All stakeholders, including government and civil society, failed in the days following the deadly May 31 truck bombing in Kabul, writes Waheed Siddiqi
What Could Have Been Achieved Following Deadly Truck Bombing?
At around 8:26 am on Wednesday the 31st of May, 2017, a huge blast rocked Kabul city to its core.
The blast ripped through not only the Afghan capital’s diplomatic enclave claiming more than 150 lives and injuring hundreds more, but also shook the country.
The explosion was so horrifying that no terrorist group dared to claim responsibility.
It was one of the incidents in Afghanistan that the world’s major news outlets covered. The Afghan National Security Directorate blamed the notorious Haqqani group supported by the Pakistan’s Inter-Intelligence Services for it but they rejected the claim outright.
In Afghanistan, Fridays are a holiday so the civil society had only one day to organize a peaceful protest against the heinous terror act demanding security from the government.
The short time frame gave the civil society no time to draw up proper demands and coordinate the protest – unlike in the past.
One group announced a march from Dar-ul-Aman area of Kabul towards the scene of the truck bombing while other civil society activists announced their rendezvous at Zanbaq Square, the place where the blast had taken place. They were then going to march towards Arg (the Presidential Palace) chanting slogans such as “Az Marg ta Arg” (from death to palace).
On the Friday, the ill-prepared protesters and ill-equipped police came together. The peaceful protest started on a wrong foot. Soon police and protesters clashed as one government official claimed that a group had wanted to enter Arg and demand the resignation of President Ashraf Ghani and CEO Abdullah Abdullah, as well as security bosses, over their inability to provide security.
The security forces shot dead one protestor, Salem Ezadyar, a youth leading the demonstrators. He happened to be the son of Deputy Speaker of the Meshrano Jirga (Upper House). Along with Salem Ezadyar five more were killed and dozens were injured and apprehended by the police.
The police also suffered injuries.
One media camera captured a corner of a police commander justifying the killings as “dishonoring” the president.
There is no law in Afghanistan to criminalize ‘discriminating and dishonoring’ heads of the state.
Things escalated further when the civilian killings were declared as unjust and autocratic by media and civil society activists.
On the Saturday, at the funeral of Ezadyar, which was a high-profile funeral, three suicide bombers detonated their explosives right when “Allah Akbar” was uttered by the Imam at the funeral.
More than five people were killed and dozens were injured, but ironically no political elites of the country sustained any injuries. This adding more carnage during Ramadan to the already shocked nation.
Speculation started that the Wednesday’s blast was a targeted rocket or missile. Well-known figures took turns on prime time TV shows to justify their theories. One such person, Baqi Samandar, a civil society activist, had managed to bring shrapnel from the scene of the blast to a talk show claiming that there had been no explosive laden truck on May 31. Rather, he concluded, with his overnight ballistic expertise, that it was bigger than what the man in the street thought and blamed government for direct involvement with the terrorists.
Another activist and political TV host, Malik Sitez, posted suggestions to the president on his official Facebook page. One of his suggestions was “to announce a state of emergency” invoking the Constitution.
But CCTV footage obtained by local media outlets showed the scene of the blast where a septic truck exploded on the Wednesday morning. However this was debunked by social media users and some political analysts as fabricated and not capable of creating such a huge impact.
The protesters demanded justice and resignation of heads of security, the president, the CEO and Security Advisor, Hanif Atmar while camping outside close to Arg. The tents of the protesters further expanded as the protesters tried to work out their demands and the situation.
The Kabul Garrison Command issued a statement on the Sunday morning suggesting to protesters to avoid huge gatherings and protests as imminent threats had been reported. The efforts of the police were futile to shun peaceful protests by limiting their activism on mere suspicion of security threats.
The general public was and is confused about the events that took place that fateful week along with experts, activists and the world.
The protesters kept changing their demands along with the developing politics. Some other opportunists joined the call for the resignation of the heads of the country and demanding immediate elections without realizing the fragile state of security in the country.
One such group’s leader was the recently terminated advisor of good governance to the president, Ahmad Zia Massoud. The long-term federal state advocate and a member of the Wolesi Jirga (Lower House), Abdul Latif Pedram demanded the resignation of every possible government head in a house session.
On the setbacks of political rivalry and allegations against Hanif Atmar much confusion formed as the police showed brutal force and civil society demanded impractical demands. President Ghani fired the head of Kabul Garrison and Kabul Chief of Police to shut the protesters.
Nothing is yet clear what other political deals were made. After almost three weeks of protests, an Iftar dinner was organized by the Presidential Palace to host civil society activists and protesters. President Ghani promised to remove security blockades from public roads and streets of Kabul.
Now, this can backfire anytime soon when a terrorist attack claims more lives than usual in the aftermath of no security walls - as government and non-government elites will claim imminent danger of having no security impediments.
Kabul will see a surge of security blockades if the government does not step up to its ‘A-game’ in providing security to the public.
Afghanistan saw one of the deadliest months in 15 years. In the wake of recent events, the Afghans had a great chance to fully take charge in improving government only if they had put aside conspiracy theories and opportunism.
Firstly, the protesters could have demanded civilian policing to tackle future protest incidents. The idea of civilian police did not arise at any point. Millions of international aid just went down the drain as the police showed its utmost weakness against providing security and containing a protest.
Secondly, no one suggested gun control measures in major cities of the country to avoid future civilian unrest.
There is a strong possibility that Salem Ezadyar was armed on the day of the Friday protest. He was shot dead on precautionary measures or intimidation of the police, but neither the police have proper laws on intimidation nor does the government provide details of an incident.
Thirdly, political analysts, civil society, and media along with opportunist elites of the country inclined strongly towards conspiracy theories rather than gathering facts.
They all failed equally in the portrayal of unbiased facts relying heavily on unconfirmed and undocumented issues that did not help the recent efforts of the people in making strong the budding democracy of a war-weary country.
Waheed Siddiqi received his LL.B. (Hons) and M.A. Political Science degree from India. He worked in anti-corruption and rule of law with European Union Police Mission in Afghanistan (EUPOL) for a few years. He also worked for civil society and media organizations in Kabul. Later he obtained an LL.M from Ohio Northern University in Democratic Governance and Rule of Law. He writes on social, political and cultural issues.