Afghanistan rocked by northern
bombing By M K Bhadrakumar
The killing of Sayed Mustafa Kazimi, the
45-year-old Hazara Shi'ite leader from Parwan
province of Afghanistan, to the northwest of
Kabul, bears all the hallmark of a political
The blame for the suicide
bomb attack on Tuesday in the town of Pul-i-Khumri
in the northern Baghlan province, some 150
kilometers from Kabul, will almost inevitably be
placed at the doorstep of the Taliban. This is
only natural. The denial of
involvement by the main
Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahed, is unlikely
to be taken seriously.
But the incident
once again draws attention to the problem that
under the guise of the Taliban insurgency, many
forces are operating.
The incident also
catches attention as the deadliest suicide attack
since the overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001.
According to initial reports, close to 50 people
were killed, including five members of Parliament,
including Kazimi. An 18-member delegation of
lawmakers was visiting a sugar factory in Baghlan
when the attack took place.
to have been the main target. He was the rising
star of the Afghan political scene. Foreigners who
knew him in the heyday of the anti-Taliban
resistance in the 1990s would vouchsafe that he
was destined to rise high in the political arena.
His mujahideen pedigree was impeccable. He was
relatively young and had a modern outlook.
Along with "Ustad" Abdul Ali Mazari and
Karim Khalili, he was one of the founders of the
Hizb-e-Wahdat Islami Afghanistan, the main Hazara
Shi'ite mujahideen group, which was supported by
Iran in the Afghan jihad of the 1980s against the
Kazimi was a rare
combination of brilliant organizer and suave
spokesman. For his community, which was
traditionally bereft of such talented leaders, he
was a great asset. It came as no surprise that
when the so-called National United Front,
Jabhe-ye-Motahed-e-Milli, an assorted coalition of
erstwhile mujahideen leaders (and former
communists) in political opposition to the
government of President Hamid Karzai took shape in
March, Kazimi was appointed its main spokesman.
Kazimi's role in the National United Front
was tacit recognition of his consistent stance
that Afghan politics must cross ethnic and
regional boundaries. In the exasperating
internecine tensions within the anti-Taliban
Northern Alliance in the late 1990s, Kazimi often
played a key role, bridging ethnic, personal
rivalries among various groups.
Kazimi's tireless role, it is doubtful if
rapprochement between the Tajik groups led by the
late Ahmad Shah Massoud and the Hezb-e-Wahdat
would have been possible within the framework of
the Northern Alliance. The mutual antipathies of
the two sides were well-founded as Tajik forces
had killed about 1,000 Hazara women and children
in a massacre in the west Kabul district of
Afshar, a predominantly Hazara area, during the
mujahideen rule in 1993.
Kazimi had an
easy way of working with political adversaries,
which is uncommon in Afghanistan.
Evidently, those who plotted his
assassination had a grand design. The Taliban lack
the political sophistication to work with such
foresight and planning. Of course, the Taliban
have an old feud with the Hazara Shi'ites dating
to the murder of Mazari in March 1995, when the
Taliban, already approaching Kabul, entrapped him
after inviting him for peace talks. He was
tortured and murdered before his body was thrown
out of a helicopter somewhere near Ghazni.
Observers of the Afghan scene may have
forgotten the incident, but what comes readily to
mind is that the suspicion still lingers that
Mazari's murder was the handiwork of Pakistan's
Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
finger of suspicion must once again turn to the
ISI over Kazimi's killing, which raises the issue
of what would be gained by removing him from the
First, he comes from
a region of Afghanistan which is very sensitive.
Those who know the Afghan chessboard would
acknowledge the supreme importance of controlling
the provinces of Baghlan and Parwan. They form the
gateway to the northern Amu Darya region, the
Panjshir Valley to the east and the central
Hazarajat region respectively.
the mountain passes to the west of Baghlan was
bitterly contested between the Taliban and the
Northern Alliance. The hub was extremely important
strategically. In political terms, it is possible
to say that without exercising control of the hub,
there can be no effective unity between the
non-Pashtun ethnic groups of Tajiks and Hazaras
(and even the Uzbekis).
the predominantly Tajik areas with the Hazarajat
region and is also on the main communication line
between Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif in the Amu Darya
region. Baghlan itself is a mosaic where Pushtuns,
Tajiks and Hazaras have traditionally vied for
influence and control.
Kazimi hailed from
Parwan and did much of his political work in his
early years in Baghlan province, where he was
quite popular. There is no better way of creating
volatility, if not mayhem, in that sensitive
region than through a political assassination. The
ISI has used targeted political assassinations
with devastating effect in Afghanistan many a time
at critical junctures on the battlefield.
Kazimi's killing is a tell-tale sign that
a master plan to destabilize the northern regions
of Afghanistan is in the works. It could only mean
that we are about to witness the calibrated
extension of the insurgency to the northern
regions, which have remained relatively tranquil,
apart from a few sporadic incidents.
implications could be very serious for the North
Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) contingents
located thinly on the ground in the northern
Kazimi's killing throws the
National United Front into confusion. This is
unfortunate since it was a coalition of
non-Taliban opposition elements. In any future
"intra-Afghan dialogue", the coalition would have
optimized its bargaining strength simply by being
a collective body. Kazimi would have been vital
glue for the disparate elements of the front to be
able to collectively bargain for political space
in any future set-up in Kabul that strove to
accommodate the Taliban.
There are already
signs that elements within the National United
Front have begun seeking accommodation at the
individual level. The weakening of the front at
this stage, just as there are signs of talks with
the Taliban gaining a formal shape, works entirely
to the advantage of the Taliban.
has always worked against the forging of any unity
by the non-Pashtun ethnic groups in the central
and northern regions.
Hezb-e-Wahdat takes a devastating blow with
Kazimi's death. His absence will be keenly felt in
protecting Hazara interests. Tehran, too, has lost
a good Afghan friend.
The probability is
that Tuesday's attack was staged by the
Hezb-i-Islami under Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, which has
close ties with the ISI. Hekmatyar has pockets of
influence in the Baghlan area. His field
commanders were active in the area even after he
fled Afghanistan in 1996 following the fall of
Kabul to the Taliban.
The ISI game plan
could be to create an operational base for
Hekmatyar in the northern region. There could be
no better turf than Baghlan, from where he could
expand his political activities.
forces in Afghanistan face the specter of multiple
fronts. There are disquieting signs already. So
far the insurgency has been concentrated in the
On Tuesday, in what could
be a harbinger of events to come, a few dozen
Taliban riding motorcycles and pick-up trucks
overran the district center of Kajran in central
Daikundi province, which borders the volatile
provinces of Uruzgan and Helmand, the scene of
heavy fighting this year. The attack was preceded
by artillery firing into the town from a mountain
overlook for the past five days. This is the
third district overrun by the Taliban outside of
the southern region in the past week. On Monday,
the Taliban seized control of Gilistan and Bakwa
provinces in western Farah province near the
The developments once
again bear testimony to the harsh ground reality
as to how next to impossible it will be for the
United States and Britain to tighten the screws on
Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf
simply because the general wants to rule his
country on his own terms.
It is not only
that some 90% of NATO's supplies in Afghanistan go
through Pakistan, but also that the ISI controls
many strings within Afghanistan. NATO has become
hostage to the goodwill of Pakistani security
M K Bhadrakumar served
as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service
for over 29 years, with postings including India's
ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey