For officials in Afghanistan, facing death is in the job description
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There are so many ways for an Afghan official to die — car bombs, suicide attacks, a volley of bullets or, in the case of one particularly enterprising assassin, a handgun hidden in the sole of a shoe.
On Thursday, a Taliban suicide bomber with a bomb hidden in his groin area tried to assassinate the new chief of Afghanistan's intelligence service in Kabul, seriously wounding him. Two weeks before, insurgents welcomed two of the country's newest governors with an armed assault in Helmand Province and a car bomb that leveled an entire city block in Wardak Province. Both governors survived and came away with an attribute essential for politicians here: a sharpened sense of fatalism.
"Assassination attempts are a part of the job," said Abdul Majid Khogyani, the new Wardak governor, seated in a makeshift office in his compound's frigid courtyard, the only place untouched by the bombing. "It comes with the package." He actually grinned.
Government officials here do not worry so much about the wrath of constituents; a more immediate fear is coldblooded assassination at the hands of the Taliban. Public service jobs are among the most dangerous in Afghanistan, with hundreds of officials killed every year. The more important the official, the greater the risk — some particularly fortunate, and well defended, governors have survived more than a dozen assassination attempts.
In the last few years, the Taliban have stepped up their campaign against politicians, targeting dozens of provincial and district governors, police chiefs and even marginal officials. It has been an effective tool, demonstrating the insurgents' power to inflict chaos and sow fear among government supporters. Last year, assassinations claimed 304 lives, the most since 2001, according to a United Nations report.
If the persistence of attacks suggests a high-priority target, Gulab Mangal, former governor of Helmand Province, is a Taliban trophy. Mangal survived 17 deadly attacks in his five years in office, including a rocket attack on a helicopter, before he was replaced this year by President Hamid Karzai. Not all politicians are so fortunate. Last year, a suicide bomber with explosives in his turban killed the mayor of Kandahar.