Two explosions attacking public buses have rocked Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul, and the Shahr-e Safa District in the province of Zabul, Killing 13 and injuring 40, including women and children. The blasts come just days after a car bomb and two IEDs detonated at the Sayed al-Shuhada School in Kabul on May 8th, killing 70 and wounding 165, overwhelmingly female school students under the age of 18.
As of yet no group has claimed responsibility for either attack. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has been quick to blame Taliban insurgents, yet Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid has denied the groups involvement, and has gone further to point the finger of blame toward the Islamic State (IS), whilst also accusing Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) of being complicit in IS activities.
The Shiite district of Dashte Barchi in which the Sayed al-Shuhada School is found has been subject to intense attacks from IS militants in recent years, including an attack on a maternity ward just one year ago. Residents responding the the atrocity last weekend have reported it took officials and emergency services an hour to reach the scene following the blasts, despite there being two police headquarters just a short distance away. Many residents at the scene also rose loud chants against President Ghani and the security forces, whom many feel bear responsibility for the attack.
The attacks also occur under the shadow of U.S. President Biden’s announcement on April 14th, of plans to withdraw U.S. forces from the country by September 11th this year. Having been a staunch supporter of intervention in the country since 2001, The president lauded that U.S. counter-terrorism aims in the country had been accomplished, after the U.S. “delivered justice to bin Laden a decade ago”. “Since then”, Biden added, “our reasons for remaining in Afghanistan are becoming increasingly unclear, even as the terrorist threat that we went to fight evolved.”
Commentators, however, have already raised concern on the implications of such a withdrawal on an already resurgent Taliban. ‘Human Rights Watch’ have also urged the Biden administration to protect human rights after troop withdrawals, and provide “a prompt U.S. response” if in the future the Taliban were to threaten human rights in he country, such as girls’ access to education. A newly declassified U.S. intelligence assessment has also made grim projections for the future of women’s rights in the country, citing the Taliban, the Afghan government, and public opinion, all as potential dangers to advancements made in the field during two decades of military intervention.
Ever since First Lady Laura Bush heralded the intervention in Afghanistan as being “also a fight for the rights and dignity of women”, critics have warned on the use of rhetoric around women’s rights as a smoke screen for imperial ambitions in the country, that essentially relegate the diverse needs and roles of women in Afghan society to mere symbols in geopolitical strategising.
The CIA’s spending of billions of dollars in covertly arming and training the Taliban and Mujaheddin forces to counter the Soviets during the Soviet-Afghan war in the 1980’s, facilitated the Taliban’s ascension to power in 1996. The Taliban’s subsequent societal system of gender apartheid included banning all women from employment, and public floggings and executions for violations of their laws. Displaying no regard for women’s rights in their imperial power play, the the very same Islamist forces the U.S. once cultivated to oppose the threats of communism and secular nationalism, are now emerging to threaten disputable declared gains in the fields of human rights and gender equality.
Regardless of the actors, the attacks on the Sayed al-Shuhada School last Saturday paint a vivid picture of the dangers faced by women and girls in Afghanistan, now and going forward. Though under accusations of IS and NDS collusion, and increasing gender rights rhetoric emanating from Washington, suspicions are arising whether an uptick in unattributed acts of violence against women, might provide the pretext for prolonging the U.S. military’s presence and perpetual war in Afghanistan, in advancement of imperial ambitions on China and Iran.