Kabul, Afghanistan – “In the name of the martyrs of Karbala,” repeats an elderly woman with each step she takes, moving from one fresh grave to the next. Under her black shawl of grief, she crouches, cups her hands in prayer, and looks to the sky. Then she touches the gravestone and moves on to the next
More than a dozen victims of Tuesday’s blast in the Abu-Fazl shrine have been buried in the Kart-e-Sakhi cemetery, overlooking the west of Kabul. Red and green flags wave over their graves.
Almost 60 people were killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up among Shia Muslims gathered to commemorate the death of Imam Hussein, Prophet Muhammad’s grandson.
The targeted violence, deemed unprecedented in Afghanistan, has left Kabul mourning for days to come.
“That they kill children on the day of Ashoura, this is animosity against humanity. “
– President Hamid Karzai
Under tight security, people continued to flock to the Sakhi shrine overlooking the cemetery as heartfelt chants blared out of loudspeakers. Organisers searched every man and woman that made their way up the steps of the shrine.
Among the blast’s victims was 18-year-old Ahmad Basir Rahimi, who attended the commemoration with his cousin Ahmad Maher. Neither of the two made it to the hospital.
Rahimi had just completed his first term of medical school, his father Mohamed Arif Rahimi told Al Jazeera.
“These are the enemies of all Afghans, they want to create divisions among us,” his father said of the perpetrators.
This is a sentiment repeated by political and religious leaders in the country, in defiance of suggestions that the attacks could be signs of sectarianism.
Lashkar e-Jangvi, an armed group in Pakistan with a history of targeted violence against Shias, has claimed responsibility for the attack in statements to the media.
“We carried out the Kabul suicide bombing,” Abubakar Mansoor, a spokesman for the group, told the Pakistan edition of Newsweek.
The health ministry said 195 people were wounded in the attack, 70 of whom are under serious treatment. Ten people remain in critical condition.
“In this hospital, there were many children who were injured yesterday. Afghanistan will never forgive the wounding of innocent children,” President Hamid Karzai said as he visited the injured at a Kabul hospital on Wednesday.
“That they kill children on the day of Ashoura, this is animosity against humanity.”
The president vowed that his government would take up the issue of Lashkar e-Jangvi’s claim of responsibility with Pakistan.
“Lashkar e-Jangvi, that is active in Pakistan, has taken responsibility. We will investigate this, thoroughly, with our international backing, and speak to the Pakistani government.”
Javed Kohistani, a Kabul-based security analyst, said Lashkar-e-Jangvi has a history of violence against Shias in Afghanistan.
“They definitely played a role in mass killing of Shias in Yakaolang,” he said, referring to attacks on minority Hazara Shias in 2001 spearheaded by the Taliban.
Tuesday’s attack came as Afghanistan led a major conference in Bonn, Germany, to garner international support for the country beyond the scheduled departure of all foreign troops in 2014.
Pakistan boycotted the gathering in protest over NATO’s deadly cross-border attack that killed 24 of its soldiers last month.
The commemoration of Ashoura in recent years has often been violent in places like Iraq and Pakistan, but has passed peacefully in Afghanistan.
Rehman Malik, Pakistan’s interior minister, thanked the Taliban on Wednesday for agreeing to his government’s request of a ceasefire during Ashoura, Pakistani media reported.
His words have furthered speculation among Afghan parliamentarians and analysts that elements linked to the Pakistani state might have been behind the attack.
“The defence committee of the Afghan parliament strongly condemns the attack and the words of Pakistan’s interior minister, which are against Islam and humanity,” Shukria Barakzai, head of the parliamentary defence committee, said.
“It certainly proves that the Pakistani government is supporting terrorist networks on its soil.”
|Kabul residents have hung posters of Rahimi
and other victims across the city [Mujib Mashal]
Kohistani said the attack could be part of Pakistan’s strategy to assert itself, after Afghan and international leaders declared that the neighbouring country’s absence in the Bonn conference was not detrimental.
“Pakistan, particularly its army, is concerned about maintaining its interests in Afghanistan, and maintaining a presence in the Afghan discussion. I certainly believe that this is part of their larger struggle in Afghanistan,” he said.
“They want to send a message to the Afghan Taliban – and to the Americans – that if the Afghan Taliban wants to negotiate with the Afghan government, they have other groups at their disposal that can continue their interests here.”
How far the Afghan government will go, and is able to go, in pursuing the culprits remains unclear. But in the capital, the mourning continues.
Friends and relatives of victims such as young Rahimi have already begun hanging posters of victims across the city, next to the red and green slogans about Imam Hussein that had adorned almost every roundabout in the lead up to Ashoura.
“I am sorry, but I have to go visit my sister now. She is mourning her son also,” Rahimi’s father excused himself, walking past a joint poster of his son and nephew, and disappeared into the narrow alley.
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