Bomb and gun assault rocks Afghan parliament

Fighters opposed to the Afghan government have attacked the country’s parliament. As the Taliban insurgency seems to gain strength, is Afghanistan doomed to relive its tragic history?

Yesterday morning, Masoom Stanekzai arrived at the Afghan parliament, where he hoped MPs would confirm him as his country’s Defence Minister. After being critically injured in a deadly suicide bombing in 2011, he knew the importance of the position being discussed.

But as the Speaker prepared to introduce him, he and the nation’s MPs were given a frightening reminder of the danger in their country. The chamber was suddenly rocked by a huge explosion and began to fill with smoke.

A suicide bomber had driven a car full of explosives into the gates of the building. Behind him, six gunmen bent on the mass murder of the parliamentarians were attempting to storm in. By the time police and the army had shot the gunmen an hour later, a woman and a child were dead and 18 people were wounded.

To nobody’s surprise, the Taliban, the Islamic fundamentalist group which ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, immediately claimed responsibility. They have been fighting against the Western-backed government in Kabul since they were toppled, and government buildings have frequently been among their targets. They are opposed to democracy and believe in the enforcement of an extremely severe form of the Sharia legal code.

The attack on parliament will fuel fears that they are growing in strength. Their insurgency claimed more civilians in 2014 than in any other year since authorities began collecting records in 2009. They have recently made gains in Helmand province, the area in the south-west where the British army were stationed until recently, and captured two districts of the Kunduz province in the north of the country.

The insurgency is just part of the latest tragedy to befall Afghanistan. Tribal warlords have often fought for control of a remote country which has proven difficult to control, and conflicts with external powers have included the two Anglo-Afghan wars of the 19th century and the battle with the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

Escaping the past

For some, this attack is another sign that some countries cannot escape their tragic histories. The people of Afghanistan will always be divided — a survey in 2013 showed that a third of them sympathised with armed groups opposed to the government. Effectively governing an isolated country in which people define themselves along tribal lines is impossible.

But others respond that gradual improvements are being made. Afghanistan’s children are increasingly surviving infancy and going to school. When an educated generation inherits the country, they will find a way of solving problems which their ancestors could not. To write off a country’s future on the basis of past events is nonsensical and defeatist.

You Decide

  1. Can Afghanistan ever be stable, prosperous or peaceful?
  2. Does the international community have a responsibility to do more to support Afghanistan?

Activities

  1. Write an entry in the diary of an MP who was in the Afghan parliament yesterday.
  2. Produce a manifesto for an Afghan presidential candidate. Outline what he/she would do to solve the country’s problems and why. Make clear what their top priorities should be. Use the links to help you, especially the guide to life in Afghanistan and John Simpson’s video.

Some People Say...

“You will never overwhelm us; you will never subdue us.”

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

What do you think?

Q & A

The Taliban — didn’t they kill lots of children in Pakistan last year?
Taliban, the plural of talib, literally translated, means ‘students’, so it’s quite a vague term that brings together a few disparate groups. The Afghan and Pakistani Taliban are allied with each other, and particularly helped each other when the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001. But the two groups do have differences: the Afghan Taliban even condemned the Pakistani Taliban’s attack on a school in Peshawar last December.
Aren’t western countries involved in Afghanistan?
A US-led coalition fought against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan for 13 years, from 2001 to 2014; it was the longest war in America’s history. They have now left, but attacks like this spark more debate over whether they fulfilled their mission.

Word Watch

A deadly suicide bombing in 2011
The same bombing killed the former President of Afghanistan Burhanuddin Rabbani, who had become head of the High Peace Council.
They were toppled
A US-led military coalition drove the Taliban from Kabul in November 2001 following the 9/11 attacks. Al-Qaeda, the terrorist group which carried out those atrocities, had training camps in Afghanistan beforehand.
Sharia
This is an Islamic legal code which governs all aspects of life. When the Taliban held power, they executed people publicly for offences including adultery, cut off limbs for theft and forced women to wear burqas which covered their whole bodies. It is, however, a misconception that all forms of Sharia imply that the same barbaric punishments must be used.
Battle with the Soviet Union
The USSR invaded Afghanistan in December 1979 and fought there until 1989, when they withdrew in defeat shortly before their collapse in Eastern Europe. Their enemies, the mujahideen, were partly funded and armed by western governments who went on to fight against them in the 1990s and beyond.

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