US envoy: Afghan sectarian conflict unlikely

Based on reactions of Shia leadership, Crocker says Ashoura attacks will not lead to strife.

US ambassador doubts Afghan sectarian conflict
US ambassador Crocker says response of Shia leadership shows no sign of sectarian conflict in Afghanistan [EPA]

This week’s Ashoura bombings, which killed 59 Shia worshippers in Afghanistan, will not lead to a cycle of Shia-Sunni sectarian violence in Afghanistan, the US ambassador to Kabul has said.

Saturday’s comments by Ryan Crocker, the US ambassador, come after a week of fears that the bombings in Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif would turn Afghanistan into Iraq or neighbouring Pakistan where sectarian violence has historically been much more common.

“Whoever the architects were, they don’t have much Afghan support,” Crocker said of Tuesday’s attacks outside a shrine in Kabul and near the shrine of Hazrat Ali in Balkh province. “I do not see this turning into a sectarian conflict, just looking at the reaction on the part of the [Shia] leadership, calling for calm.”

In interviews with Al Jazeera hours after the attacks, experts in Kabul and Washington expressed similar sentiments.

Afghanistan, says Abbas Daiyar, a Kabul-based journalist, lacks “a single militant Shia group … known or involved in any previous sectarian attack” to carry out proportional violent attacks in response.

The rise of sectarian conflict in Afghanistan would severely stretch security forces as the second phase of tranistion of security to Afghan forces begins and thousands of international troops are set to leave in 2012.

Alleged links to Pakistan

Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, said after the attacks that Pakistan-based group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi had claimed responsibility.

Speaking outside a Kabul hospital where he was visiting victims of the attack in the capital, the Afghan president said he would raise the matter with the Pakistani government. The group, believed to have ties with al-Qaeda has carried out attacks on Shia congregations in Pakistan in the past, but never before in Afghanistan.

“I’m not in a position to say authoritatively this was carried out by Lashkar-e-Jangvi,” said Crocker, who served as a diplomat in Pakistan and Iraq before taking over for Karl Eikenberry as Washington’s representative to Kabul in July.

Crocker also told reporters he had seen no evidence that the Haqqani network, which Washington has blamed for a number of attacks in Afghanistan, was involved in the blasts carried out on one of the holiest days for Shias.

“As we’ve all seen, the Haqqanis have been the most lethal in delivering ordnance on target, but I’ve got nothing that would say they were part of this,” he said, though he added that there is a trend of Afghan strikes having been plotted in Pakistan.

“Virtually every significant attack I’m aware of … either came out of tribal areas [in Pakistan] or Pakistani Baluchistan,” Crocker said.

Tensions among the three countries have reached a high point after the United States claimed Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), supported the Haqqani Network in a September attack targeting the US embassy in Kabul and after a NATO strike on a Pakistani border post killed 24 Pakistani soldiers late last month.

Bicycle bomb

Elsewhere in Afghanistan, a bicycle bomb, resembling the type of bomb used in Tuesday’s attacks in Mazar-e-Sharif, exploded in the northern province of Kunduz on Saturday.

“Today a bicycle bomb exploded in Kunduz city which killed Sher Mohammad Arab, a Jihadi commander, and a civilian. Sixteen others were also wounded,” Samiullah Qatra, the Kunduz Police Chief, said.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies