About the Baghlan Bombing

by Joshua Foust on 11/8/2007 · 7 comments

A friend in Kabul relates the following grist about the sugar factory bombing in Baghlan that has killed almost 50 people:

There are various ideas flying around town at the moment. One that has come into currency today, and that is just about believable, is that the attack was carried out (in some way) by members of the United National Front, who have been observed visiting schools and mosques etc today calling on people to go out on the streets to protest against the government. It would seem a big step to take out your spokesman to further your own movement, but I wouldn’t put it past them. Kabul is increasingly a stage built for these kinds of moves.

But then again, that’s just what I’ve been hearing. I need a few more days before I have something more concrete. Of course, Hekmatyar would seem to be the next best candidate suspect, not least of all because he has suicide bombers at his command already.

But certainly this event has the potential to mushroom into something ‘big.’

Indeed it does. This seems crazy—the warlords and ex-commies of the UNF never used suicide bombing in two decades of grinding, desperate warfare—but then again in Afghanistan one can never fully discount rumors, and the line between gullibility and proper skepticism is rarely clear. What’s more, it would fit in nicely with the hints of this very thing Péter Marton has been mining from the various news wires. So it cannot be dismissed out of hand as crazy.

Here’s the trick: I can believe Rabbani desperately wants more power—it must be galling as the former President of the country to be as marginalized under Karzai as he has been. And it would represent a weird synergy: Rabbani and Hekmatyar, both Tajiks from adjacent regions in the North (Badakhshan and Konduz, respectively), both famous warlords whose fortunes have floundered since the Taliban were beaten back under Qanuni and Fahim and Abdullah.

Still, I find it tough to believe the UNF would murder one of their own in a power play. Unless things really are that desperate—in which case, we would do all involved a favor to pay more attention to the place.

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– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Inkan1969 November 8, 2007 at 9:59 am

Could it be that Hekmatyar’s group wanted to carry out a suicide bombing of its own, but due to inexperience with this tactic they wound causing a huge loss of civilian life along with the targets, and Hekmatyar is now so dismayed that he doesn’t want to claim responsibility?

Similarly, could the Taliban have actually carried this bombing out but didn’t expect such a huge loss of bystander life? So they are now terrified about public outrage against them for this catastrophe and so are trying to disavow the bombing? If this is the case we might actually get a silver lining in the blowback from the bombing might cause Taliban factions to fracture.

Péter November 8, 2007 at 2:43 pm

Thanks for posting that, Josh, that’s really interesting there are such rumours in Kabul.
Anyway, I thought, and actually it’s still hard to believe otherwise, that one can easily dismiss the accusations mentioned as a hostile IO, because of the target site (hitting northern industry; bad for stability, investments, government and parliament authority etc.), the targeting (killing of MPs from all over the country plus random killing of everyone else around them) and the means as you mentioned (suicide bombing). But there are questions left unanswered for sure, so these rumours could become significant indeed.

Glasgow November 9, 2007 at 6:54 pm

But Hektmatyar isn’t a Tajik; he’s a detribalized Pashtun. Rabbani may not mind the bombing, but it looks more like HiG (Hezb-i Islami – Gulbuddin) than anyone else. The two MPs with HiG affiliations in the province were conspicuously absent from the event, after all. I agree with the first comment that it seems to have gotten away from them and caused more damage than they intended. Still, good to know what the rumor-mill is saying; it may matter more than the truth.

Péter November 10, 2007 at 1:33 pm

To Glasgow: it sure looks that way. And it looks only more like that on the basis of what one gets to know these days. E.g.: Josh linked to a post of mine where I quoted the BBC quoting a Shiite cleric saying Mustafa Kazemi might have died of bullet wounds. Well, as we know now, there were ball bearings flying around. Really nasty stuff, but more importantly, the causes for talking of there being unanswered questions are melting away as more details become clear.
For those who might be interested as much as I am, I’ve regularly updated a series of posts on this over at statefailure.blogspot.com over the previous days.

Péter November 10, 2007 at 1:37 pm

Just one small note added, though. The carnage can’t have been unexpected with ball bearings added to the explosives. I guess this thing was just always meant to be denied.

matt November 14, 2007 at 4:33 pm

Interesting piece on the bombing. I’d also like to point out that Hekmatyar is in fact a Ghilzai Pashtun who was born in northern Kundouz province during the late 1940’s. At that stable period of time, many more Pashtun enclaves were present and tolerated in the northern areas.

It is highly likely that Hekmatyar and his factional commanders had a hand in the attack for several reasons. Over the past several months, Hekmatyar has sent letters to various Hezb-i-Islami commanders throughout the north looking for assistance in anti-government activity. Hekmatyar was left out of the creation of the United National Front back in the spring of this year and issued a heated diatribe through his media office denouncing the group shortly thereafter. Many members of the UNF have an illustrious past with Hekmatyar, such as General Dostum and B. Rabbani, who double-dealed and alliance swapped with Hekmatyar numerous times throughout the 1990’s. Obviously he has an axe to grind with many of the group’s lead figures.

Hekmatyar has supported the notion of using suicide bombers in the past and has no scruples about slaughtering large numbers of civilians, men, women, children, elderly, etc. Several assassinations this year have occurred against former Hezb-i-Islami commanders throughout much of Afghanistan, some of which have been attributed to active Hekmatyar loyalists.

This being said, the Taliban, who like Hekmatyar, have denied any responsibility in this deadly attack. This should also be taken very lightly. The Taliban are known to operate in many parts of the north, including in two Pashtun districts of Badghis province, Faryab, Kundouz and Baghlan itself. In 2005 the Taliban sent a suicide bomber to kill General Dostum at his Jowzjan stronghold during a prayer service. They nearly succeeded but the heavy green tunic he was wearing absorbed much of the shrapnel that came his way. In May of this year, a suicide bomber struck a hotel owned by one of Dostum’s relatives in Peshawar, Pakistan, killing the relative, his son and 20 others.

The Taliban have also struck several ISAF PRT crews throughout the north causing a litany of casualties this pass summer, nearly all of which were suicide bombers. Even more recently, the Taliban’s southern zone commander, Mullah Shah Mansoor Dadullah, released a videotape through al Qaeda’s media wing As Sahab (clouds) in which he vowed to launch a winter offensive against Afghan and NATO forces particularly throughout the northern areas. Lastly, a majority of all suicide attacks in Afghanistan are directly linked to Taliban fighters.

If anyone is interested in a detailed look into the man who is Hekmatyar, I strongly suggest reading Gulbuddin Hekmatyar: An Afghan Trail from Jihad to Terrorism by Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmad.

Ian November 18, 2007 at 4:29 pm

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