A Shiite mosque in Kabul was rocked by one of the deadliest suicide bombings Kabul has seen in recent months.
At the same time the Kabul bomb went off, another bomb rocked the city of Mazar-e-Sharif, north of Kabul, killing processions of Shiites as they celebrated the Islamic Ashura holiday. Some 54 people were killed and 160 wounded in the Kabul attack. And at least four people were killed in Mazar-e-Sharif. Around the same time as the Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif attacks, another bomb detonated in the southern city of Kandahar but no one was killed.
Though it may seem on the surface to be a sectarian attack, the violence is most likely related to drawing attention from Monday’s Bonn Conference on Afghanistan peace and security.
“There is no sign of tension between Sunnis and Shiites in Afghanistan,” says Fakori Beheshti, a member of parliament from Bamiyan, a predominately Shiite province. “This was just an act of the enemies of Afghanistan. It came after the Bonn Conference about the peace and stability of Afghanistan and by carrying out these blasts not just in Kabul, but in Mazar-e Sharif and Kandahar it showed that they are against the achievements of Afghanistan and trying to get media attention.”
Tuesday’s string of bombings come the day after Afghan and world leaders gathered in Bonn, Germany to discuss the future of Afghanistan after foreign combat troops leave in 2014. Notably, the conference was boycotted by Pakistan after a NATO air strike killed at least 24 Pakistani soldiers in late November.
Early reports indicate that the bombing may be the work of the Pakistani group Lashkar-i-Jhangvi together with the Haqqani Network, which also maintains strong ties to Pakistan.
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If the Taliban is involved it will likely prove a strong blow the group’s image. Like NATO, the Taliban is equally aware of the public relations damage done by civilian deaths here. During the Islamic holiday Eid Al-Adha last month, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar warned that Taliban fighters who caused civilian casualties would face Islamic justice.
“This attack is not the work of those Taliban who ruled Afghanistan in the past. Even during that time every sect had their freedom to celebrate their holidays. I would say this is the act of those intelligence circles and spies of Pakistan who are trying to start a new phase of Sunni and Shiite tension in the country,” says Mohammad Hassan Walasmal, an independent political analyst in Kabul.
In Afghanistan, the Shiite community largely comes from the Hazara ethnic group. During the Taliban rule, Hazaras were brutally discriminated against. While there has been some tension between the Hazaras and other ethnic groups in Afghanistan today, they have lived in relative harmony recent years and incidents of sectarian violence have been extremely rare.
The Ashura holiday is more important for the Shiite sect of Islam, but it is also recognized by Sunni Muslims. It commemorates the martyrdom of the prophet Mohammad’s grandson Hussein in the year 680. The holiday is marked with long processions where those in attendance engage in self-flagellation.