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August 20, 2019

Heinous attack


August 20, 2019

Even while the US, backed by Pakistan, continues efforts to broker a peace deal in Afghanistan with the Taliban, terrorism continues to threaten the country. At a wedding in Kabul on Saturday night, where joy should have existed throughout the ceremony and beyond it, there was instead grave horror and heinous bloodshed after a suicide bomber targeted the packed wedding hall, killing at least 63 people. This is the deadliest attack in the Afghan capital in months. The blast, which has been claimed by Islamic State, took place in a locality which has a large population of Hazara residents. Most of this attending the wedding were Shias; both Hazaras and Shias have in the past been repeatedly targeted in Afghanistan, particularly by IS.

President Ashraf Ghani and other Afghan officials have described the attack as barbaric and a crime against humanity. The ability of the assailants to carry out the attack raises questions about the capacity of Afghan security as US soldiers under the peace deal prepare for a pullout of most of their 14,000 personnel stationed there. The peace deal is also dependent on Taliban guarantees that they will not permit groups such as Al-Qaeda and the IS to use Afghanistan as a safe haven from where to launch the operations. The latest blood fest and the ruthless manner in which members of the Shia sect were targeted raises questions about whether they are capable of upholding this pledge. It naturally also throws a shadow over the Afghan peace process as a whole.

US Peace Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad who has condemned the heinous attack may quickly return to Afghanistan to finalise the negotiations currently underway. The question of course is if these negotiations and a future Afghan peace based on Taliban guarantees seem feasible. Pakistan, which has also condemned the attack on innocent civilians, has been entrusted with the role of persuading the Taliban to reach a peace deal. But Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has already warned he cannot guarantee Taliban compliance and Pakistan needs to be wary of its role. In the past, both in Pakistan and Afghanistan, peace deals struck with militants have broken down, adding to complications and allowing time for militants to regroup and reorganise. Saturday’s horrendous attack is also a reminder that terrorism remains a threat for the entire region. Pakistan and Afghanistan must act together to defeat it. There can be no sense in reaching peace deals which are not sincerely adhered to by all parties. Afghanistan and its people badly need peace. The country, divided by ethnic, sectarian and religious strains, needs unity. Pakistan too cannot hope for stability until there is peace in Afghanistan and the latest act of grisly killing must be examined in this regard.

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