Italian aid workers arrested in Afghan assasination plot, humanitarian community baffled

In the strangest recent story out of the war in Afghanistan, three Italian aid workers were arrested on Saturday for allegedly plotting to kill a provincial governor.

Emergency, the NGO the three Italians work for, provides medical relief in Helmand, one of Afghanistan’s embattled southern provinces. Afghan authorities claim to have found explosives hidden in boxes of medecine at the organization’s hospital in the city of Lashkar Gah. Six Afghans were also arrested.

Emergency’s director Gino Strada thinks his employees were set up by parties seeking to “get rid of a troublesome witness” to the conflict’s toll on civilians.

Speaking from Milan, he told reporters, “Someone has organized this set-up because they want Emergency to leave Afghanistan.”

Strada suspects Afghan authorities or NATO forces –or both– planted the evidence and orchestrated the raid. NATO denies any of its troops were present when the Italians were arrested.

After the arrests, residents of Lashkar Gah demonstrated against Emergency, which has drawn controversy for its policy of treating injured from all sides of Afghanistan’s conflict, including wounded Taliban fighters.

Afghan authorities described a cross-border plot to kill Helmand’s governor, Gulab Mangul.

Investigators believe the suspects were linked to the Taliban insurgency and that the plan had been hatched at a meeting in the Pakistan city of Quetta, said the governor’s spokesman, Daud Ahmadi. He said the plotters planned to carry out a suicide bombing in Lashkar Gah, then wait until the governor came to the hospital to visit the injured. When he did, they planned to attack with grenades, pistols and explosives, Ahmadi said.

I see  three possibilities here, all of them ugly. In scenario one, aid workers unknowingly allowed terrorists to stash explosives in their hospital and were unfairly implicated in the plot. In scenario two, Afghan authorities and/or NATO forces decided the best way to eliminate humanitarian witnesses from Lashkar Gah was to stage an elaborate set-up to make it appear that aid workers were involved in an international assassination plot. The third and most disturbing possibility is that the Italians and their six Afghan colleagues really were planning to bomb their own hospital, murdering the patients whose care they were entrusted with, to kill the governor of Helmand.

Emergency firmly dismisses the possibility that its employees were involved in anything of the sort.

“Who with a grain of salt in his head could think that an Italian doctor would go to Afghanistan to blow up the governor of a province?” Strada asked reporters on Sunday.

It’s a good question, and this case has Afghanistan humanitarian community asking “What the …?”