Taliban rockets shatter fragile peace in Kabul

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The Independent Online

A salvo of Taliban rockets shook Kabul's diplomatic district yesterday as insurgents ramped up attacks countrywide in a bid to derail presidential elections, less than three weeks away.

At least nine rockets rained down on the capital. Two of them landed close to the British and American embassies. Police said a child was hurt in a residential district and buildings were damaged but no one was killed.

Indiscriminate rocket attacks are not uncommon but yesterday's barrage was bigger than anything experienced in the capital for years and it marked the beginning of a day of violence which saw five people killed in Zabul and a failed assassination attempt against a provincial governor.

The rockets shattered Kabul's sense of oasis and reminded people in the capital that the insurgents were never far away. President Hamid Karzai was in Gardez, in the south-east of the country, where he urged the Taliban, who have vowed to boycott the elections, to take part in the poll.

Instead, the Taliban said they had fired 12 rockets at Kabul's airport, which the President uses to fly to and from his campaign dates. Nato also have a base there but officials said all the rockets missed.

Meanwhile, the Governor of Wardak province, Mohammad Halim Fedaye, narrowly escaped when a roadside bomb hit his convoy on Highway One, a notoriously dangerous road which links Kabul with the Taliban's old capital in Kandahar.

Thousands of extra foreign troops are being drafted into Afghanistan to improve security for the August 20 poll but officials fear as many as 600 polling stations will be kept closed because of violence.

The attacks came as the US ambassador urged candidates to spell out their manifestos. Most Afghans vote along tribal lines.

"Afghan authorities bear the full responsibility for fulfilling their people's right to choose their leaders, with the international community assisting, not leading," said Karl Eikenberry in an article for the Washington Post.

"But none of this will matter unless the voters have a real choice and know what each candidate stands for. There must be a serious debate among the candidates and by the Afghan people."

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