Afghanistan (sensibly) uses the Persian calender, where the first day of Spring is celebrated as the beginning of the year. Yesterday I watched as a flower blossomed, springing into life in front of my eyes.
But with this come questions over the countries future, and what will happen next . . .
WARNINGS OF NEW ATTACKS MAR AFGHAN NEW YEAR CELEBRATIONS
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN. Military analysts in Kabul are warning that the Taliban appear to have changed their strategy to emphasise spectacular attacks on prominent targets. Security in the capital has been bolstered in response to fears that the insurgency will attempt to capitalise on today’s New Year celebrations by launching a new series of violent attacks.
In the Persian calendar, also used in Afghanistan, the first day of spring marks the beginning of the new year. Known as Nowruz (or ‘New day’), this holiday is normally a time of celebration. Families purchase new clothes before visiting friends and large numbers of people are moving around the cities. Analysts are concerned that this will create ideal opportunities to usher in the beginnings of a renewed offensive by the Taliban.
“This environment provides the ideal opportunity for significant terrorist attacks”, says one Western military analyst. “There’s no way the government can hope to provide security in these sort of conditions. Anything that disrupts ancient traditions emphasises the inability of the government to control the country”, he added.
Instead of allowing citizens of the capital to relax, warnings like this have increased tensions in a city where walled houses are protected by armed guards and people are frisked for weapons before being allowed into restaurants. This is why, although the last few weeks have been relatively free of terrorist incidents, analysts are concerned that this has simply been a pause before a renewed offensive. Civilians are reluctant to walk on the streets and avoid large crowds.
Western strategists insist that recent coalition operations targeting the insurgent leadership have been increasingly successful, although some are speculating that this has caused the rebels to change tactics. They suggest the Taliban might now simply place more emphasis on attempting to create a feeling of insecurity, by ensuring that any attacks that do take place cause the maximum amount of death and destruction. In this way the insurgents would hope to prevent the resumption of normal life, even though they lack the resources for a sustained offensive.
Last month President Hamid Karzai appealed directly to the Taliban leadership, urging them to begin negotiations with his government. His pleading for the opening of talks came just days after seven armed gunmen stormed into a bank in the eastern city of Jalalabad, killing more than 40 people and holding off government forces for hours. Although all the insurgents died in the attack, it demonstrated the power of the rebels to strike deep into supposedly secure government areas.
This attack was the most severe that had ever occurred in that province and represented a significant escalation in the intensity of the decade-long war. Violence in the country is now at its greatest level since the toppling of the Taliban government and, although the number of killings has been declining since June last year, there are increasing concerns that this pause doesn’t represent any weakening of the strength of the insurgency. Instead many believe that the rebels spent the winter preparing a new offensive in the hope of forcing the government to the peace table.
“It seems increasingly likely that the Taliban have simply been regrouping and preparing for a new offensive in the days after Nowruz”, says an Afghan political analyst. “No Afghan is going to be prepared to die in order to protect this government. Everyone believes the people around President Karzai, including his brother, are highly corrupt. Civil society has effectively disintegrated. Everyone wants peace, but no one can see any path to take Afghanistan forwards.”