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Afghanistan's Deadly Identity Politics

How Corruption and Ethnic Division Undermine Governance

Afghans pray for the victims of a May car-bombing in Kabul, June 2017. Mohammad Ismail / Reuters

On May 31, 2017, a massive truck bomb killed up to 150 and severely wounded hundreds more in a busy square near the German embassy in central Kabul. The number of suicide attacks in Afghanistan has been on the rise in recent years, and this was the deadliest occasion since 2001. The trauma was all the worse because the insurgents struck right in the heart of the capital.

Several days later, bereaved relatives and civil society groups converged near the blast site to voice their grief and anger. Joining in were opposition politicians, some of whom saw an opportunity to exploit public outrage, as well as activists of varying political affiliations, mobilized by social media. As the crowd tried to press on to the presidential palace, security forces opened fire, killing seven. The next day, at a funeral for one of those killed, suicide bombers killed another seven and injured more than 100.

Kabul is

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