Afghanistan vows to crush Islamic State havens after attack
A relative wails near the coffins of victims of the Dubai City wedding hall bombing during a mass funeral in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Aug.18, 2019. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)
KABUL -- As Afghanistan mourned the 63 people killed in a suicide bombing at a Kabul wedding, a brother of the groom spoke through tears of his weariness at the bloodshed in the country and the crushing guilt he felt at having to face his neighbours, many of whom lost relatives in the weekend blast.
"Around 20 victims' families live in our very neighbourhood," said 22-year-old Ramin, whose brother, Mirwais Alami, survived along with his bride, Raihana.
"We don't know how we should look at them," said Ramin, who like many Afghans uses only one name. "Maybe they don't want us, or like us, anymore."
He was drained after a day of burying the dead, which included the 8-year-old brother of the bride. The bomber detonated his explosives Saturday night in the middle of a dancing crowd in the wedding hall, wounding nearly 200 others. The attack was claimed by an affiliate of the Islamic State.
"We are just tired of this life," Ramin said of the decades of war and insurgency that Afghanistan has endured. The country on Monday marked a subdued 100th Independence Day after the bombing, with President Ashraf Ghani vowing to "eliminate" all safe havens for the ISIS affiliate.
Many outraged Afghans are asking whether an expected deal between the United States and the Taliban to end nearly 18 years of fighting -- America's longest war -- will bring peace as the ISIS affiliate poses a growing threat.
"We don't care who will make a peace deal. We don't care who will come into power," Ramin said. "What we want is peace. We just want peace."
Overcome with grief, he apologized and said he couldn't say anything more.
In his own emotional interview, the distraught groom Alami told local broadcaster TOLOnews that their lives were devastated by the bombing.
"It would be better if I had died," he said. "How can I look at people?"
The ISIS affiliate later said the bomber had targeted a gathering of minority Shiites, whom it views as apostates deserving of death.
A sharply worded Taliban statement questioned why the U.S. failed to identify the attacker in advance. Another Taliban statement marking Independence Day said to "leave Afghanistan to the Afghans."
In their nearly yearlong negotiations with the U.S., the Taliban want the approximately 20,000 U.S. and allied forces to withdraw from the country. For its part, the U.S. wants Taliban assurances that Afghanistan -- which hosted al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden before 9-11 -- will not be a launching pad for global terror attacks.
The U.S. envoy in talks with the Taliban, Zalmay Khalilzad, said Sunday the peace process should be accelerated to help Afghanistan defeat the ISIS affiliate. That would include intra-Afghan talks on the country's future, a fraught process that could take years.
But Ghani asserted that the Taliban, whom the U.S. now hopes will help to curb the IS affiliate's rise, are just as much to blame for the wedding attack. His government is openly frustrated at being sidelined from the U.S. talks with the insurgent group, which regards the Afghan government as a U.S. puppet.
The Taliban "have created the platform for terrorists" with their own brutal assaults on schools, mosques and other public places over the years, the president said.
More than 32,000 civilians in Afghanistan have been killed in the past decade, the United Nations said earlier this year. More children were killed last year -- 927 -- than in any other over the past decade by all actors, the U.N. said, including in operations against insurgent hideouts carried out by international forces.
Fresh violence was reported Monday as people tried to celebrate the holiday, with at least 66 people wounded in explosions in the eastern city of Jalalabad. There was no immediate claim of responsibility in an area where both IS and the Taliban are active.
The blasts led to mostly minor injuries, said Noor Ahmad Habibi, deputy spokesman for the Nangarhar provincial governor. And in neighbouring Laghman province, governor's spokesman Asadullah Dawlatzai said a mortar attack by the Taliban slightly wounded six people in the provincial capital, Miterlam.
"We will take revenge for every civilian drop of blood," Ghani declared. "Our struggle will continue against (ISIS), we will take revenge and will root them out." He urged the international community to join those efforts.
Ghani said militants are sheltered in safe havens across the border in Pakistan, whose intelligence service has long been accused of supporting the Taliban. The ISIS affiliate's claim of the wedding attack said it was carried out by a Pakistani fighter seeking martyrdom.
After meeting with President Donald Trump last month, Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan insisted he will do his best to persuade the Taliban to negotiate with the Afghan government to resolve the war.
Trump told reporters Sunday he doesn't want Afghanistan to be a "laboratory for terror" and he described discussions with the Taliban as "good." He was briefed Friday on the progress of the U.S.-Taliban talks, of which few details have emerged.
Some analysts have warned that Trump's eagerness to bring at least some troops home ahead of next year's election could weaken the U.S. stance in the negotiations as the Taliban might see little need to make significant concessions.
In a message marking Afghanistan's independence and "century of resilience," U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the wedding bombing "an attack against humanity." It was one of many international condemnations.