Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 205, 17 December 2020

Afghanistan: The surge in violence continues, with targeted assassinations
D. Suba Chandran

In the news
On 14 December 2020, in Kabul, Mahbubullah Mohibi, the deputy Governor of Kabul province was killed along with his secretary, when the "sticky bomb" planted to the vehicle exploded. On the same day, in another targeted assassination, another sticky bomb killed a provincial council deputy chief of the Ghor Province in central Afghanistan.

On 16 December 2020, according to a New York Times report, a police officer and a government intelligence officer were killed in two different attacks in Kabul, again using the same modus operandi – the sticky bomb attached to their vehicles.

On 10 December 2020, in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan, a woman journalist was killed along with her driver.

Issues at large
First, the surge in violence in recent months. According to a New York Times report, there has been a surge in the number of people killed during the last few months. In November, more than 444 people killed, that include 244 government forces and 200 civilians. In October 2020, 580 people were killed in October 2020, that include 369 government forces and 212 civilians. 

Second, the surge in targeted assassinations in the national and provincial capitals. During the recent period, the Taliban seems to be focussing on select assassinations of government officials and pro-government leaders. The targeted assassinations are being carried out not only by the Taliban but also by the ISIS affiliates in Afghanistan. The latter has taken responsibility for the killing of the journalist in Jalalabad.

Third, the focus of attacks on urban centres and targeted assassinations of the government officials and media personnel. One could see a trend in the assassinations, as they take place in Kabul, and other towns, especially the capitals of regional provinces, or targetting of regional officials in Kabul. Malalai Maiwand, who was killed in Jalalabad, is the third journalist to be killed in recent months. In November 2020 alone, a radio journalist was killed in Helmand province, a former news anchor in Kabul, and another former executive of a local news network in Kabul. The New York Times quoted an executive of a media organization in Kabul stating in 2020 alone, ten journalists and media workers have been killed so far. 

Fourth, the surge in violence taking place with the Afghan government and the Taliban engaged in a dialogue in Doha. During the last week of November and the first week of December, the meetings continued in Doha, and even breakthroughs have been reported between the two sides. 

In perspective
The surge in targeted assassinations in the urban centres highlights the new wave of violence in Afghanistan. Certainly, there is a pressure tactic by those who are engaged in violence – either the Taliban or the ISIS, to bring down the morale of the State – those who work, and those who support. The targeted assassinations of the media personnel is an effort to strangle the free media, undermine any credible reporting and prevent any negative narrative on the non-State actors.

The surge in violence in Afghanistan vis-à-vis the dialogue in Doha highlights the new normal, as the year comes to an end. This should not continue in 2021, but unfortunately will be the case. With the pressure on the Afghan government to engage with the Taliban, and the threat of American troops withdrawal, Kabul has an inherent disadvantage in the current environment. 

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