A bomb blast today struck a mosque in western Pakistan where the Afghan Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhundzada once preached, killing his brother, according to Al Jazeera English. The attack comes as U.S. President Donald Trump convenes a meeting of his top national security advisors to review a draft peace agreement with the Taliban, which CNN reports is “99 percent complete.”
Veteran Afghan journalist Sami Yousafzai reports that a brother of Haibatullah, Hafiz Ahmadullah, was killed in the mosque. Ahmadullah took over as imam or prayer leader of the mosque in 2016 when Haibatullah was appointed as amir or leader of the Taliban. According to Pakistan’s ARY News, the bomb was placed in the mosque’s pulpit, indicating an attempt to assassinate the imam. However, Mujib Mashal, the New York Times correspondent in Afghanistan, states that it Haibatullah appears to have been the actual target as he was expected to be at the mosque.
No group took responsibility for the blast. But fingers are likely to be pointed at Afghanistan’s main intelligence agency, the National Directorate for Security, which has targeted Taliban leaders based in Pakistan in the past. The Afghan government has been shut out of the U.S.-Taliban dialogue and could be trying to play the role of spoiler as it has much to lose.
Trump has made clear that he is keen on a full withdrawal from Afghanistan, but has apprehensions that such a move could allow for transnational terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State to regenerate an ability to attack the U.S. homeland.
Senator Lindsey Graham, a former critic of Trump-turned informal advisor, tweeted furiously this morning calling on Trump to avoid a full withdrawal from Afghanistan and maintain a counterterrorism force.
But another influential Republican, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, also took to Twitter to chime in on Afghanistan as Trump verges on making a decision on a withdrawal. Paul, who has strong isolationist tendencies on foreign policy, appeared to appeal to Trump’s vanity by stating that if he secures an end to the war with the Taliban, he should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
As the U.S.-Taliban talks head into their final stretch, one can expect an intensification of intrigue in and around Afghanistan. The status quo is being disrupted. And there will be a new set of winners and losers. For some, shaping the future political dispensation in Afghanistan is a matter of survival. And they will fight—on the negotiation table, the battlefield, and the streets of Afghanistan and Pakistan.