KABUL: At least 12 people were killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan on Sunday, as Taliban and government representatives met in Qatar to end the ongoing conflict.
The attack happened at an intelligence base in Ghazni, 120 km southwest of Kabul.
A spokesman for the Public Health Ministry, Wahidullah Mayar, said 179 people, most of them civilians, had been wounded in the incident.
The Taliban, who have lost ground in recent weeks in the area, claimed responsibility. Sediq Seddiqi, a spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, condemned the attack, calling it a “crime against humanity.”
Both the government, backed by US troops, and the Taliban have intensified operations in recent months against the backdrop of a series of peace negotiations between US diplomats and Taliban delegates in Doha.
Senior Afghan political leaders, including several government representatives, attended a two-day intra-Afghan peace meeting in Doha on Sunday, the first time senior figures of the two sides have met under Ghani's administration.
Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told Arab News the conference did not constitute “formal negotiations” and that participants would speak in a personal capacity. “Every participant will share views as to how peace could return to Afghanistan,” he said.
Shaheen added that the Taliban would represent its political office and explain its official stance on the peace process, with Sher Abbas Stanekzai leading the delegation.
Representatives from the Taliban and the US started the seventh round of talks last week, aiming to hammer out a time-frame for the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country in exchange for nonaggression from the group against US interests.
Afghan-born US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has been tasked by the US government to secure a political settlement with the militants, who now control more territory than at any time since being toppled in 2001 by US-led forces.
In a tweet on Saturday, Khalilzad said the latest round of talks were the “most productive session” to date, adding that significant progress had been made on troop withdrawal, counter-terrorism assurances, participation in intra-Afghan negotiations, and a permanent ceasefire.