More than fifty people have died in Kabul in the worst sectarian violence since the war in Afghanistan began. An analyst tells Channel 4 News he believes it was “stirred by elements from Pakistan.”
At least 54 Shi’ite pilgrims celebrating Ashura have died and hundreds are injured following the suicide bomb at the Abul Fazl shrine.
Four people were also killed and four injured in a separate blast, caused by a bomb carried on a bicycle, near a mosque in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif, a district police chief said.
In Kandahar a bomb placed in a motorcycle injured three civilians, a spokesman for the provincial governor said.
The violence prompted President Hamid Karzai to cancel his visit to Downing Street, scheduled for Wednesday, following the bloodiest attack in Afghanistan since 2008.
In an emailed statement the Taliban condemned the attacks as “un-Islamic” and alleged “the invading enemy” were trying to stir unrest.
Their statement came hours before a spokesman claiming to be from the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi al Almi, a radical group based in Pakistan, claimed responsibility in a phone call to the pashto Radio Mashaal station.
Waliullah Rahmani, the director of the Kabul Centre thinktank and a Shi’ite pilgrim who left the area “minutes before” the blast, told Channel 4 News that he believed the atrocity was committed by the L-e-J group but stressed that there could be links to the Pakistani military.
These acts are undoubtedly committed by the enemies of a new Afghanistan. Waliullah Rahmani, Kabul Centre
“These acts are undoubtedly committed by the enemies of a new Afghanistan who want the country to be isolated and weak, their main aim is to create a new sectarian chapter in the conflict,” Mr Rahmani said.
“Unfortunately there is very strong evidence that the group have the backing of the ISI and the military, and this may be because it is in the Pakistani military’s interest to have a weaker neighbour, or it could be to consolidate its own power domestically,” he continued.
Elements of the Taliban may also have been involved, Mr Rahmani added, saying: “There is simply not the same centralised leadership in the Taliban as there was in the 1990s.
“It operates more as a network with conflicting actions and conflicting statements, so elements well connected with the Taliban may also be affiliated to L-e-J and to other radical groups such as al-Qaeda.”
Although there is a long history of sectarian violence in neighbouring Pakistan, Afghanistan has rarely seen such a large scale attack on a minority.
People here are shocked and hoping that this will not lead to a pattern of ethnic or sectarian violence. Heather Barr, Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch’s Heather Barr told Channel 4 News that the people killed were all Shi’ite pilgrims and a large proportion of them were ethnic Hazaras, who make up a quarter of the country.
Speaking from Kabul, she said she has not been aware of any sectarian tension in the city, but the attacks now raised the possibility of escalating violence.
“It’s been a source of pride in recent years that there hasn’t been a religious problem, although Afghanistan has plenty of problems, so I think people here are shocked and hoping that this will not lead to a pattern of ethnic or sectarian violence.
“But there’s no doubt security problems have a heavy impact on human rights, and that’s only likely to get worse,” Ms Barr said.
A UN report in June said the number of Afghan civilians killed in conflict during the first half of the year was 1,462 “with insurgents responsible for 80 per cent” of the killings.
It means 2011 is on course to be the bloodiest year yet during the decade old conflict in Afghanistan. In March the UN said 2010 had seen the most civilian deaths since the war began with 2,700 non-combatants killed.
The UN blamed the Taliban for 75 per cent of all deaths in 2010, a claim the Taliban denied.
2011: A timeline of major attacks in Kabul
Jan 28 - A suicide attack on a supermarket kills at least nine people, including the family of a prominent Afghan doctor.
May 21 - A suicide bomber kills six people and wounds 23 when he strikes the cafeteria of a military hospital.
June 28 - At least 10 Afghan civilians are killed when suicide bombers and heavily armed Taliban insurgents attack the Intercontinental Hotel.
Aug 19 - Taliban attackers lay siege to a British cultural centre, killing at least nine people.
Sept 13 - Five Afghan police and 11 civilians killed by guns, rockets, and bombs in a coordinated attack in three districts of Kabul.
Sept 20 - Chief peace negotiator Burhanuddin Rabbani assassinated at his Kabul home.
Oct 29 - A suicide car bomber kills 13 Nato-led forces in the deadliest single ground attack against the coalition in 10 years of war in Afghanistan.
Nov 14 - Afghan security forces kill an attempted suicide bomber near a major meeting of tribal elders and political leaders.