Two employees of Afghanistan's human rights commission were killed in Kabul on Sunday as a bomb attached to their vehicle exploded, the latest in a rising number of targeted killings in the Afghan capital.
From assassinations of religious scholars and assaults against cultural figures to widespread Taleban attacks across the country, the rise in violence is sapping the brief optimism from an American agreement with the Taleban. Under that deal, the United States would withdraw its troops, paving the way for direct negotiations between the Afghan sides to end the war in a hoped-for political settlement.
The peace deal has hit a wall over a prisoner exchange supposed to enable direct talks. Instead, the violence has intensified.
In a statement, Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights commission said one of its vehicles was struck by a magnetic bomb on Sunday, killing two employees who were on their way to work.
The victims were identified as Fatima Khalil, 24, a donor co-ordinator for the commission, and Jawid Folad, a longtime driver at the commission.
"So far no group has claimed responsibility, and the perpetrators of this brutal attack are not clear," the statement said.
Afghan and American officials say the war has entered a complicated period of uncertainty, with an emboldened insurgency aided by regional powers exerting pressure on a struggling government by cranking up bloody attacks often without claiming them.
In a sign of the complexity of the war zone, US intelligence recently concluded that the Taleban were receiving bounty money from Russian intelligence for targeting American and coalition forces last year even as they were negotiating peace with the United States.
The deal, signed in February, included the exchange of 5000 Taleban prisoners for 1000 Afghan forces within 10 days of its signing. That exchange, which met with resistance from the Afghan Government, is only now nearing completion, with the release of nearly 4000 Taleban prisoners.
The Taleban agreed not to attack American targets, but refused a cease-fire with Afghan government forces, leaving that to direct negotiations between the Afghan sides. However, American officials said there was an informal understanding with the insurgents that they would reduce their attacks by 80 per cent. Afghans have been increasingly frustrated that they haven't seen that reduction in violence, and the United States, focused on President Donald Trump's urgency to get out of the war, has done little to hold the Taleban to it.
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The Afghan National Security Council said June had been the deadliest week of the war, with 291 Afghan soldiers killed in Taleban attacks in one week. Javid Faisal, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said Taleban attacks in the past three months rose nearly 40 per cent compared with the same period last year.
"We have had deep concern since the agreement between the US and the Taleban was signed," said Haidar Afzaly, head of the Afghan Parliament's Defence Committee. "The only group that has benefited from that is the Taleban, who are seeing their prisoners released."
He said the Taleban, who were set back by frequent airstrikes in 2019, "are emboldened now" and "have expanded their attacks."
Officials say the Taleban are also exploiting grey areas of the battlefield complicated by remnants of a weakening Islamic State and the rising presence of criminal networks as the coronavirus outbreak further damages the country's economy.
The Taleban have increasingly subcontracted assassinations and targeted killings to criminal networks in the cities, a senior Afghan security official said, putting pressure on the country's intelligence agency and law enforcement. In the countryside, the Taleban are continuing bloody attacks in the open, but they have refrained from publicising the attacks to avoid a direct clash with the United States so as not to endanger the withdrawal of American troops.
In a sign of the conflict's complexity, among the latest victims targeted for assassinations were five prosecutors with the Afghan attorney general's office who were fatally shot on their way to the Bagram prison to help release Taleban prisoners.
The killings added to a long list of assassinations, including two of the most prominent religious scholars in Kabul, who were killed by explosions inside their mosques.
Another explosion struck the family of the renowned Afghan writer and poet Assadullah Walwaliji, killing his wife Anisa and teenage daughter Alteen.
"The investigation into the killing of one scholar hadn't been completed when they martyred a second one," said Mawlawi Habibullah Hasam, head of an Afghan religious scholars' union. "We have told the government very clearly — if, God forbid, another scholar is martyred, then we have no other choice but to directly blame the government as the murderer."
"They are responsible for security," Hasam said. "You can't just put up a Facebook statement and say this group did it. What are you here for then?"
Written by: Mujib Mashal
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