Once the conflict's center, Kandahar City calms
The province has seen a 75 percent drop in insurgent attacks and activity compared with the same time last year, according to the Kandahar governor's office in Afghanistan.
Police managed to kill all 14 suicide bombers involved in the attack, but the fighting left three policemen dead and 18 injured. Six civilians were also injured.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which was part of the groupâ€™s regular warm weather offensive, said Qari Yousef Ahmadi, a spokesman for the Taliban. He added that the date of this attack was also meant to come near the one year anniversary of the assassination of President Hamid Karzaiâ€™s half-brother, Ahmad Wali, formerly one of the most prominent figures in southern Afghanistan. Ahmad Wali was killed by someone from his inner circle on July 12 of last year.
In the wake of Ahmad Wali's death, many Kandaharis were concerned his absence would create a power vacuum that would increase violence here. So far, however, the security apparatus, namely the new police chief, Abdul Raziq, has stepped in to fill the void. While a controversial figure, many locals have attributed Mr. Raziq's aggressive approach with bringing a measure of calm to Kandahar.
During the past several months, though security incidents remain a part of regular life for residents, most say they have seen a marked improvement in security and now enjoy much greater freedom of movement. Still, residents say that it remains unclear if the security gains will endure beyond the end of the US and NATO combat mission in 2014.
â€śCompared to last year there is no doubt that the situation is better, but still there are problems. Itâ€™s not long-term security. As soon as foreign troops leave, Iâ€™m sure there will be insecurity again,â€ť says Ahmad Shah Spar, an independent political analyst in Kandahar. Mr. Spar says that his biggest concern after international forces leave is a civil war.
By the numbers, Kandahar looks much better than it has in the past. According to officials in the office of Kandaharâ€™s governor, so far this year the province has seen a 75 percent drop in insurgent attacks and activity compared with the same time last year.
For the insurgency, an important aspect of attacks like Mondayâ€™s remains grabbing headlines and showing that it is still in a position of strength despite its apparent difficulties maintaining the same level of violence it has in the past, say Kandahar officials.
â€śThey are doing these attacks just to show their influence. I think it will not be a challenge to the security,â€ť says Mohammed Omar Satai, head of the Joint Secretariat of the Kandahar Peace Committee. The attacks do have a psychological effect, however, especially when they manage to target something like the police headquarters. Mr. Satai adds, â€śWhenever they are not able to take care of their own security, how will they protect other people?â€ť
In a further effort to control appearances, the Taliban seem to be making a concerted effort to capitalize on the US decision to end combat operations here, saying that the effectiveness of their insurgency was the motivating factor for international troops.
â€śThe leadership of the Taliban is taking advantage of the announcement that the Americans will withdraw after 2014. They are saying we have to fight now because they are very close to being defeated,â€ť says Haji Agha Lali Dastgiri, a member of the Kandahar Provincial Council.