Death of five Emirati diplomats in Kandahar strike will not damage ties with UAE or significantly limit support for Taliban
A bomb attack on a Government guesthouse in Kandahar killed eleven people, including the Deputy Provincial Governor and five Emirati diplomats, and injured others, including the Governor himself and UAE Ambassador, on 10 January. Reports state that the explosives had been planted in a sofa, and that militants may have gained access to plant the device during construction work at the property. The Taliban subsequently denied any involvement in the attack, and no claim of responsibility has yet been made.
General Abdul Raziq, the provincial police chief who was also present during the attack, claimed that the Pakistan-based Haqqani network was behind the incident, and that it was directed by Islamabad’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. However, this claim lacks credibility due to Pakistan’s strong economic and military relations with the UAE. Moreover, Islamabad sees itself as a key mediator in dialogue efforts between Kabul and the Taliban and would not want to jeopardise this role by orchestrating such a provocative attack. Instead, Afghan authorities routinely attempt to link Pakistan with high-profile and deadly strikes in order to deflect embarrassment over failing to secure high-value targets. This explains why officials have blamed the Haqqani network, which is known to have links to elements within the Pakistani Government and ISI.
Despite denying its involvement, it is possible that the Taliban was responsible for the bombing. The timing of the attack suggests it may have been coordinated with strikes in Kabul and Lashkar Gah on the same day (see above). Moreover, Kandahar is one of the group’s strongholds, and it has regularly demonstrated the capability to mount such a sophisticated attack. The group routinely targets both government and security force interests, and so may have been targeting the Governor or police chief in order to undermine President Ghani’s administration. However, the group is unlikely to have targeted Emirati citizens, as it has positive ties with Abu Dhabi and receives funding from private donors in the UAE. Accordingly, the group’s denial may have been an attempt to distance itself from the unintended deaths of the five diplomats.
It is also plausible that the attack was part of a local power struggle, possibly involving tribal groups or local warlords seeking to kill the Governor, as the Taliban and some Emirati security analysts have claimed. While the precise motive for such an incident remains unclear, local struggles are common in Afghanistan and significant attacks of this nature have been a feature of national instability over a long period.
Regardless of who exactly was responsible for the attack, Abu Dhabi is unlikely to respond with a shift in its policy towards either the Government, which benefits from UAE financial aid, or towards the Taliban. Should the Taliban’s involvement in the strike be demonstrated subsequently, this could deter support from private financial backers in the UAE. However, any such development would be unlikely to impact funding from other Gulf states, whose support is of greater significance to the Taliban, minimising any consequences for the group in the months ahead.