Afghanistan: How a Shrine Bombing in Kabul tells us Trump’s Surge won’t Succeed

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

This year, the merriment of Now-Ruz in Kabul was marred by a suicide bombing that killed at least 33 persons and wounded 68, according to the Afghani Ministry of Health. The perpetrator was allegedly a member of ISIL (which really needs another name, since it isn’t an ‘Islamic State’ and doesn’t hold territory in Iraq or the Levant any more, and just seems to be a franchise for disgruntled terrorists dissatisfied with how moderate the Afghan Taliban are).

March 20 was the vernal equinox this year, the first day of spring and a time when people with a heritage in Persianate culture celebrate New Year (Now-Ruz). In Afghanistan, in Kabul and Herat, there was dancing and small childrens’ carnivals and family celebrations where people put out tableaux with seven things starting with the letter “s” in Persian. Now-Ruz, or the Persian New Year, goes back to pre-Islamic times and developed in the ancient Persian empires.

In Kabul, a crowd gathers every year for the festivities in the largely Hazara Shiite neighborhood at the Kart-e Sakhi shrine near Kabul University. The shrine is said once to have housed the relic of the cloak of the prophet Muhammad.

This horrific act of violence on Tuesday aimed at dividing Afghans. The hard line fundamentalist Salafi ideology of some Pushtun extremists finds everything about the scene at Kart-e sakhi to be distasteful. They don’t like the Hazara Shiites, whom they see as wretched heretics (and in Afghan society the Hazaras have often been mistreated by other ethnic groups as a sort of menial lower caste). They don’t like Now-Ruz, which they see as a pagan holdover. They don’t like people dancing or being happy or women being in public.

In an ideal world, this horrible atrocity would be met with big anti-extremism demonstrations in Sunni, Pushtun cities like Jalalabad and Qandahar. Until all Afghans can identify with minority victims of extremism, the extremists will have a toehold.

(I figure that Hazaras are 22% of Afghans and Pushtuns are 44%).

And, of course, what the ISIL cells in Afghanistan are hoping for is that the Hazaras will form mobs and attack Sunnis, or Hazara elements in the Afghanistan National Army will take reprisals against Pushtun Sunnis, or that Pushtun Sunnis of a fundamentalist mindset will take up the cause of attacking Shiites or attacking Now-Ruz celebrations. They hope to polarize, as a pathway to power.

And until Afghans find a way to fight that polarization on ethnic and religious grounds, Trump can send all the extra troops he wants and can drop all the mothers-of-all-bombs he likes, but the Afghanistan war will grind on.

5 Responses

  1. During peaceful times in Afghan history what were the accommodations that developed to allow these groups to live together? Can such accommodations be restored? Or are there too many outside forces at play?

  2. At this point in time, Trump would rather drop a cluster bomb comprised of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Stormy Daniels and Robert Mueller on Afghanistan from a very high altitude.

    Trump doesn’t care about Afghanistan, he has no golf courses or hotels there.

  3. .
    It might help Americans to understand Pashtuns better if we don’t limit ourselves to only taking a headcount of Pashtuns Northwest of the “Durand Line, ”
    but also consider that they do not really accept the border that England tried to impose.
    They consider their cousins and uncles in the Khyber-Pakhtun Province of Pakistan, and in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, to be part of the Afghan population.
    By that calculation, Pashtuns are a clear majority.
    And yet,
    we are still there trying to force the Pashtuns to accept rule by the “Northern Alliance” of Dari-speaking Hazaras, Uzbeks and Tadjiks, whom they consider to be interlopers or foreigners.
    The name “Afghan” refers to the ethnically Pashtun people.

    • I don’t actually think that the Pakistani Pushtuns still bulk large in Afghan consciousness. There is a big political split, with most of the Pakistani ones supporting a secular nationalist party. Afghanistan does not have a majority ethnicity and the Pushtuns should make their peace with sharing with Hazaras, Uzbeks, Tajiks.

  4. My best estimate is that 37% of Afghans are Pashtuns and that about 8% of Afghans are neither Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks. Of course no one cares about them because they don’t like the Taliban and are loyal to the GIRoA and ANSF.

    The appeal of Daesh is because they are not seen as controlled by GHQ Deep State (code for Pakistani Army) and Gulf establishment. The Taliban is seen by the vast majority of Afghans as a proxy of the Pakistani Army.

    This is one of the reasons peace has been elusive since 2001. Any peace deal involving significant concessions to the Taliban risks the Afghan government being seen as Pakistani quislings by most Afghan people.

    brian, the ANA, Afghan Air Force, ANASOF, ANP, civilian GIROA institutions and parliament if anything have slightly more Pashtun representation than the overall Afghan population.

    “The name “Afghan” refers to the ethnically Pashtun people.” I don’t know any major Afghan historian who would agree with this.

    Remember that most of Northern India, all of Pakistan, southern former USSR and parts of Iran use to be in Afghanistan until the English reduced the size of Afghanistan. The vast majority of Afghans at that time were not Pashtuns.

    The Taliban are unpopular among both a majority of Afghan Pashtuns and Pakistani Pashtuns. This is part of the problem (why the Taliban are afraid to stand for elections).

    Another part of the problem is that Afghans cannot defeat the Taliban as long as the Taliban receive large scale support from the Pakistani Army and Gulf establishment.

    “During peaceful times in Afghan history what were the accommodations that developed to allow these groups to live together? Can such accommodations be restored? Or are there too many outside forces at play?”

    The Wahhabi takeover of Saudi Arabia in the early 1920s changed everything. It radicalized the Gulf. Before 1919, a majority of Indian muslims (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh were part of India until 1919) were heavily influenced by Sufi, twelver, sixer, Ahmedi strains. After 1919, everything changed. Pakistan became heavily radicalized. Indian, Afghan and Bangladeshi muslims now have far larger radicalized minorities (still a minority thank God) than they did before 1919.

    Juan this time truly is different. Because Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are different. The Islamic reform movement is further along. Afghan civil society and public opinion have advanced leaps and bounds since 2001. Afghans now have many college educated people and many high school graduates. Afghanistan has large rap and music concerts. The Afghan youth culture has changed everything (in the 2/3 of Afghanistan where anti GIRoA militias don’t moderately or significantly contest the GIRoA.)

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