With about 20 months remaining before the withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan, the country's police forces and military assume greater responsibility for security. There are fears, however, that the violence in the country will increase with the departure of foreign troops by the end of 2014. As a recent deadly attack in the western town of Farah shows, the Taliban remains a formidable threat.
On April 3, 2013, nine Taliban insurgents stormed a court in Farah, leaving 46 people dead and almost 100 wounded. Casualties included both civilians and members of local security forces. The attack reportedly aimed to free a group of Taliban prisoners standing trial.
The assault was the most violent and sophisticated in a series of similar incidents that have occurred across the country as Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, continued negotiations with the Taliban. Following the attack, Karzai met with families of the victims. Addressing a crowd in Farah, he blamed unspecified “neighbors” for violence in the country:
All the miseries that Afghans face today are due to the interference of neighbours near and far. Afghans could reconcile with Afghan Taliban, but we struggle against those who are foreigners and who [help the Taliban from outside].
On April 9, Afghan TV channel Tolo News aired a talk show [fa] in which Karzai's trip to Farah was discussed. During the show, Assadullah Sahadati, an MP, criticized Karzai's “soft” stance on the Taliban and his rhetoric which divided the insurgents into Afghan and non-Afghan ones. Sahadati noted that the Taliban had claimed responsibility for the attacks. He also mentioned that both Pakistani and Afghan elements within the violent movement had been waging a war on US-led forces in the country.
Karzai's attempts to forge a workable alliance with the Taliban in the face of external threats is nothing new – he has frequently spoken of his “brothers” within the movement and blamed Pakistan for many of the country's ills. However, his claims contradict statements made by the Afghan Taliban, including through their website. After the attack in Farah, the Taliban declared that they would continue targeting the country's judiciary if any of their fighters are prosecuted.
The news was also widely disseminated through social media. For example, Dylan Welch (@dylanwelch) tweeted on April 5:
During the Tolo News talk show, MP Sahadati said [fa]:
The representative of the Afghan Taliban has always openly claimed responsibility for such terrorist activities. When they admit responsibility for such incidents and Karzai [says they should not be blamed], we get confused as to whether to trust what Taliban say or what the Afghan government says.
After the Tolo News posted the video of the talk show on their Facebook page, an Afghan user of the social media service, Farhad Adg Dost, asked on April 8:
Did [Hamid Karzai] also release the other suicide attackers (his brothers) from Farah's prisons???
ریاست جمهوری اشتباه کرده اگر ریاست جمهوری به فکر مردم بیچاره افغانستان بود برادران کرزی را که هر روز جنایت می افریند رها نمی
کرد این مرد دغل باز بخاطر بربادی ملت کمر بسته
The presidential administration has made a mistake. If they really cared about the innocent Afghan people, they would never release Karzai's ‘brothers’, who commit crimes everyday. This dishonest person [Karzai] has taken every possible effort to ruin the nation.
به نظرم میره برای مردم فراه میگه او مردم گناه شما نیست گناه من است من دعوت کرده بودم که خوده کاندید ریاست جمهوری کند ولی متاسفانه نفهمیدم که اونا قسم خورده این خاک است و طریقه کمپاین اونا همین قسم است…ومتاسفانه کمپاین را از ولایت شما شروع کرد… اما دگه چه باید گفت؟؟؟ خواهد گفت می بخشیند از اینکه زیادتر از ده سال شده شما مردم ملکی وبی گناه را همرا برادرهای ناراضی ام هرروز، هرساعت، هردقیقه، هر ثانیه وهر لحظه -لحظه زندگی بخاک وخون میکشم و اشتباه سیاست من وغرب است… ؟؟؟
Maybe Karzai will tell the people of Farah that [the attack] was his fault since he always calls upon Taliban to negotiate and participate in political life of the country, ignoring the fact that their methods have always been inhuman? What else can he say to the people??? Will he ask the people to forgive him for the fact that during a decade of his presidency, he and his ‘brothers’ killed many civilians and innocent Afghans? Will he admit that it is because of the policies he and the West had followed?
During the decade-long conflict between the insurgents and the Afghan government, thousands of civilians have been killed and maimed. The Taliban, however, does not see the killed people as civilians. Ahmad Shuja (@AhmadShuja) tweeted on April 14:
Taliban vow to avoid civilian casualties during soon-to-start spring offensive. But their definition of ‘civilian’ is contrary to [international] law.
Roughly, anyone who isn't affiliated with the [government] or ISAF [International Security Assistance Force], i.e., judges, civil servants, etc. are not civilians as per Taliban.
The Taliban often attack individuals supporting or working with the Afghan government or international organizations. On April 8, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said there had been a rise of civilian deaths in the country since the beginning of 2013. According to UNAMA, more than 200 civilians have been killed or injured in the provinces of Farah, Wardak, and Kunar over the last five months.
Many people in the country fear that the security situation will only worsen after NATO forces pull out in 2014. As Karzai's presidential term draws to a close, Afghans are wondering whether the next president will continue holding talks with the men Karzai calls “brothers”.