June 2nd 2017
EVEN for a city familiar with explosions,
the power of the bomb that ripped through Kabul on May 31st was shocking. The
device, hidden in a tanker truck, went off during rush hour in a crowded area
near several foreign embassies. The blast shattered windows a mile away and
sent clouds of black smoke swirling above the city. At least 90 people were
killed and more than 460 wounded, making it one of the deadliest attacks in the
capital in the 16-year civil war.
Jan Ali Ghobar, who works for Roshan, a
telecommunications company based nearby, was knocked unconscious: “When I came
back, everything was dark, the ceiling had fallen down, our desk chairs,
everything was crushed.” The German embassy was badly damaged; one of its
Afghan guards was killed.
As The Economist went to press, no one had
claimed responsibility for the blast. A spokesman for the Taliban denied that
they were behind it. Islamic State militants have staged several attacks in
Afghanistan in recent months, though none as large as this. Whoever was behind
it, the attack highlights the Afghan government’s inability to provide
security, even in the capital. According to the UN, Kabul has become the
deadliest province in the country for civilians, ahead of some of the country’s
more notorious trouble spots, such as Helmand and Kandahar.
One effect of the explosion has been to
heighten the debate in Germany over whether it is reasonable to repatriate
Afghans whose applications for asylum are unsuccessful. Just after the blast,
the German authorities postponed a flight carrying failed asylum-seekers to
Kabul. German officials’ insistence that parts of Afghanistan are safe for
deportees sounds ever less plausible.
The bombing will also intensify the row
within the administration of Donald Trump over whether to increase America’s military
presence in Afghanistan. Mr Trump’s national-security team has endorsed a plan
to deploy up to 5,000 extra troops. Others in the White House remain opposed to
further entangling America in a war on which it already spends $3bn a month. Mr
Trump has not yet made up his mind. The bombing certainly strengthens the case
that the Afghan government is losing control and needs more military
assistance. But it also makes Afghanistan look even more like a quagmire.