The Guardian.co.uk…According to a Taliban spokesman the real target of the suicide bombing in Kabul was the American embassy
According to Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, the target of Saturday’s explosion in Kabul was not the headquarters of the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) in Afghanistan but the American embassy. This careful clarification reveals the insurgents’ strategic logic.
For weeks analysts have been puzzled by the apparent lack of a effort to disrupt the polls. The Taliban have, after all, made assaults on relatively poorly protected Afghan government officials a key element of their strategy. Yet other than a couple of raids and a few bombings nothing on the scale of the operations that the Taliban could launch if they wanted has been seen. The next few days may see this change but all the activities associated with the election have passed off with little interference.
Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban, has not made any confirmed public declarations about the election and the insurgents have limited themselves to a statement posted on their internet site which calls on Afghans to boycott the polls. There are some reports of local intimidation and some leaflets in mosques dissuading potential voters but little else. It is as if the Taliban high command has decided to make their presence felt but not fully engage.
There are several reasons for this.
First, the insurgents have learned only to fight at a time and place of their choosing. Even a few days spent on the ground with western forces shows how the main problem for Nato troops is finding and engaging the insurgents. For the Taliban to go into battle now, at a time when their enemy has massive resources, would be to accept a fight that has been offered, not chosen.
Second, the Taliban have shown themselves sensitive to public opinion. A booklet was recently circulated among Taliban commanders designed to win “hearts and minds”.
Since 2007, the more drastic of the movement’s earlier “social edicts” has been left to the discretion of local commanders. The Taliban high command may have decided that, as most Afghans seem keen to vote, to oppose the poll would be counterproductive.
Third, the probable outcome of the election will be the re-election of Hamid Karzai and the induction into government of many of the very warlords whose venality and violence led to rise of the Taliban in the first place.
Fourth, the Taliban are not working with the same worldview as the west. The elections are not, to them, a potential turning point nor a litmus test of the success of the Afghanistan project. Nor is something as short-term as a single poll of great significance given the length of time they have allowed for their strategy to succeed. That strategy is two-fold: establish a parallel administration in enough of Afghanistan for the central administration to be fatally weakened and to progressively destroy all support for the presence of western troops in Afghanistan in the USA and Europe.
Finally there is the question of outside influence. In the 2004 elections the Taliban also remained relatively quiet. This was subsequently attributed, in part at least, to the influence of Pakistan. Pakistani policy is to manipulate the insurgents so as to be in a better position to counter regional rivals’ influence when international troops leave.
Also, the Taliban do not get most of their money from narcotics, as is often said, but they receive a significant amount from private donors in the Gulf or elsewhere in the Islamic world who are much less keen to pay for violence directed at voting Afghans than strikes on western troops or their “stooges”.
So it makes sense that the Taliban, or in this case probably the allied insurgent group led by hardline cleric and warlord Jalaluddin Haqqani, have preferred to launch the first genuinely spectacular strike since the beginning of the election campaign against a diplomatic western target.
As their spokesman explained, rather than hit the military, the Taliban would have preferred dead diplomats. Though a bomb outside the Isaf headquarters would show the insurgents’ ability to strike anywhere, their key target is international public opinion. Given the number of journalists and TV crews in the Afghan capital to cover the elections, a spectacular suicide bombing was always going to be an easy way of getting the media coverage that they need.
Jason Burke is the author of Al-Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam