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Leave Kabul alone

Kabul continues to bleed. A coordinated double suicide bombing by the militant group Islamic State hit central Kabul on Monday morning, killing at least 25 people, including nine Afghan journalists. This is for the first time that journalists in such a number were killed in a single incident. An AFP photographer, a cameraman for the local Tolo TV station and several reporters for the Afghan branch of Radio Free Europe were among the journalists killed in the brutal attack. Around 50 other people were also wounded in the attack. The attack was the latest in a relentless string of deadly large-scale bombings and assaults that have struck Kabul and elsewhere in Afghanistan this year. As Kabul was reeling under a pall of gloom due to the bloody attack, a suicide car bombing a few hours later in the southern province of Kandahar killed 11 children. At least eight NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organizaton) soldiers were wounded in that bombing. The Islamic State—commonly known as IS or ISIS or Daesh—claimed the responsibility for Monday attacks. In a statement posted on an Islamic State-affiliated website, the militant group said two of its martyrdom seekers carried out the Kabul bombings, targeting the headquarters of the “renegade” Afghan intelligence services. The Islamic State and the more firmly established Taliban carry out regular attacks, with the Taliban usually targeting the Afghan government and security forces and Islamic State targeting members of the country’s Shiite Muslim minority, whom the affiliate perceives as apostates. Both militant groups want to establish strict Islamic rule in Afghanistan. Last week, an Islamic State suicide bomber attacked a voter registration center in Kabul, killing 60 people and wounding at least 130 others. The fatalities included 22 women and eight children. In March, an Islamic State suicide bomber targeted a Shiite shrine in Kabul where people had gathered celebrating the Persian New Year. That attack killed 31 people and wounded 65 others.
As the picture emerges, the situation in Afghanistan is unlikely to change for better. Afghanistan is caught once again in the middle of competitions between major regional powers: Pakistan versus India and Saudi Arabia versus Iran. The presence of a large number of Afghan Shiite fighters, such as the Fatemiyoun Division, in support of Iran’s effort in Syria, and Saudi Arabia’s insistence on enrolling Afghanistan in its coalition army against Iran have made peace a challenging thing in Afghanistan. The rivalry between India and Pakistan—with India supporting the Afghanistan’s Ashraf Gani government and Pakistan supporting rebel Taliban—too is unlikely to allow things settle in Afghanistan. Taliban has announced the start of their new spring offensive dubbed “Al-Khandaq” on April 25, which is considered a categorical rebuff to any peace initiative. Of late, India has been using its growing friendly relations with American to corner Pakistan in Afghanistan. The US President Donald Trump has turned heat on Pakistan to withdraw its support to Taliban which is the most unlikely thing Pakistan shall ever agree to in presence of India’s growing footprints in Kabul. Of late, China and Russia too have been showing interest in Afghanistan. The Istanbul process, also known as the “Heart of Asia,” has been perhaps the best approach for reaching an unequivocal consensus on regional cooperation for a secure and stable Afghanistan. Since the inception of this dialogue among Afghanistan’s neighbors and supporting countries in 2011, seven annual meetings have been organized but no significant progress has occurred because the process has been undermined by growing regional tensions. The Quadrilateral Coordination Group framework consisting of Afghanistan, Pakistan, United States and China also failed to make any positive peace move. That makes the Afghanistan situation quite a murky thing. Peace in Afghanistan cannot be possible in presence of foreign powers on Afghan soil. Peace in Kabul is rather hostage to the conflicting interests of regional and international powers. For making peace a reality in Afghanistan all the regional and international powers should withdraw from Kabul and people of Afghanistan given a chance to settle things by themselves.