The attack on a high-level meeting inside the Governor’s compound in southern Kandahar on Thursday, killing top security officials, is yet another reminder of the sharply deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan. In recent years, the Taliban had shown its capability to infiltrate official meetings and attack any government building, notwithstanding claims by the authorities of heightened security. A year ago, the Kandahar Governor’s office had come under attack by militants, resulting in the death of a Deputy Governor, the Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates and members of Parliament. Thursday’s assault happened at a meeting that was attended by General Austin ‘Scott’ Miller, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. U.S. troops later said he was unhurt, while Gen. Abdul Raziq, the Kandahar police chief, and Abdul Momin, the Kandahar intelligence chief, were killed. Kandahar Governor Zalmai Wesa was also targeted in the attack, but there were conflicting reports about the status of his health. Raziq was arguably the most powerful police commander in southern Afghanistan. A close ally of the U.S., he had previously survived several attempts on his life and was instrumental in coordinating the local police networks in the fight against the Taliban. His death will leave a security vacuum in the south, especially at a time when the Taliban has launched an all-out offensive.
Significantly, the Kandahar attack happened two days ahead of the much-delayed parliamentary election. From the day the election dates were announced, the Taliban had warned those participating in the process. The security situation is so dire in the country that one-third of the polling stations will not open on Saturday, election day. Over the past couple of months, the Taliban has repeatedly targeted election offices and gatherings, killing at least 10 candidates and dozens of their supporters. The already overstretched Afghan security forces will now have to deal with the fallout of the Kandahar strike. The attack is a setback for the U.S. plan for direct talks with the Taliban as a way out of the 17-year-long conflict. Zalmay Khalilzad, the American special envoy to Afghanistan, recently met Taliban representatives in Qatar. The push for talks comes from a realisation that the war has drifted into a stalemate and an outright military solution could be impossible. And as it finally comes around to the idea of direct talks, the U.S. is trying to turn up pressure on the militant group through Pakistan. But this strategy will work only if the Afghan forces and their allies make some advances on the ground, and bring the Taliban under military pressure. What is actually happening, as incidents such as the Kandahar attack suggest, is the opposite. Both the U.S. and Afghan forces appear to be clueless about how to stop the Taliban’s advances.