Fear penetrates Kabul after deadly cycle of violence

Streets in Afghan capital largely empty as residents say they feel unprotected after multiple attacks in recent days.

An injured man leaves a hospital after he received treatment, after a blast in Kabul
Multiple assaults in the city highlighted the ability of fighters to strike even in the capital's most secure districts [AFP]

“Today, Kabul looks like the city of the dead,” Mohammed Asif Yousufi says solemnly from the photography studio he owns on the outskirts of the Afghan capital.

“I have never seen this kind of sadness and fear spread across the city before,” Yousufi adds.

He is not alone in feeling like this. Kabul has just suffered one of the bloodiest weeks in years, leaving its streets devoid of life and its residents gripped by fear – and feeling unprotected.

The cycle of violence began on Wednesday when a powerful truck bomb ripped through the city’s diplomatic zone.

At least 90 people, mostly civilians, were killed and hundreds were wounded. Officials described the attack as “one of the biggest” to have hit the capital. 


Two days later, residents took to the streets to demand answers from the government, who they accuse of security and intelligence failures. Clashes between protesters and security forces broke out, resulting in the death of at least five people.

On Saturday, Afghan police and intelligence officials urged everyone to stay indoors, citing a threat of possible attacks targeting large gatherings of people.

READ MORE: Kabul blast – ‘Such attacks will never end’

In Kabul’s Sarai Shamali area, a funeral was taking place at that time for the son of Senator Mohammad Alam Izdyar who was killed in Friday’s protests.

Haseeb Motaref was present at the burial ceremony when he heard a first blast as soon as the mullah said: “Allahu akbar” (God is great). 

A few seconds later, the second one; and then the third one.

The triple explosion at the at the Tapa Marshal Fahim cemetery left at least 20 people dead, raising the death toll to more than 100 people dead in just four days of violence – and the numbers are rising.

As anger against the government has grown, President Ghani's international partners have become increasingly alarmed [Reuters]
As anger against the government has grown, President Ghani’s international partners have become increasingly alarmed [Reuters]

“As the explosion happened, I ran in panic and cried for help as I saw many dead bodies ripped apart,” Motaref told Al Jazeera.

“Where are the security forces? Where is the police? The Afghan intelligence? Who will protect us?”

Pictures of men throwing stones at the remains of a suicide attacker at the cemetery were widely shared on social media.

“We are angry, we are sad. The security services, the police are not efficient,” Motaref said.

The Taliban, which is fighting the government and foreign forces, issued swift denials that it had any role in the attacks, and instead blamed factional rivalries within the government.

The government accused the Taliban-allied Haqqani Network and Pakistan of the attack.

What can the Afghan government do to stop bomb attacks? – Inside Story

Amid the rising tension, police locked down much of Kabul city with checkpoints, while armoured vehicles were seen patrolling the streets.

Some shops, restaurants and universities were closed for the day.

“People here are demanding answers from the government,” Yousufi, the photography studio owner, told Al Jazeera.

“We just want peace and security as we had enough of seeing innocent people getting killed.” 

But Gul Nabi Ahmadzai, Kabul garrison commander, said the threat level had decreased as of Sunday.

“There are no reports of any possible attacks today, but we are asking everyone to stay vigilant,” he told Al Jazeera.

READ MORE: Kabul blast – Scenes of carnage in Afghan capital

As the number of victims rose, the United Nations and a host of international allies urged for unity and solidarity.

“The attack today, conducted by those opportunistically seeking to use these very fragile moments to destabilise Afghanistan, follows so much violence this week,” the UN said in a statement after Saturday’s explosions.

“In the context of so much suffering, now is the time to seek unity and solidarity.”

In the first three months of the year, at least 715 civilians were killed across the country, after almost 3,500 in 2016, the deadliest year on record for Afghan civilians. 

But despite the recent suffering, Yousufi believes the city will be able to “rise from the ashes”.

“Kabul will be back to normal soon, but we will always be exposed to attacks. I think the government and security services have failed to protect us,” he said.

Follow Shereena Qazi on Twitter: @ShereenaQazi

Additional reporting by Fatima Faizi in Kabul, follow her on Twitter @FatmaFaizi 

Source: Al Jazeera