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Three brutal days in Afghanistan turn revelry to mourning

  • Mohammed Harun Arsalai
  • Mohsin Khan Momand
  • 21 Aug 2019

Afghanistan's Independence Day celebrations have been ripped apart by a series of attacks as Afghans face a concerted push from Daesh in the country.

A wounded boy recovers at a hospital after an explosion in Jalalabad, east of Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Aug. 19, 2019. ( AP )

Throughout Afghanistan, flags and the Afghan national colours; black, red and green splashed on walls, trees and billboards in all major Afghan cities as well as throughout the countryside over the past month. 

President Ashraf Ghani allocated millions of dollars to cover the country's landscape with patriotism. Others have accused Ghani of using the celebrations as an opportunity to popularise himself during election season.

Afghanistan is currently celebrating its 100th year of independence after defeating British colonial forces. Major celebrations were scheduled across the country, but none as big as in Jalalabad city, where King Amanullah is buried.

Revellers blew horns, painted their faces with the national colours, donned flags as capes and headbands and danced the traditional "Attan" any chance they could. Others hopped on top of military and police vehicles and blasted Afghanistan's contemporary and classical music hits while fireworks lit the night sky throughout the city.

The independence celebrations were supposed to be a time where all Afghans could come together in unity and peace. However, a debate among Afghans in Jalalabad was brewing. 

"How can we celebrate at a time like this?" said 31-year-old Rafiq, who works in one of Afghanistan's many ministries. 

"Kabul city has announced a 'dark day' due to the Daesh attack on the Dubai wedding hall. Considering the magnitude and sectarian nature of this attack, we should have also cancelled or postponed these celebrations - at least until these poor families can bury their dead."

"We're Afghan, we bleed the same blood," says Rafiq.

An Afghan woman cries as she touches a banner displaying photographs of victims of the Dubai City wedding hall bombing during a memorial service in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019.(AP)

A pattern

As much of Afghanistan was preparing for the next day's festivities, the ISKP, otherwise known as the Islamic State Khorasan Province (Daesh), Afghanistan's Islamic State offshoot, were busy making preparations of their own.

On Saturday evening, at around 11pm, a Daesh suicide bomber detonated his suicide belt at a mainly Shia Muslim wedding. There were an estimated 800 guests present, 63 of whom were killed, 14 of them from one family, as well as the groom's brother. Another approximately 200 or more were injured.

Since their inception, Daesh has gone after soft targets in their efforts to sow sectarian discord in an already extremely fractured country still trying to heal from four decades of nearly constant war.

This is not the first time that they have attacked Shia Muslims. In October of 2016, a religious gathering at Sakhi Shrine was attacked killing fourteen Shias. The gathering was commemorating Ashura - the martyrdom of Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.

A few months prior, in July of 2016, Daesh suicide bombers killed 97 Hazara civil society activists with the Enlightenment Movement during a protest march. Another 260 were wounded in the area of Deh Mazang Square.  

Although Daesh has not limited its deadly attacks to one region or area, the group is most active in Nangarhar province, where the group has taken over large swathes of remote rural areas. They compete for power with the Afghan government and Taliban in districts like Khogyani and Sherzad after being mostly pushed out of the neighbouring Achen district. 

An Afghan man holds flowers to put on a grave during a mass funeral after a suicide bomb blast at a wedding in Kabul, Afghanistan August 18, 2019.(Reuters)

Chaos

Back in Jalalabad, most the city was still in bed around 830am, sleeping off the night's festivities, when a series of blasts ripped through the city over the next few hours. 

Children and workers had already filled the streets expecting another day of celebration and a large scale political event to take place in front of King Amanullah's Moselium - all events were cancelled as a result. 

The targets of the attacks seemed to have no rhyme or reason and targeted and harmed only civilians, including the bombing of a bakery street where the majority of the city goes to buy sweets and cakes.

Although no one has claimed responsibility and it is unclear who committed Tuesday mornings attacks, it does not appear to be the Taliban, as they released a statement of support in recognising the anniversary while bashing colonialism and western imperialism.

"The centennial of Afghanistan gaining independence from the British colonialists will be celebrated on 28th of Assad of the Hijri solar calendar [corresponding with August 19, 2019]. Exactly a century earlier our righteous mujahid predecessors gained freedom from the British occupiers after long, drawn-out battles, and as a result, Afghanistan became a shining beacon on how to attain freedom from Western imperialists for oppressed people worldwide."

Jalalabad's main hospital was chaotic as hospital guards tried to stop worried and angry family members of the injured as they tried to rush past security into the emergency rooms.

High school student, Ismatullah, 16, of Khalid bin Walid high school, travelled all the way from Paktika to join the celebration in Jalalabad, but instead was injured in the senseless violence. 

"We were out in the street near some office buildings blasting music and dancing the Attan  (traditional dance) when suddenly there was a blast. I hit the ground hard I don't remember anything after that. I went unconscious. We came from Paktika here to celebrate the independence day because we thought there would be peace here," said Ismatullah 

An Afghan man holds flowers to put on a grave during a mass funeral after a suicide bomb blast at a wedding in Kabul, Afghanistan August 18, 2019.(Reuters)

Defiance

According to Nangarhar’s governor Miakhel, the situation could have been terrifyingly worse. Speaking to TRT World, Governor Shah Mahmood Miakheil said that many attacks had been foiled over the past week. 

"We have been trying to prevent roadside IED and VBIEDs. In the past two weeks we captured ten casts, prevented surface-to-air missiles, prevented three car bombs and one motorbike IED, " said Miakhel. 

According to Miakhel, the security efforts worked, but militants who remain unknown changed tactics because of security measures taken by the local government. 

"They changed their tactics and used small water bottles as explosives and mostly in streets where we didn’t plan to visit. But thanks to God, no one has died." 

Although there are varying reports on casualty figures, government sources confirmed at least 66 were wounded. 

"It's my request to all my countrymen whether Talib or army whoever that is Allah fearing and believes in the day of judgement; this was everybody's independence celebration. If you are against the British, then why won't you let us celebrate this day?" said 52-year-old Kareem Khan from Sorkhrod district, who makes a meagre living as a labourer. 

"This celebration was an independence celebration, where everyone participates - Hindu, Muslim or Sikh and they all did participate," Khan said. 

With his index finger pointing straight in the air signifying "Tawhid" or the oneness of Allah in Islam, Khan exclaimed, "you can hit us with missiles or bombs, Laaa Ilaaha Illa-llaahu Muhammadur-Rasoolu-llaah, we will continue our costumes and celebrations."

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