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Afghanistan: Rumors Fly About the Baghlan Bombing

The horrible suicide bombing of November 6 in Baghlan, which killed dozens, including several members of parliament, has consumed the Afghan blogosphere. I was made privy to a rumor about the bomber's origin: the United National Front, the political coalition of former communists and Northern Alliance warlords. I expressed skepticism, however, given that Bernahuddin Rabbani, one of the UNF's leaders and the former President of Afghanistan, has been vehemently opposed to suicide bombing for decades. Similarly, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, another prime suspect, has utilized suicide attacks in the past, and supposedly maintains a stable of suicide bombers ready to strap on an explosives belt. Carl Robichaud, collecting a series of quotes about the incident, suggests the same:

“There is a question why the provincial officials were not with their parliamentarian guests. And it is a question why there was shooting after the explosion.”

- Burhanuddin Rabbani, leader of the United National Front.


This would still suggest it was an inside job, however. Péter Marton, who has done an extraordinary job of rounding up various news accounts, posts from a BBC story suggesting that the unusual deadliness of the bombing could be because it was packed with upwards of a thousand ball bearings:

That's an explanation regarding the high number of the victims (for an attack by a single suicide bomber). It is also noted in the article that this wasn't the first time ball bearings were used in a suicide attack in Afghanistan – and you know who are responsible for suicide attacks so far in Afghan history.

He's referring to the Taliban. Marton also notes:

[I]f rumours were to get out of hand, that would reinforce Hazaras’ sense of being victims (killed by the scores during the Taliban; Bamiyan's governor's complaints that they are not getting as much aid as the southern provinces that are rewarded in her view for the insurgency there; the traditional Hazara-Kuchi and Hazara-Pashtun enmities; and then this…).

The implication, of course, is that at some point the Hazara may turn against ISAF and NATO—which would be very bad news indeed for the West. Mohammad Fahim Khairy sees the hand of Karzai, and posts some brutal pictures of the aftermath:

The answer is President Karzai’s team planned the attack. They wanted to vanish Mr. Kazemi because he was the most active member and spokesman of the Opposition Party National Front who Karzai’s gang feared a lot…
Democracy is dying.

Of course, a lesson I have slowly learned, is that rumors can rarely be separated from truth in Afghanistan, something that has been true since it came to exist. In a very real sense, the “objective” truth of history does not matter, as the stories that are repeated and passed on as pieces of cultural identity will ultimately matter more. If enough people think there was a Karzai-led conspiracy, there was a Karzai (or UNF, or Hekmatyar)-led conspiracy, regardless of whether there really was one or not.

So, while everyone mourns and tries to unravel the horror of the Baghlan bombing, I suppose there is little we can do but pray for the victims’ families, and hope these incidents do not permanently bury any prospect of peace in the land.

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