JNN 08 Dec 2011 KABUL, Afghanistan — A Pakistan-based Terrorist group Lashkar e Jhangvi claimed responsibility for an unusual series of coordinated suicide attacks aimed at Shiites on Tuesday, in what many feared was an attempt to further destabilize Afghanistan by adding a new dimension of strife to a country that, though battered by a decade of war, has been mercifully free of sectarian conflict.
The attacks, among the war’s deadliest, struck three widely scattered Afghan cities — Kabul, Kandahar and Mazar-i-Sharif — almost simultaneously and killed at least 63 Shiite worshippers on their holy day of Ashura.
Though Afghanistan has suffered numerous suicide attacks over the years, such strikes by Sunnis against Shiites are alien to Afghanistan. So it was no surprise to Afghans when responsibility was claimed by a Sunni extremist group from Pakistan, where Sunnis and Shiites have been energetically killing each other for decades.
The group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, had not previously claimed or carried out attacks in Afghanistan, however, and its emergence fueled suspicions that Al Qaeda, the Taliban or Pakistan’s spy agency — or some combination of them — had teamed up with the group to send a message that Afghanistan’s future stability remained deeply tenuous and indeed dependent on the cooperation of outside forces.
“Never in our history have there been such cruel attacks on religious observances,” said President Hamid Karzai, in a statement released by his office. “The enemies of Afghanistan do not want us to live under one roof with peace and harmony.”
The timing of the attacks was especially pointed, coming a day after an international conference on Afghanistan in Bonn, Germany, that had been viewed as an opportunity for Afghanistan to cement long-term support from the West.
The conference fell considerably short of the objectives that officials had envisioned, however, because both Taliban insurgents and Pakistani diplomats were not present. Pakistan pulled out of Bonn as a protest against the deaths of 24 of its soldiers in an American airstrike, launched from Afghan territory, which American officials have depicted as a misunderstanding.
Critics of Pakistan were quick to read both Monday’s boycott of Bonn and Tuesday’s bombings as a signal from Islamabad, using Lashkar-e-Janghvi as its messenger, that Afghanistan could not afford to ignore Pakistan.
“Pakistan is our historical enemy and wants us to never live in peace,” said Noor Mohammad, one of the wounded worshippers, who was covered in blood minutes after the explosion. “What should we do, where should we go? The terrorists are not even letting us carry on our religious practices.”
Abdul Qayou Sajadi, a Hazara member of parliament, made similar assumptions, though he did not mention Pakistan by name. “As you know, the peace efforts by our government and the international community are going on but some of our neighboring countries failed in this regard,” he said. “Now they are trying to divide our people along religious lines, and create another war among Afghans as they did in the past.”
While Afghanistan’s Shiite minority community, mostly ethnic Hazaras, was savagely discriminated against during the years of Taliban rule, they had not been singled out for attack during the current insurgency.
The actual designs of the attackers remained murky, however, not least because the tangled history of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which once operated openly in Pakistan with the support of its spy service, the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, but has since been outlawed and in recent years has struck up deepening alliances with Al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban, an umbrella group of Pakistani militants that has turned its violence on Pakistan’s cities and security services numerous times.
Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is inspired by a Deobandi philosophy that justifies killing Shias because of their faith, and has on several occasions targeted Americans and Christians as well. It has no previous known operations in Afghanistan, however, so no one seriously thought Lashkar-e-Jhangvi could carry out a coordinated series of three nearly simultaneous bombings in three Afghan cities without substantial support from somewhere.