December 9, 2012

Khalid Bombing Opens Old Rabbit Hole In Afghanistan

Another complex scheme to get within range of a senior Afghan official has blown a sense of déjà vu through the international media.

Three days ago a Taliban suicide bomber slipped through Afghan security at a Kabul guesthouse and detonated his device, wounding the chief of Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security (NDS). The assassination attempt wasn't Asadullah Khalid's first brush with death, and the Taliban's peculiar methodology has been witnessed before. Khalid's assailant posed as a Taliban emissary tasked with discussing national reconciliation, gaining access into one of 20 safe-houses used by the NDS in Kabul, before triggering an explosive belt wrapped around his groin. The same plot (using  Turban) was used to penetrate Burhanuddin Rabbani's security bubble and kill the head of President Hamid Karzai's peace council.

Although assassination is nothing new in the Taliban's arsenal, the tactic/strategy became the insurgency's go-to counterattack against President Barack Obama's troop surge, in the same way that ANA infiltration is designed to counter NATO's training program. Assassinations can be planned outside the country, require no ground forces or battles, disrupt Kabul's mindset and pack an enormous psychological payload in the media - a perfect weapon to undermine America's military and non-military gains in Afghanistan. July 2011 sent shockwaves out of the country when Ahmed Wali Karzai's bodyguard executed his boss in the head; the latter allegedly made a trip to Quetta, suspected home of the Taliban's shura, prior to the hit.

Less than a week later, after gunmen stormed the compound of Karzai loyalist Jan Mohammad Khan, Afghan officials claimed that the attackers made calls to Pakistan before their lethal assault. Most similarly, a false emissary penetrated Rabbani's security bubble in September 2011. The Taliban have likely been concentrating on Khalid, a staunch Tajik ally, since Rabbani's assassination.

"The attack against Rabbani was formulated in Quetta," Karzai added on Saturday, "and now the attack on Asadullah Khan Khalid has also been organized in Pakistan."

Blaming Pakistan is a misleading truism though. Attacks of this nature are inherently coordinated in the Taliban's Pakistani sanctuaries, between Quetta and the Haqqanis' northern territory, where the network has always regrouped and planned its offensives. Pakistan's government may be aware of these plots and the location of Taliban leaders, but evidence of direct complicity remains absent. And underestimating the Taliban's ingenuity or deviousness is a chronic mistake.

"The reality is that such a complicated attack and a bomb that was hidden inside his body, this is not the work of the Taliban," Karzai told reporters, implying the hand of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). "It's a completely professional and thoroughly engineered type of attack. The Taliban are not capable of that, and therefore there are bigger and professional hands involved in this.”

The Daily Beast recently documented an ongoing Taliban plot to kill Karzai, including the use of an internal bomb, but such extremes weren't necessary to breach Khalid's security. "A very sophisticated and complicated act" defines the bombing by simplicity and patience, not true complications. NDS spokesman Shafiqullah Taheri stated matter-of-factly, “It is degrading and insulting to search anyone’s genital area, according to Shariah law.” Karzai even admitted that the bomber's security screening failed due to Afghan customs, which deter personal body searches; Khalid personally waved a thorough search out of respect for the imposter's emissary.

He only needed to wrap a bomb around his leg, not implant one in his stomach, a plot that doesn't require any medical assistance.

Elements of Pakistan's government will remain complicit with the Taliban so long as the group maintains its immovable position in Afghanistan's landscape, a dilemma that may not have an answer in its present form. At the same time, blaming Pakistan for another security lapse offers a deceptively easy way out - too easy - that leads the conflict in circles. That presumably accomplishes one of the Taliban's objectives. Islamabad, for its part, has pledged intelligence cooperation after being shown the evidence; Karzai separately announced, "Our efforts for the security and stability of Afghanistan will continue."

Karzai is scheduled to meet ISI Director Zaheerul Islam, and his decision to forge onward with a political resolution is the only logical move. The Taliban didn't bomb Khalid in order to disrupt peace negotiations, as they don't exist in the first place, and don't need ISI support to carry out its individual plots. Khalid's assassination attempt represents a focused attack on an old target, one that is trying his hardest to kill Taliban.

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