The Taliban attack in Kandahar that has wiped out almost entire top leadership of Kandahar province of Afghanistan has left not only the Afghan nation but the entire world absolutely stunned. Nearly 17 years after waging war on Taliban, nobody really expected to hear about Taliban carrying out such a major attack in 2018. Commander of NATO’s Resolute Support mission General Scott Miller barely survived the attack, even though some sources initially reported he was mildly injured in the attack, a claim denied by NATO, who said in its statement that three Americans were injured in the attack. The attack, which has killed the police chief of Kandahar General Abdul Raziq, intelligence chief of Kandahar Momin Khan, as well as heavily injured governor of Kandahar Zalmai Wesa, came just two days ahead of the Afghan parliamentary election. The commander of police zone General Nabi Elham was also heavily injured in the attack and some conflicting reports at the time of writing this article even say that he is dead. It should be noted that the governor of Kandahar was initially reported dead but latest reports from Afghanistan confirm that he was heavily injured but survived the attack.
The attack was covered in real time by ITCT Newsdesk, where I was quoted saying that this is one of the biggest Taliban attacks in a decade in terms of number of High Value Targets (HVTs) killed. The attack was an insider attack – described by a NATO spokesperson as “Afghan-on-Afghan” attack – and was carried out by a bodyguard of the governor of Kandahar, identified as Gulbuddin by Afghan Army and as Abu Dujana by Afghan Taliban.
The attack comes ahead of Afghan parliamentary election, which has been boycotted by the Taliban, and just one day earlier Taliban had released a statement warning Afghan educationists and school owners to avoid election activity throughout Afghanistan. The Taliban statement claiming responsibility for the attack said that General Scott Miller was the primary target and the Kandahar police chief General Abdul Raziq was the secondary target. Luckily, General Miller survived but General Raziq died, which Taliban will likely see as a major victory in the Kandahar battlefield.
General Raziq had a reputation of being a cold-hearted, torture-friendly and drugs-peddling General who didn’t shy away from assassinating his rivals. The Taliban had accused him in the past of torturing and killing several of their militants as well as civilians and he had been targeted by Taliban many times in the past but always managed to make it out alive. Some even started calling him the “General with nine lives”. While he did manage to bring peace to some extent to Kandahar with his harsh tactics, he also made many enemies within Afghanistan as well as abroad. While Afghanistan has no shortage of Generals who were once war or drug lords, General Raziq was no average General. He was one of the most powerful men in Afghanistan and was a favorite of many people in Washington.
He made friends in high places and was the poster boy of the “Afghan success” mantra. Despite his terrible human rights record, he was interviewed by Western journalists who saw no moral issues in giving platform to one of the most brutal warlords of Afghanistan. His involvement in the drug trade in the AfPak region was all but ignored by the Western governments and media. He used to boast of having direct reach to the White House. He was called “Torturer-in-chief” by Human Rights Watch while the UN wanted him prosecuted for serious war crimes.
At the same time, General Raziq also made enemies with the state of Pakistan. He openly condemned Pakistan and called Pakistan the enemy of Afghanistan. In an interview with Vice News, he said he will keep saying that “Punjab (Pakistan’s most populous province) is our enemy”. Pakistani security officials also accuse General Raziq of aiding anti-Pakistan militants of various groups. For example, Pakistani security officials say that General Raziq gave refuge to many militants of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) who fled Pakistan. Others say he also aided Baloch ethnonationalist militants of BLF, BLA to establish bases in Afghanistan. He has been also accused by Pakistani security officials of aiding multiple militant attacks in Pakistan, especially in Chaman and some other areas of Balochistan province. In short, he was reviled in the Pakistani security establishment. And while Pakistan Foreign Office as well as Pakistan Army has condemned the Kandahar attack, it is obvious that Islamabad won’t lose a night’s sleep over Raziq’s assassination. “Good riddance” is the general opinion in the corridors of Islamabad and Rawalpindi on Raziq’s assassination.
What is Islamic State thinking?
For a moment consider you’re the Islamic State. Your entire credibility depends on one-upping the Taliban all the time. The Taliban just carried out a major attack in Kandahar, taking out nearly the entire top provincial leadership in one attack. If you’re Islamic State, what would you do? You would want to one-up the Taliban with an attack of similar intensity, if not greater. And this is what I fear. After the Kandahar attack, Islamic State will be looking to one-up the Taliban by carrying out a spectacular attack of its own. There are still two days in Afghan parliamentary election and a lot can happen in two days in a country like Afghanistan.
Here’s hoping that I would be wrong and Afghan election passes by without any major incident. But the rising number of Taliban attacks targeting foreign forces are bound to make U.S. officials nervous about the state of the war, especially as public pressure mounts at home. Many experts say that there’s no other good option but to directly negotiate with the Taliban but there are also those who disagree with this assessment. It is yet to be seen what becomes of America’s longest war but one thing is for sure: General Raziq, the torturer-in-chief, won’t be around to see it end.
Photo: The National
Deputy Director & Head of South Asia Desk - (Pakistan)