26 January 2011

Violence, tension return to Kabul despite denials

KABUL, Afghanistan—Air pollution that burned my eyes and limited visibility to about 100 meters in the center of city yesterday was one of the first palpable signs that I was back in Kabul. The security in the Afghan capital clearly deteriorated in the month I was out of the country, but while the attacks, mostly bombings, have increased, the casualties have largely been Afghan civilians and security forces, which means the incidents are not widely reported by the Western press.

I went to the university where I teach the same day I arrived, but before I left faculty and staff received an email that said the school would be closed today because of the threats of violence surrounding the seating of new Afghan parliament. The September elections for the lower house were widely perceived as fraudulent and controversy, investigations, and criticism have swirled ever since. A special court appointed, perhaps unconstitutionally, by President Hamid Karzai recently ruled that the newly elected members should not be seated until an investigation of the fraud charges was completed. Karzai then ordered a one-month delay of the swearing-in ceremonies. However, the new parliamentarians responded with a vow to meet anyway, with or without the president’s approval.

“After marathon bargaining sessions and pressure from the United Nations, the European Union and the United States, Mr. Karzai agreed to seat Parliament while the court continues its work,” The New York Times reported today.

In the guest house where I live, which is located near the parliament, helicopters gunships flew overhead starting in the morning. Elsewhere, CNN reports today that Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, is claiming that “coalition and Afghan troops have made progress in Kabul.”

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