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Two Canadians, two Americans, two Britons, two Lebanese, a Dane, a Russian, a Pakistani, a Malaysian and eight Afghans, including a newlywed couple, died in one of Kabul's worst terrorist attacks last Friday. Nothing can justify this horrendous act of wanton violence against a soft target, nor replace the precious lives that were snuffed out that evening at the Taverna du Liban in the Afghan capital. What is certain though is that the timing and targeting were premeditated, and that the planning was precise, sophisticated and intended to send a message to political actors at a time when Hamid Karzai's relations with the United States are tense over the signing of a security agreement, he is insisting on peace talks with the Taliban, and the country is gearing up for critical presidential elections to be held in April.

To some, this particular attack by a three-man suicide squad is seen as a deliberate attempt at sowing fear, not only among Kabul's expat community, but also the growing local middle class. Others, on the other hand, think that it was a random act of urban terrorism as experienced at times in major Afghan cities. Conspiracy theorists suggest a Lebanese connection, while many Afghans, including the government, see a foreign hand in a complex operation that requires intelligence and paramilitary know-how and training.

While the Taliban took responsibility for the Taverna attack, they provided a lame justification that very few people agreed with, saying that it was in retaliation to a joint U.S.-Afghan operation that had taken place two days prior in Parwan province, resulting in a number of civilian and Taliban deaths. All experts agree that the Taverna operation needed more than two days of planning and could not be connected to the Parwan incident.

We might never know what the real motive was behind the attack on the Taverna, but life may not be the same in Kabul for some people and for some time to come. Ordinary Afghans, however, will go on with their daily chores and concerns. These attacks have taken many precious lives across the country over the years, most of whom have gone unnamed. In one such incident, hours after the Kabul attack, three young Afghans were killed and several injured by a rocket – presumed to have been fired by a Taliban group – that landed in a soccer field in Kandahar province. No reason was given as to why they were targeted, but three families are now in mourning and no one has been apprehended or brought to justice.

What is needed now more than ever is civil mobilization and resistance against acts of terrorism and random killings at the hands of individuals and groups affiliated to known outfits operating from bases inside and outside the country. Peaceful civil resistance should include a registry of victims, assistance to their families and denunciation of groups and individuals who commit such crimes. They should also question the government and security branches responsible for public safety, all done in ways that would not endanger the activists.

Neighbourhood watch groups need to be set up so communities, businesses and families can take part in reinforced security measures in co-ordination with local police forces.

While the government has shown to be ineffective in prosecuting the numerous cases since 2002, civil society, media and human rights organizations need to work with domestic and international organizations to keep active files for incidents that are inconclusive, and put pressure on the law enforcement and prosecutorial institutions.

Afghans in general are dismayed by the Government's decision to release prisoners held by American and NATO forces at the request of an ad hoc committee. They prefer that each case be presented for investigation and prosecution based on the country's criminal laws. They see it as a political move that endangers the lives of ordinary Afghans, as in the case of some detainees who end up once more in Taliban ranks.

Moreover, the international human rights and criminal systems, including the International Criminal Court, need to discuss ways and means to bring to justice the culprits and masterminds of such crimes, be it Taliban or other specific groups, including foreign accessories, claiming responsibility for the killing of civilians.

A protest by several hundred young Afghans on Sunday near the Taverna restaurant in central Kabul was a courageous act of defiance and resistance. The media can also play a major role in trying to mobilize the public, interview officials and activists, as well as detainees who could best explain their motives and how they operate.

Afghan security forces are generally viewed positively and trusted by the population. It is important that they maintain high morale and that their work be appreciated by civilians as well as officials.

With crucial presidential elections scheduled for early April and the official campaign season kicking off in early February, there is concern among the political circles that an escalation of violence might become an excuse to either postpone or cancel elections.

That would not only be viewed as a victory by the Taliban who have expressed their disdain for elections, but also for some within the current political structure who want to remain relevant until conditions warrant it.

The Taverna tragedy took many lives and shocked the human conscience, but it also made Afghans and their international partners realize that terror needs to be confronted in traditional as well as new ways, culprits need to be held responsible and the political fallout has to be contained.

Omar Samad is senior Central Asia fellow at New America Foundation. He was the Ambassador of Afghanistan to France (2009-2011) and to Canada (2004-2009) and Spokesperson for the Afghan Foreign Ministry (2002-2004).