Afghanistan

Is the Afghan peace process working? 101 casualties in two car bombings over three days casts a shadow

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By George Fairhurst

On Saturday October 3rd a deadly car bomb targeted a government building in Afghanistan's Nangarhar province. It left 15 dead including four children, and 40 more wounded. Attaullah Khogyani, the governor's spokesperson, told AFP news agency that "the car bomb detonated at the entrance of the district headquarters building. Several armed attackers tried to enter the building after the attack but were killed by security forces".

Two days later, in Laghman's capital, Mehtarlam, a suicide car bomber targeted governor Rahmatullah Yarmal. He killed at least eight people, including four civilians, and wounded at least 28 others. Governor Rahmatullah Yarmal, escaped without injury but four of his bodyguards were killed in the attack.

No group has claimed responsibility for either event, but both the Taliban and ISIS are known to attack government representatives, and the Taliban have carried out similar assassinations of Afghan officials and security personnel, as well as car bomb attacks in recent months.

Above and beyond the deaths and injuries of civilians in these attacks, what is worrying is that they come amid intra-Afghan talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. These talks, which began in Qatar's capital, Doha, last month following a US-Taliban agreement signed in February of this year.

It raises the question: are the peace talks actually leading to peace?

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan reports that at least 1,282 civilians were killed and 2,176 wounded between January and June 2020.

In addition, last year there were at least 524 civilians killed or injured by roadside bombs in Afghanistan. This was the highest number of people harmed by this device in Afghanistan since 2010, when AOAV's records began. Up to June of this year, though, despite the peace talks, some 304 civilians were killed or injured by roadside bombs.

If this trajectory continues, this year looks set to be the most harmful for civilians in Afghanistan from roadside bombs for at least the last decade.

Admittedly, this is not the case with other forms of IEDs. Between January and June, 45 civilians were harmed by car bombs, compared to 1,409 in the 12 months of 2019. Overall, in 2019, some 3,596 civilians were killed or injured by IEDs in Afghanistan. In the first six months of 2020, some 622 civilians were harmed.

Why there has been an increase in road-side and car bombs despite there being a decline in other forms of attack is not clear. It could be that there has been a change of tactic by the Taliban, or that COVID-19 has impacted social gatherings in Afghanistan's cities and so reduced mass casualty attacks.

Whatever the reason, it is clear that Afghanistan's civilians are far from enjoying a moment of peace. The talks in Doha should be cognisant of this reality.

AOAV calls for states and international organisations to work collaboratively to generate greater awareness of the number of civilians killed and injured each year by IEDs, and encourage a greater stigma from political, religious and social leaders on the use of IEDs. There is an urgent need for preventative measures to be implemented by States and the international community.