Violence Comes to Kabul

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Kabul has long been seen as an island of stability in Afghanistan. But after four bombs this week ripped through the city in 48 hours, leaving one person dead and over 50 injured, the kind of violence that has become an almost daily occurrence in the south and east of Afghanistan came within the gates of the Afghan capital.

Kabul had been patrolled successfully by thousands of NATO peacekeepers until riots five weeks ago, which shone a spotlight on the limitations of the fledgling Afghan security forces. The riots, which killed at least a dozen, were sparked by the crash of an American convoy into a crowd of civilians. "The speed with which the government lost control of the city and rampaging demonstrators were able to take over the streets signalled to the Taliban and others that Kabul's defenses were weak. Now they are taking advantage," said a Western security analyst.

Ahead of President Karzai's election in 2004, crude rockets fell weekly around the Kabul. But until May, the capital had been relatively insulated from the chaos in the south, which has left hundreds dead in recent weeks. This week may mark a turning point. Two blasts tore through buses in the morning rush hour, one carrying Afghan soldiers and another filled with government officials on their way to work — a day after two similar blasts near government ministries. There hadn't been a major bombing in Kabul since March. when a suicide bomber tried and failed to kill a top Afghan official leading peace talks with Talibs who wanted to lay down their weapons.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for this week's blasts and said they were flexing their muscles to show that they could sow fear outside their traditional southern strongholds. Taliban spokesman Mohammed Hanif said that the recent attacks showed they could strike at the enemy in Kabul and the normally quiet northern provinces.

People in Kabul were shaken by the string of explosions, and the streets were visibly quiet as groups of police and Afghan soldiers searched vehicles at major intersections. "Everybody is scared," said first lieutenant Ahmad Shah, a traffic policeman in Khair Khana who witnessed one of the bombs. "There is fear in the city today and you do not see many cars. It is because of these explosions, which show the weakness of the government."

Over the last few months, Taliban-led violence has crept closer to Kabul, with militants taking control of districts within four hours' drive of the capital. Now, nowhere seems immune from the violence. "I vary my route every day on the way to work but was running late and could have easily been on the road where the bomb struck," said a Western businessman who has an office near the site of one of the bombs. "It was a wake-up call."