Feb. 18 (Bloomberg) — United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon led international condemnation of a suicide bombing in Afghanistan that killed as many as 80 people, one of the deadliest attacks since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.
The blast in the southern city of Kandahar yesterday “is a tragic reminder of the insecurity” that is undermining efforts to rebuild the country after decades of war, Ban’s spokeswoman Michele Montas said in a statement in New York.
Ban’s condemnation was echoed by the UN Security Council and the U.S. and British governments, which are the biggest contributors to the NATO-led force fighting Taliban insurgents in the South Asian nation.
The attack, and one in neighboring Pakistan’s northwestern tribal town of Parachinar that killed about 40 people a day earlier, show al-Qaeda’s influence over local insurgents, said terrorism analyst Rohan Gunaratna.
“Al-Qaeda has always called for martyrdom operations,” said Gunaratna, head of the Singapore-based International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research. “The world’s highest number of such attacks are experienced in Iraq, followed by Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
Yesterday’s blast tore through a crowd of men and boys watching a dog fighting contest on the outskirts of Kandahar, Agence France-Presse reported.
Nobody claimed responsibility for the attack, which the regional government blamed on the Taliban, AFP said. Dog fighting is a popular pastime in Afghanistan that was banned by the Taliban during the movement’s 1996-2001 rule.
The bombing was “one of the deadliest in Afghanistan in recent years,” Ambassador Ricardo Alberto Arias of Panama, which holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council, said in a statement posted on the UN’s Web site.
The Security Council members “reiterated their concern at the increasing threat to the local population, national security forces, international military and international assistance efforts posed by the Taliban, al-Qaeda, illegal armed groups, criminals and those involved in the narcotics trade.”
The bombing was a “cowardly and abhorrent act of terrorism,” U.K. Foreign Secretary David Miliband said in a statement. “It is all the more important that we support the government of Afghanistan in pursuing those responsible and establish proper security in this and other cities.”
It is a reminder “that the extremists offer nothing but violence and death,” White House national security spokesman Gordon Johndroe said in a statement. “The Afghan people will not allow them to stop the march to democracy and security.”
The U.S. and Britain have about 15,000 and 7,800 soldiers respectively under North Atlantic Treaty Organization command in Afghanistan.
Suicide bombings in Afghanistan have risen sevenfold over the past two years, with more than 80 percent of the attackers receiving training or shelter in neighboring Pakistan, the UN said in a report last year.
Most attacks in the two countries are carried out by the Afghan Taliban and Baitullah Mehsud’s Pakistani Taliban group, Gunaratna said.
“Al-Qaeda has greatly influenced these groups to adopt the tactics of suicide bombing,” Gunaratna added.
Pakistan’s government has blamed Mehsud for organizing the Dec. 27 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
The Taliban carried out 140 suicide bombings in Afghanistan last year, some of which showed “unusual sophistication in planning and execution,” the International Institute for Strategic Studies said in a report published Feb. 5.
The number of people killed in terrorist attacks and sectarian violence in Pakistan more than doubled last year to 2,116 from 967 in 2006, the Interior Ministry in Islamabad says.
President Pervez Musharraf says he has deployed 100,000 soldiers to the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan since 2003 to combat Taliban and al-Qaeda extremists.
Still, U.S. intelligence agencies are critical of Musharraf’s efforts to control extremists and say al-Qaeda leaders have established bases in the tribal region bordering Afghanistan.
The U.S., which has pumped $10 billion into Pakistan since Sept. 11, 2001, with the aim of securing the country against al- Qaeda, is depending on today’s parliamentary elections to further a transition to civilian government from Musharraf’s previous military rule.
“As long as al-Qaeda maintains a presence in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, there will be no peace in Afghanistan,” said Gunaratna.