Letter From Kabul: Ever More Extreme Kind Of Suicide Bomber Targets Spy Chief

Khalid is a U.S. favorite
Khalid is a U.S. favorite
Jean-Paul Mari

KABUL - "No, he was not hiding the bomb in his turban or in his briefs," a high-ranking western military officer tells me. I look at him: his face a bit pale and an uncomfortable demeanor; perhaps, despite his familiarity with the ferocity of war, shocked by the new method used in the attempted assassination of Asadullah Kalhid, the head of the Afghan secret services (NDS).

The Taliban had been dreaming of killing him for a while now. In May 2011, a suicide bomber had blown up his car during a visit in Kandahar, in the southern Pashtun region. But Kalhid survived every attempt against his life, to the great displeasure of the Taliban.

It goes without saying that the head of the Afghan secret services is now their mortal nemesis. The 43-year-old is famous for his efficiency and his obsession to track down insurgents, as well as for his brutality. He has the reputation of preferring brutal questioning methods – torture, to put it simply. And to cross the Taliban even more, he is close to President Karzaï and a U.S. favorite.

A suicide bomber is both a simple and terrible weapon. A man, ready to die with his victim, wearing an explosive belt underneath his clothes, can easily reach his target – a meeting, a speech, a public event, a convoy. The attacker approaches his target, with his hand on the detonator… and it is already too late. Everyone is blown into pieces, the vehicle is lifted into the air and weapons and bulletproof jackets worn by soldiers are rendered useless.

This technique has long become mainstream in Afghanistan – it’s terrible to have to write things like that. The kamikaze who haunted our imagination, these Japanese suicide-bombers on their fighter jets, the aircraft-carriers in flames in the Pacific Ocean – we believed that all this was unreal, a thing of the past, right? Well, not at all. Nowadays, the kamikaze, the sacrifice of a human life, is a tool of war, a human grenade, to be used alternatively with Kalashnikovs and RPG rocket launchers.

“Peace be upon you”

It is worth noting than this particular suicide bomber was a “peace messenger!” This was the fourth time he had come, in the name of the Taliban, to attend talks with the government. "As-salamu alaykum" (“Peace be upon you”) and every time he came, the man would pay close attention to the tight security measures set up for important events in Kabul. The fourth time, the man entered this residence in Kabul – guarded to the teeth – and went through every control and body search, from his turban to his feet.

It was a turban that killed Burhannuddin Rabbani, the former president of Afghanistan, chosen by the government to hold peace talks with the Taliban. Here, peace is a dangerous thing!

Once inside, it was not easy for the suicide-bomber to identify his target, two men were seated at his reserved table. Luckily for him, the telephone rang and the head of the secret services picked up and said his name. The kamikaze jumped on him and blew himself up. Asadullah Khalid suffered severe stomach wounds but did not die. He was evacuated to a foreign hospital to receive the best care as possible. Not dead? With a kamikaze only a meter away from him? The explosive might not have been powerful enough.

The suicide-bomber was from Pakistan. There, a like-minded surgeon had opened his belly, slightly lifted his stomach, and set a pocket full of explosives, right above his guts, with a small detonator. He then stitched it all back up.

The suicide-bomber only had to wait for his belly to heal, go to Kabul, go through the body search – which he passed easily – and jump on Khalid with his finger on the detonator… to show him what the Taliban make of the peace process.

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Saving The Planet Is Really A Question Of Dopamine

Our carelessness toward the environment could be due, in part, to the functioning of a very primitive area of our brain: the striatum.

Ad scuba-diver and brain coral

Stefano Lupieri

PARIS — Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Addictions to sex and social media

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the 'pleasure hormone.'

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

Transverse section of striatum from a structural MRI image

Lindsay Hanford and Geoff B Hall via Wikipedia

Tweaking genetics 

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Les Echos
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