On September 2, 9:57 pm, I was sitting at home in Kabul, watching TOLO TV anchor Lutfullah Najafizad ask Zalmay Khalizad – the US Special Envoy to Afghanistan – questions about the US-Taliban peace agreement. Just as the interview wrapped up, I felt a tremor run through my apartment followed by a shattering explosion.
As a result of the ongoing conflict and frequent attacks in Kabul where I live with my family, most people can immediately tell you what type of explosion occurred based on the sound alone.
As I took stock of the situation, I realized that my daughter had darted off her bed and gone immediately to the reinforced part of our home, where it is safest. On August 24, 2016, my daughter had been severely wounded when she was studying at the American University of Afghanistan, and now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A loud explosion like the one that had just shaken our home was enough to evoke her fears. Trembling, she asked me if I thought the explosion would be followed by gunfire. I tried to calm her and reassured her that the explosion had happened far from our home.
As news about the explosion started to trickle in, I was shocked to learn that the explosion took place in front of the Green Village area, where nongovernmental organizations work, about 12km from my home. The explosion created a huge crater in the road and destroyed several buildings – killing 12 and wounding 120. Most of those impacted lived in surrounding areas. This explosion came on the heels of an attack at a wedding party in Kabul on August 17, claimed by ISIS Khorasan Province, where 63 civilians were killed and 185 were wounded.
Why would anyone attack a space where NGOs work or attack a wedding party, where families are celebrating a marriage? Why would anyone brazenly target civilians en masse?
The Taliban ultimately claimed responsibility for the attack on the Green Village. But just in July, in Doha, they committed to not targeting civilians and critical infrastructure.
Remarkably, the attack happened at the very moment that the US Special Envoy was speaking about progress in the US-Taliban talks. As a result of ten months of negotiations, the plan is expected to include an initial drawdown of 5,000 US troops with some talk of the remaining 8,500 US forces departing by November 2020. There are currently 17,000 international forces from 39 countries under NATO’s Resolute Support train, advise and assist mission supporting Afghan forces and institutions. Most international forces withdrew by December 2014 when responsibility for security was transferred to Afghan forces.
Afghan-Taliban intra talks have yet to take place, and civilians are dying in large numbers very frequently in Kabul, Kunduz, Baghlan, Balkh, Herat, and Farah.
The Taliban has stepped up attacks on cities across the country. On September 5, another attack shook my city Kabul, as a suicide bomb struck a checkpoint, killing 12 civilians, wounding 47.
Civilian homes are being used to carry out attacks against Afghan forces – exposing civilians to harm – while Afghan and international forces have intensified air strikes and search operations, which have resulted in civilian casualties. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which has been recording civilian casualties since 2008, reports that over 10,000 civilians are killed or injured on an annual basis since 2016.
Four decades of war in Afghanistan has resulted in the loss of countless lives, displacement and the destruction of infrastructure, weakened our education and justice systems. As Afghans we feel the consequences of the conflict for generations and so do my children. This cannot continue. In the upcoming intra-Afghan talk, the Taliban and government leaders must first insist on a ceasefire as a key commitment to end the suffering of civilians.
The US Special Envoy has said there is no formal ceasefire agreement yet, and it would be up to forthcoming negotiations to agree on such a settlement. But that has it backwards. If the forces are truly committed to lasting peace and protection of the Afghan population, ending the suffering of civilians should be a condition for the peace talks in the first place.
Photo credit: Afghan security forces walks as municipal workers gather to clean up near the crater from where a tractor packed with explosives exploded the night before in a residential area, the Green Village in Kabul on September 2, 2019.(STR/AFP/Getty Images)