Three explosions rocked Kandahar on Monday morning as the city slid deeper into violence. The southern Afghan city is where NATO is planning to launch what it sees as the next major offensive of the Afghanistan war.
The blasts, two of which apparently targeted Kandahar's deputy police chief, killed two civilians and prompted the United Nations to say it was scaling back operations there. The aid community already has a far lighter footprint there than in other parts of Afghanistan.
Residents sound increasingly fatalistic about their prospects this summer, with the Taliban apparently making good on a promise to escalate violence in the city in response to NATO’s plans to restore central government authority to a city that, in as much as it is controlled by anyone, is in the hands of a murky nexus of local powerbrokers and gangsters.
Alex Strick van Linschoten, a Dutch researcher who is one of only a handful of Europeans in Kandahar, reported on his blog that a businessman had predicted that Afghanistan's second largest city faced destruction.
"The storm is coming," the businessman said. "I try telling people, but it seems they're all just making themselves busy with fixing the leaky roof or the squeaky door. The storm will destroy their entire house and city, though. The storm is coming. You have two options: Get out now, or climb down into your bunker and hope that the storm will pass and that you're still alive six months from now."
Attacks target police
According to a tally compiled by Sami Kovanen, a senior analyst with Indicium Consulting in Kabul, 99 people were killed in 150 violent incidents in Kandahar City between the start of January and April 18, not including insurgents. The dead included aid workers, private contractors, mullahs, tribal elders, secret policemen, foreign soldiers, and civilians, who bore the highest toll.
But by far the largest number of targeted assassinations were directed against police officers, who accounted for 30 percent of the dead. Suicide bombers killed the most people, but other kinds of attacks included roadside bombs, hangings, beheadings, small-arms skirmishes and execution-style shootings.
Meanwhile, Kandahar offcials said Sunday that unknown assailants had gunned down Haji Abdul Hay, a tribal elder and the brother of a former senator. Last week assassins shot dead the deputy mayor as he attended evening prayers.
And in February, suicide bombers targeted the jail and police headquarters, leaving 35 dead and more than 50 wounded. David Belluz, a Canadian photographer in the city on the night of that attack, said that people were "genuinely scared. These men hear explosions every third or fourth day and they were shaken. The fear was really palpable that all hell was breaking loose and nothing was going to stop it."
Taliban not the only source of violence
But it is not just the Taliban who are the problem. Criminal syndicates wage their own terror campaigns, allegedly killing business rivals and those who speak out against them. The deaths of several prominent campaigners, such as the women's rights advocate Sitara Ackakzai, have been unofficially linked to the mafia rather than the Taliban.
As the Monitor recently reported, the fear and corruption perpetuated by these groups undermine efforts to build a stable government and help the Taliban win support among locals, say Afghan and NATO officials, private citizens, analysts, and local journalists.