On March 6, a mourning ceremony in Kabul was attacked by supposed ISIL militants. The Guardian reports that the ceremony was held to commemorate the 1995 death of Abdul Ali Mazari, the leader of Afghanistan’s ethnic Hazaras. This violence is a further escalation of ISIL’s declaration of war against Afghanistan’s Shia population. The same commemoration was also targeted by ISIL last year.
The ceremony was attended by Abdullah Abdullah, the political opposition leader of Afghanistan, but he is reported to have escaped unharmed. According to The New York Times, the attack killed 32 civilians and left another fifty-eight wounded. The BBC reports that the attackers fired on the crowd from building under construction nearby. The two gunmen were killed after a five-hour standoff with Afghan security forces.
This attack comes during a period of high political tension in Afghanistan. Abdullah Abdullah has challenged the results of the recent election, which declared the incumbent president Ashraf Ghani the winner. Abdullah believes himself to be the victor and has threatened to hold a rival inauguration for himself at the same time as the official inauguration.
Abdullah Abdullah’s fellow opposition leaders have raised questions about the lapse in security at the ceremony. Al Jazeera reports that President Ghani called the attacks a “crime against humanity and against the national unity of Afghanistan.” He is also reported to have spoken to Abdullah on the phone in the wake of the attack.
Radio Free Europe reports that this is also the first major attack on Kabul since a new deal was agreed on between the United States and the Taliban on February 29. This deal is supposed to cause the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. According to NPR, the stated aim of the agreement was to “bring peace to Afghanistan.” This agreement comes over eighteen years after U.S. forces took the Taliban out of power.
However, the Afghan government was not a part of the deal, and the Taliban still view the Afghan authorities as U.S. puppets. This tension between the Afghan government and the Taliban presents logistical challenges for combatting ISIL activity in the country. The U.S. defense department is concerned about expanded ISIL activity within Afghanistan’s Kunar province. In the combined Afghan and U.S. efforts to expel ISIL from the country, Taliban cooperation could prove useful because of their knowledge of the terrain in Kunar province.
A key component of the agreement is the release of five-thousand Taliban prisoners taken by the U.S. It is unclear if this component of the agreement will actually be implemented, but the Taliban are insistent that they will only sign if the prisoners are actually released. The Afghan government wants stability and an end to violence in Afghanistan.
“The Taliban will not agree to start the talks without the prisoner exchange,” Barnett Rubin, a former State Department advisor on Afghanistan, told NPR. “The Afghan government says it will not agree to start the talks without a ceasefire. So at this point, it’s very unlikely the talks will go forward in the immediate future.”