader of the Eqtedar-e Melli party. Kazemi was killed in the Baghlan Sugar Factory bomb blast in November 2007, together with five other MPs and twenty bystanders. Kohistani blamed Pakistan for the targeting of these personalities.
Other high profile killings include Kandahar police chief Akram Khakrezwalduring a funeral service in the Red Mosque in Kandahar n 2004, and NDS deputy Abdullah Laghmani in Laghman in September 2009 – both in bomb explosions.
Updated: Other high-profile killings, that were also mentioned by Karzai in his 31 May speech, included the suicide attack on Governor of Khost,Abdul Hakim Taniwal, in September 2006 and the shooting of vice president and Minister of Public Works, Haji Abdul Qadir, , in June 2002.
*** Earlier that day Amrullah Saleh had said something similar at a gathering that marked “Justice Day”, the newly established celebration of the birthday of former Hezb-e Wahdat leader, Abdul Ali Mazari – as had Qanooni during the Parliamentary session in which the leadership of the security organs was summoned to, among others things, discuss last week’s attack on the military hospital.
**** Presidential spokesman Waheed Omar during today’s press conference: “No one from Afghanistan carries out attacks. Everything shows that they are shaped outside Afghanistan. The President of Afghanistan says these are foreign forces. We will continue the war against terrorists who are foreigners. He is asking for your patience.”
The Ahmad Shah Massoud foundation in turn released a statement blaming ‘those who are against the national resistance of the Afghan people’ for the martyrdom of Seydkheili and Daud, suggesting that ‘in some ways the government is involved’, as the Taleban would not have the courage to carry out such attacks without the cooperation of people in government circles.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020