During the night of April 19, Azizullah Yarmal, deputy mayor of Kandahar, the second city of Afghanistan, was assassinated while praying in a mosque. The murder has caused widespread shock. Mr. Yarmal was known to be an honest and dedicated public official in an administration noted for corruption and incompetence. A few hours earlier, the Taliban had claimed responsibility for an attack in which a booby-trapped donkey cart was exploded by remote control in an attempt on the life of a former governor of Spin Boldak district. The bomb in fact killed three of his nephews and wounded four others. On March 13, suicide bombers killed 35 people. The repeated attacks form part of a Taliban campaign to spread fear among the half-million population of Kandahar and to show the occupying forces what their proposed attack on the city will involve. The U.S.-led offensive, planned for June, will be the biggest operation since the western invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and could involve 30,000 troops. Its stated aim is to drive the Taliban to the negotiating table.

The Taliban, for their part, have rejected talks while foreign troops are in Afghanistan, and say they will target all who work for the government. This strategy, bolstered by a reputation for ‘probity,' is clearly working among a population who, according to a U.S. military survey, bitterly resent U.S. support for the existing provincial council and consider, by 19 to 1, that the only way forward is to engage the Taliban immediately in talks, irrespective of the rigid and retrogressive society they would impose. That alone shows how destructive the U.S. presence in Afghanistan has been. The provincial council, headed by President Hamid Karzai's half-brother Ahmed Wali Karzai, is known to be extremely corrupt; Mr. Wali Karzai is also locked in fierce power struggles with a bloc led by former provincial governor Gul Agha Shirzai. Worse still, locals say the government is using its own mafias to kill business rivals or dissenters and rights campaigners. In addition, the U.S.-NATO commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, has overridden one of President Karzai's pledges, by saying that local councils or shuras will be allowed to ‘shape' the conditions for the offensive but will have no veto over it. The shuras are totally opposed to the attack and the residents of Kandahar are rightly fearful of what lies in store. The U.S. obsession with brute force rules key political issues out of the agenda. The only thing that is more or less guaranteed is more killing and destruction — of Afghans and their country.

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