Afghanistan’s top security officials and lawmakers are at loggerheads over who is responsible for preventing deadly terrorist attacks in the capital that have killed and injured hundreds this year alone.
Members of the Afghan Parliament are calling on the country’s interior minister to name lawmakers and officials after he claimed that vehicles with black-tinted windows were being used for smuggling explosives and terrorists into Kabul. Senior Afghan officials and lawmakers mostly use cars with tinted windows to conceal their movement in teeming Kabul.
The public rupture comes amid a wave of terrorists attacks that has killed hundreds this year and frequently disrupts the lives of Kabul’s estimated 5 million residents. The bickering showcases the inability of the Afghan government to protect its seat of power as it frequently cedes rural territory to the insurgents.
“If the minister knows so much, why has he failed to arrest or even identify any suspects?” lawmaker Nadir Khan Katawazi asked Radio Free Afghanistan.
Speaking to journalists on May 9 after attacks on two police stations killed at least seven people, Afghan Interior Minister Wais Ahmad Barmak reiterated his claim that vehicles with black-tinted windows are a major problem.
“The intelligence information we receive say that some explosives and suicide bombers are being smuggled in vehicles with black-tinted windows,” he said. “Sometimes, the explosives are stored and only used when a suicide bomber becomes available to launch attacks within the city.”
Earlier this week, lawmakers angrily reacted to Barmak’s pronouncements when he said that members of the lower and upper house of the parliament approach him whenever the Afghan security forces impound vehicles with black-tinted windows or try to limit their movement within Kabul.
“You cannot exonerate yourself by saying such and such MP does this; we will not accept this,” Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi, the speaker of the Wolesi Jirga or lower house of the parliament, told lawmakers on May 7. “You should clearly name the persons responsible. You should say that the parliament speaker has a black-tinted car and transfers a suicide bomber. You should have the courage to say so.”
Katawazi, however, says the minister’s accusations about the presence of powerful facilitators helping terrorist attacks in the capital ring true.
“Nobody can deny the fact that our ordinary people are not capable of helping suicide bombers,” he said. “Even though I live in Kabul, I don’t know all the important places and would find it extremely difficult to collect accurate information to plan and launch an attack.”
Afghanistan’s Western-backed government appears to be in a fix. As it tries to protect and reclaim rural territories form insurgent advances, it has failed to prevent headline-grabbing deadly attacks in the capital.
Even turning most of the city into a high security zone with restricted access, high concrete walls, and razor wire has not helped. The city’s population has grown from a few hundred thousand in 2001 to more than 5 million. It was once considered safe, but the Afghan government increasingly appears to be struggling to protect Kabul.
Earlier this year, General John Nicholson, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said protecting Kabul was a priority.
“Kabul is our main effort. To harden Kabul, to protect the people of Kabul and the international community that are here,” he told reporters in March.
Massive insurgent attacks in Kabul have caused large-scale death and destruction with Afghan civilians bearing the brunt. In January, a massive attack killed more than 100 people. During the past few years, both the Taliban and Islamic State (IS) militants have claimed responsibility for massive attacks.
Two suicide bombings killed at least 25 people in Kabul on April 30. The attacks were claimed by IS militants, and victims included nine journalists. They were covering the first attack when a suicide bomber targeted them.
In Washington, Zalmay Khalilzad, a former U.S. presidential envoy and ambassador to Afghanistan, urges greater reflection on security failures in the Afghan capital.
“How long will it be acceptable that Afghan lives will have no value? he told Radio Free Afghanistan. “How long will it be the norm that scores of people are killed in the capital of an independent country daily, yet life moves on as if it is a normal occurrence?”
Khalilzad says the Afghan government, lawmakers, and media need to focus on security challenges in Kabul.
“The interior minister needs to be asked every day, who are these lawmakers who are reluctant to let you do your job?” he said. “He should be asked, why should you keep your job when you are unable to perform? This is a question that needs to be posed to the [Afghan] president’s office, and the parliament needs to debate this issue daily.”
Khalilzad says the solution to these challenges lies in everyone doing their jobs properly.
“Ordinary citizens, the media, government, and the parliament all have a responsible role to play,” he said.