This week's bombing in the northern Baghlan province of Afghanistan has been referred to as the country's worst suicide bomb attack ever. President Hamid Karzai said about 35 people were killed, most of them children, teachers, and members of the government. The Taliban have denied responsibility for the attack, which took place in a sugar factory during a visit by parliamentarians.
The attack could strengthen the view that the Taliban and al Qaeda have regrouped in the borderlands and are supporting the insurgency in Afghanistan. That's the contention in "The Forgotten Front," a report out this week from the Center on American Progress. The report states that although dramatic gains were made in Afghanistan following the October 2001 invasion, the situation has deteriorated dramatically since 2005.
According to the authors, the United States has two central objectives to accomplish in Afghanistan: 1) Deny sanctuary to Al Qaeda and its affiliates, and 2) Build a stable, secure state that is not threatened by internal conflict and does not threaten its neighbors.
In order to meet these two objectives, the United States must change its current approach. It must fully implement a counterinsurgency framework for all of Afghanistan. All elements of U.S. policy in Afghanistan, including development and reconstruction assistance, support for rule of law, counternarcotics strategy, and military operations should be coordinated within this framework.
The report goes on to state that the window of opportunity to reverse the deterioration in Afghanistan is closing rapidly. It recommends that the governments of Afghanistan, the United States, and the international community undertake the following:
-Build Afghan government capacity, which includes strengthening the government and implementing a judicial sector.
-Increase security by increasing U.S. troop levels and stregthening the Afghan army, among other suggestions.
-Jumpstart reconstruction, which would require increased financial support.
-Reduce opium production.
-Remove the terrorist safe haven in Pakistan, in part by putting greater U.S. pressure on that country's government.
These aren't necessarily new issues. They reiterate the need to address longstanding challenges that Afghanistan has faced for years (in some cases, since before the 2001 U.S. invasion). Particularly contentious right now is the final recommendation regarding Pakistan, especially in light of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's declaration of martial law last weekend and the ongoing internal strife that country is experiencing.