The Taliban and Fear


The attack on a lakeside hotel on the outskirts of Kabul on Friday is the latest in a series of daring strikes launched by insurgents in recent months as part of their summer offensive in Afghanistan. Reports suggest that at least twenty people were killed in the attack, mostly civilians and private security guards.

Most of the previous attacks by the Taliban have been on places and people associated with international forces or government offices and staff, with preferred targets usually being NATO bases and symbols of the Afghan government. This latest assault therefore stands out in that it was aimed at a place frequented mostly by Afghans, one where young Afghanis could go at the weekend to escape the prying eyes of Kabul.

The Taliban, which claimed responsibility for the attack, said the target was chosen because it was frequented by wealthy Afghans and foreigners, who the insurgents claim used the hotel for prostitutionand "wild parties”. According to the New York Times, however, no prostitutes or foreigners were present at the hotel when the attackers arrived.

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Regardless, such a daring attack demonstrates once again how potent the insurgency has remained in the country, despite years of being targeted by Western and local forces. It is this reality that has stirred such fear among the general public. The frequency of Taliban attacks may have lessened in some areas, but concern among the general population has kept rising, and this attack is only likely to feed the idea that the Taliban will swiftly re-assume power after foreign troops withdraw in 2014.

As Kabul-based English newspaper Daily Outlook Afghanistan opines:

“This attack should put an end to the myth of a softer Taliban propagated by those who are beating the drums of negotiations and a political settlement with terrorists who want to impose their primitive worldview on Afghans. The Qargha attack proves that Taliban have no intentions of flexibility.

“With deadlier tactics targeting civilians, they want to send a message to the people of Afghanistan that when international troops withdraw, the forces of darkness will attempt to takeover through terror.”

As Omar Sharifi, the Kabul-based director of the American Institute of Afghan Studies, notes: “I see the propaganda aspect of the attack as stronger than its strategic aspect. But it is quite obvious that the Taliban are increasing their daily attacks, mostly on soft targets including isolated police stations and government installations as part of their summer offensive. The attacks aim to put pressure on both Afghan and international forces and sideline the recent Afghan government initiatives especially on domestic reforms.”

The fear among the people is quite palpable in Kabul today – I experienced it for myself when I was in the city this past month. There has been an increase in the number of people either fleeing the country or thinking seriously about doing so, especially women and young people.

“These attacks appear designed not to give the Taliban a military victory, but to catch the eye of the international public, to counter NATO claims that the Taliban have been weakened and are no longer able to pull off attacks, to throw dirt on the glossy picture of a smoothly progressing transition and to deepen the uncertainty among Afghans about their future,” Thomas Ruttig of the Afghan Analyst Network has said.

With each high-profile attack, the sense of insecurity deepens in this war torn country, creating ever-greater uncertainty over what the future holds for Afghanistan and its people.

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