On Friday, in an act customary to the barbarianism manifested by the Afghan Taliban, a bomb strapped to the back of a donkey exploded in Laghman province in eastern Afghanistan. The bomb was remotely triggered as the donkey approached a police checkpoint. The explosion left one police officer dead and three civilians injured. Although the Afghan Taliban have used a number of ingenious ways to increase the success rates of the explosions carried out by their IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices), using animals for this purpose has not been very common. A similar incident occurred back in August of 2012 when a similar donkey-bomb killed an Afghan police chief and injured 3 others.
The explosion comes two days after the bloodiest attack in more than a year. Members of the Taliban, dressed in the Afghan army uniform attacked a local court in Herat in a bid to free insurgents up for trial. The attack claimed the lives of 34 civilians, six army men and four policemen.
Due to their inability to outfight NATO forces in direct outright battle, the Taliban have resorted to numerous fairly effective guerrilla tactics. IEDs are one of the most effective tools in the hands of the Taliban when it comes to using indirect means to harm their enemies. The Taliban usually use soda-bottles, soda-cans, oil cans and pressure-cookers to make the IEDs and target NATO as well as local Afghan army and police officials. IEDs have been the leading cause of death for NATO forces in Afghanistan. Their overall use by the Afghan Taliban has increased by 400% since 2007, the number of NATO forces killed has increased by 400% and the number of wounded has increased by 700%. They are also responsible for approximately 85% of the deaths of Afghan army men and the Afghan police.
The key ingredient used in making IEDs is ammonium nitrate. The supply of ammonium nitrate to Afghanistan comes mainly across the highly porous and virtually indefensible mountainous Durand Line border with Pakistan. Attacks also seem to be concentrated in Eastern and Southern Afghanistan (in provinces that border Pakistan). Two factories in Pakistan that manufacture ammonium nitrate were approached by the U.S. to curtail their production but the only resulting outcomes were vague agreements regarding packaging, supply routes and quantity. Halting the production of ammonium nitrate altogether is impossible since it is a massive source of fertilizer to Pakistan’s and Afghanistan’s largely agro-based economies. Any efforts to monitor the movement of ammonium nitrate from Pakistan to Afghanistan have enjoyed limited success. The main source of the Taliban for procuring the ingredient is via smuggling it across the border by concealing it in flour, in cement, in powder detergent as well as hiding it inside luggage.
With the withdrawal of the NATO forces imminent, the Taliban continue to show their strength. This coupled with rampant corruption in the Afghan government ($3.9 billion in 2012) and a weak, ill-equipped and ill-trained Afghan army with a staggeringly high defection rate predicts a grim and bloody future for Afghanistan. NATO and the Afghan government have been forced to the negotiating table. On and off talks with the Taliban that commenced secretly in 2009 (when they were arranged by the German secret service; BND) have gained impetus over the past year. Talks of opening a Taliban office in Qatar are still in process but events such as the recent bombings are bound to derail any negotiation on a peace and power-sharing agreement.
Time seems to be on the side of the Taliban. They have no reason to reach a hasty agreement and hence have an edge in any diplomatic negotiations. Pakistan’s ISI (a decisive party to any Afghan peace process) has warned the Taliban not to conclude any deal with the Karzai government that will soon complete its term and be out of power. U.S. and Afghan bilateral relations have also been strained due to the ineptitude of the Karzai government, disagreements on the degree of appeasement toward the Taliban (release of prisoners etc.) and killing of Afghan civilians by U.S. soldiers. For now, all 3 parties (U.S., Afghanistan, and Pakistan) seem to be operating at different wavelengths.
The more one looks into the Afghan issue, the more complicated and hopeless the situation appears to be. It is a problem with many questions and almost no conclusive answers.