NEWS

Kabul Taliban Hotel Attack Will Hurt Democratic Process in Afghanistan: Analyst

03/21/2014 12:42 EDT

The brazen attack by Taliban fighters at a Kabul hotel Thursday that killed two Canadian aid workers could have a detrimental effect on the coming general elections, a prominent Canadian security analyst said Friday.

Roshan Thomas, a Vancouver woman who started a school in Kabul, has been identified as one of the Canadians killed in the attack.

Graeme Smith, an award-winning former journalist with the Globe and Mail who is in Kabul working with the International Crisis Group, said the attacks will make it difficult for international election observers to stay in Kabul and conduct first-hand inspections of polling sites. One of the victims, he said, worked as an election observer from the National Democratic Institute.

"It won't entirely prevent them from monitoring the election, however, because most of the field work during the election period was going to be conducted by Afghan staff in any case," Smith told Huffington Post Canada.

Smith said he shares many acquaintances with the people who were killed at the Serena, but he did not know any of them personally.

The Serena Hotel, frequented by Canadians and other foreign workers, was thought to be a very safe building. However late Thursday, gunmen evaded tight security and stormed the hotel.

"I've stayed at the Serena and sometimes drop by for meetings or lunches. It's better to avoid high-profile locations, because they're magnets for trouble, but until recently the hotel was a ubiquitous part of expat life in the city," he said "It's where many important delegations stayed, and several international organizations treated it was a temporary base. After this attack, I expect many organizations will re-think their security."

Four international aid workers, including two Canadians, were among nine people killed. Two children lost their lives, shot in the head according to accounts. Canada's Foreign Minister John Baird denounced the attack as "brazen and cowardly" and called the deaths a "tragedy."

"We were expecting a spike in violence during election season," Smith said. "All previous elections in Afghanistan have been marked by higher incident volumes, and this election will be especially fraught because it will mark the first time in the country's entire history that a new leader will take power without violently ousting his predecessor."

Despite calling the coming election "a milestone for Afghan democracy," Smith acknowledged that the current landscape in Afghanistan is rife with bitter battles among Kabul elites, not to mention the constant threat of attack from the Taliban insurgency.

A statement from Foreign Affairs issued Friday has few details other than to say Canadian diplomats in Kabul are working with authorities to gather additional information. A spokesman for Baird tweeted that all Canadian staff at the embassy in Kabul are safe and accounted for.

The Afghan capital has been hit by several attacks, but authorities appeared stunned that the militants had managed to get through the tight security at the Serena Hotel — considered one of the safest places to stay in Kabul.

Smith wrote an award-winning book on his six years covering the Afghanistan conflict. The Dogs Are Eating Them Now: Our War In Afghanistan paints a dire picture of the current state of the Afghan conflict and is also highly critical of the ultimate success of Canada's War in Afghanistan.

According to Smith, the overall security situation in the country is worsening, just as the final Canadian troops pull out and return home. He expects it to continue. Despite the most recent attack and others, Smith will remain in Kabul in his role with the ICG.

"I'll keep my head down, and try to continue working here as long as it's reasonably safe," he said.

Recent Violence In Afghanistan (SOME GRAPHIC IMAGES)

With a report from The Canadian Press