KABUL: At least 15 people including civilians were killed in a suicide attack in Afghanistan on Saturday, the first major strike since direct talks between the Taliban and government negotiators started three weeks ago, officials said.
A raid outside a government building in eastern Nangarhar province took place after a vehicle laden with explosives was detonated at the entrance of the compound.
“Several armed attackers tried to enter the facility after the attack but were killed by security forces,” Attaullah Khogyani, spokesman for Nangarhar’s governor, told Arab News by phone. “Some school students are also among the dead. A mosque nearby was also damaged.”
A purported video of the attack circulated on social media soon after the assault. It showed several rooms and parts of the main building damaged by the impact of the blast, which also destroyed several vehicles in the area to leave a deep crater.
Obaidullah Shinwari, a member of the provincial council, said the death toll could rise. Tariq Aryan, Interior Ministry spokesman in Kabul, said that nearly 40 people had been injured in the attack.
Despite no immediate claim of responsibility, Aryan said “it was the Taliban’s act” and called it a “major crime against the people of Afghanistan.”
Shah Hussien Murtazawi, an adviser to President Ashraf Ghani, also blamed the Taliban for the attack. He accused the group of seeking “to gain concessions during the talks which began in Qatar on Sept. 12.”
He tweeted: “Since the inception of the talks the Taliban have carried out 650 attacks which, according to the Interior Ministry, have claimed the lives of dozens of civilians.”
The intra-Afghan talks are aimed at finding a negotiated settlement to end more than four decades of war in the country. The US is planning a complete withdrawal of troops by next spring, based on a deal signed with the Taliban in Qatar earlier this year.
The Taliban has yet to comment on Saturday’s attack, which comes amid an uptick in violence across the country despite the Doha discussions.
While the group has been behind several such attacks in the past, affiliates of Daesh, which also has some influence in Nangarhar, have carried out similar raids too.
Saturday’s incident was the first major one since the start of the Qatar talks.
“It would have dire and serious consequences on the process of the Qatar talks and the Taliban if it is proven the Taliban were behind this, or they come out and claim responsibility for it,” analyst Shafiq Hapal told Arab News. “There are internal and external spoilers who may use it as a pretext to derail the Qatar talks.”
The Taliban and government delegates have yet to devise a mechanism for the talks before setting a plan for it.
The absence of a breakthrough since the start of the talks forced US Special Envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, who struck a deal with the Taliban, to fly to Qatar on Thursday for a meeting with negotiators from both sides.
During a trip to southeastern Paktika province on Saturday, Ghani said that the talks would produce results but that it “required patience.”