The Taliban has seen itself decimated in attempting straight-up fights against Western forces. Some have wondered why Mullah Omar doesn’t just adopt the tactics of al-Qaeda terrorists in Iraq and focus on suicide bombings. Apparently, Omar has decided to do just that, and one of his terrorists killed 30 people in Kabul this morning:
A Taliban suicide bomber wearing an Afghan army uniform set off a huge explosion Saturday while trying to board a military bus in the capital, killing 30 people, most of them soldiers, officials said. Hours later, the Afghan president offered to meet personally with the Taliban leader for peace talks and give the militants a position in government. …
Saturday’s explosion ripped off the roof of the bus and tore out its sides, leaving a charred hull of burnt metal. It was reminiscent of the deadliest insurgent attack in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 — when a bomber boarded a police academy bus at Kabul’s busiest transportation hub in June and killed 35 people.
Dozens of civilians and police officers searched for bodies. Police and soldiers climbed trees to retrieve some body parts. Nearby businesses also were damaged.
The bomber didn’t actually get on the bus. The Afghan military had sent the bus to a local cinema to collect soldiers at the meeting point. They check IDs before allowing people on the bus, and the terrorist detonated his bomb as they completed the security check. It still devastated the bus and the men on and around it.
Hamid Karzai called it “an act of extreme cowardice”. Nonetheless, he again extended an offer of direct talks with Mullah Omar and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to negotiate an end to the conflict, although Omar would have to dump his foreign terrorists first. He even offered to allow them to take ministerial posts in his government if they pledged to eschew violence and work within the new, democratic framework of Afghanistan. “Why are you destroying the country?” he asked them.
Karzai’s performing a high-wire act without a net. If Omar and Hekmatyar agree, Karzai runs the risk of letting the fox in the henhouse. The Taliban did not have a reputation for moderation and inclusion, and allowing them to participate in the governance of Afghanistan would risk another brutal takeover.
On the other hand, Karzai might believe he’s not risking much. Omar has already said that he would not even negotiate unless Karzai sent all of the foreign troops out of Afghanistan. Karzai shrewdly said that he would do so as soon as all of the streets were paved, Afghans had reliable electricity and water, and Afghan security forces could maintain control. Karzai is playing a hearts-and-minds game with Omar, and he’s winning it. As long as Karzai can show that he’s improving the standard of living in Afghanistan and Omar is destroying it, Omar will remain marginalized.
NATO thinks that a large number of Taliban fighters want an end to the conflict. They have become frustrated by the new tactics and the stunningly bad performance of their troops in the field. Karzai, by focusing his words of reconciliation strictly to native Afghans, may have driven a wedge between the rank and file of the Taliban and al-Qaeda’s foreign terrorists. The UN concurs in this analysis, and Karzai wants to take advantage of the opportunity to strip Omar of his tattered army.
It may work. If all Omar has left is a few senior commanders and AQ, he will present little difficluty to Karzai, and Afghanistan can finally focus on rebuilding itself after decades of war and centuries of isolation.