Horror in Kabul

Coming home

The policy response to deal with this public health crisis requires coordinated action at both Central and state levels.

The attack on a gurdwara in Kabul, in which 25 people were killed, all except one from Afghanistan’s Sikh community, has shown that the coronavirus may well be vanquished by science, but human beings will continue to inflict barbarity upon each other. Those who died in the attack were men, women and children, worshippers and residents of a housing complex in the gurdwara. The attack, carried out by three gunmen, took place in the early morning hours, when over a hundred people were present inside. Within hours, it was claimed by the Islamic State, which later also said it had carried it out in revenge for Kashmir. If there were still doubts left on this score, it must be clear after this attack that the US-Taliban deal was not an arrangement to return Afghanistan to peace.

The gurdwara attack was the first strike after the agreement claimed by the IS. Under the pact, the Taliban have committed themselves to eliminating the Islamic State from Afghanistan. If the IS claim is true, the Taliban have yet to begin honouring that commitment. Appearing to hint at something more sinister, the ministry of external affairs called the attack “diabolical” and condemned the “perpetrators and their backers”, a formulation usually reserved for attacks suspected to have emanated from, or to have the backing of Pakistan. The Taliban’s operational leadership is now in the hands of Sirajuddin Haqqani of the Haqqani group, which has been blamed for several attacks on Indian targets, including the 2008 Indian Embassy bombing in Kabul. The Taliban have denied having anything to do with the gurdwara attack, and Pakistan has condemned it strongly. Who, really, is the IS in Afghanistan is a question that security experts have been asking for some time now.

On Tuesday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres made an appeal for an immediate ceasefire in theatres of conflict across the world, to enable governments, health workers and humanitarian aid agencies to access those who might be most vulnerable to COVID-19. The epicentre of the outbreak is Herat, where over 1,00,000 Afghans recently crossed over from Iran. After the number of confirmed cases rose to 58, the province has been placed under lockdown. But the government is hobbled in its efforts to contain the disease, both by a contested election result — Afghanistan has two presidents — and the burden of an agreement that has brought it no respite. Indeed, Afghanistan faces two contagions, new and old — COVID-19 and the relentless violence.