Another day of bombings, suicide attacks, gun-battles, death and destruction in the heart of capital, Kabul, has gone by. The sheer audacity of the attacks and the desperate efforts of the security forces, who were caught unaware, have once again brought alive memories of the 90's and Kabul's bloody street battles. The shocking attacks of yesterday shattered the uneasy veneer of peace and tranquility that masks Kabul and its denizens' sense of insecurity and fear.
The daring attacks of yesterday, having left many dead and injured in their aftermath, raise some very disturbing questions about the viability of the status quo. The perception of common people on the streets, lanes and by-lanes of Kabul makes them wonder what will happen after the foreign troops leave Afghanistan.
For many of them, the fact that such attacks still happen is an indication that they have to prepare themselves for the worst while praying for the best. Furthermore, such attacks and even the news of them work to further undermine the confidence of the common people in the system, which is the primary goal of the militant groups such as Haqqani network, which has been reported as the perpetrator of yesterday's attacks.
This is bad news for the government and its international allies while good news for the Taliban; for militants, to some extent, manage to accomplish what is their primary goal: creating an atmosphere of fear and unease and sending a clear message to the international community that they remain determined to fight on.
Mounting such spectacular attacks in the heart of capital, Kabul, is also an effective propaganda tool for the Taliban and Haqqani group to boost the morale of their fighters in the villages and plains of the South and mountains of the East.
Even the Taliban commanders, in order to maintain discipline among their cadres and keep up the spirit of their men, need to show them some concrete results. For the illiterate, brainwashed Taliban or Haqqani group foot soldiers, it is encouraging to hear that their comrades have carried out such an operation in the heart of kabul.
The growing lethality of Haqqani group
The perpetrator of yesterday's attacks in Kabul has been said to be the Haqqani group. Haqqani group, based primarily in Pakistan's North Waziristan and its capital Miranshah, has now developed into an extensive network of smaller militant outfits that are active in Afghanistan's Loya Paktia region as well as Pakistan's tribal areas.
The old Jalaluddin Haqqani, a veteran of the war against the Soviets and his son, Sirajuddin Haqqani, are in control of the core of this network while the network's connections and presence extend Westward as far as Ghazni and Maidan Wardak and northward as far as Kabul and Parwan.
In recent years and particularly since the beginning of the current fighting season and Taliban's "Badr" offensive, Haqqani group has risen to overtake both Taliban and Hizb-i Islami as the most lethal and most sophisticated militant group in the Eastern half of Afghanistan.
Almost all of the major attacks in Kabul city in recent years have been carried out by the Haqqani group. The attacks on the Indian embassy in Kabul, attacks on the ministries, attacks on the Intercontinental Hotel, Jalalabad attacks, the truck bombing in Maidan wardak that happened a few days ago and many others have all been carried out by the Haqqani network.
The U.S. receives yet one more blowback from the 80's
History has an interesting way of repeating itself. A few days ago, the world and the U.S. commemorated the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The main perpetrators of the attacks were Arab members of Al-Qaeda, an organization that was substantially assisted and financed by the U.S. in the heydays of the "Charlie Wilson's War" against the Soviets in Afghanistan.
In the same way and in the days of the war against the Soviets, Jalaluddin Haqqani, much like his Al-Qaeda brethren, also received much of America's aid and assistance. Back in the 1980's, Hikmatyar, Haqqani and many other militant leaders were good friends of Robert Gates and other members of the Washington establishment. Now the same person and his forces target the symbols of America's power in Afghanistan in the same way that Al-Qaeda did ten years ago in America's homeland. Interesting indeed!
Haqqani group has so far been able to carry out its attacks on Kabul, Jalalabad and other areas with impunity and without its major commanders and leaders being killed or captured. The fact that Miranshah, as the main base of the group, is located across the border in Pakistan's tribal areas, taking action against the group and its leaders is not possible without cooperation of Pakistani authorities.
The NATO forces cannot enter into Pakistani territory in "hot pursuit" of Haqqani group fighters who routinely move across the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Any such move by foreign or Afghan forces, apart from further ruining relations with Pakistan, runs the risk of a rapid escalation into a major conflict involving the Pakistani armed forces.
Afghanistan and the NATO forces cannot remain vulnerable sitting docks waiting for future attacks by Haqqanis and their affiliates. They cannot and should not remain hostages to a militant group that sits comfortably across the border and mounts attacks with impunity.
Something must be done and it, invariably, should involve pushing Pakistan towards taking greater responsibility for its own tribal areas. Unless Pakistan cleans up its tribal areas and purges them of militant activity, and until Afghan and NATO forces are able to track their nasty plans, deadly attacks by Haqqani network targeting Kabul and other Afghan cities will continue.
On the other hand, taking action against the Haqqani group in North Waziristan is not an easy task. Military operations by Pakistani or NATO forces against the group in Miranshah and elsewhere in the tribal areas run the risk of inciting the whole tribal communities against what they see as an unjust invasion of their territories.
The result can be a never-ending cycle of insurgency that will further destabilize the tribal areas and the broader Af-Pak region. Choking off and starving the Haqqanis of invisible helping hands and taking away their sources of funding is and should be the focus of any strategy to deal with the Haqqanis.