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Terror Strikes Again: 61 killed in suicide Bomb Attack in Kabul

President Ashraf Ghani condemned the violence as the work of “terrorists and opportunists”, saying the government put in place measures to provide security for the protesters

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Afghans gather property, left behind by victims of a deadly explosion that struck a protest march by ethnic Hazaras, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, July 23, 2016. Image source: AP
  • The attack occurred as thousands of ethnic Hazaras marched through the streets to demand a planned power line be rerouted through their poverty-stricken central province of Bamiyan
  • Spokesman Mohammad Ismail Kawasi told that 207 others were wounded in the blast
  • Authorities had blocked main roads ahead of the rally to prevent protesters from reaching the city’s centre or the presidential palace

A powerful bomb ripped through a mass protest rally on Saturday, July 23, in the Afghan capital, Kabul, and the country’s health ministry spokesman said at least 61 people were killed.

Spokesman Mohammad Ismail Kawasi told VOA that 207 others were wounded in the blast.

The attack occurred as thousands of ethnic Hazaras marched through the streets to demand a planned power line be rerouted through their poverty-stricken central province of Bamiyan.

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Witnesses and journalists reported seeing bodies of victims at the scene of the blast, which appeared to have been carried out by a suicide bomber. Afghan officials say the death toll is likely to rise.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.

Authorities had blocked main roads ahead of the rally to prevent protesters from reaching the city’s centre or the presidential palace. The measures severely restricted movement, forcing shops and businesses to close. It also hampered the ability of rescue workers to reach victims of the attack.

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President Ashraf Ghani condemned the violence as the work of “terrorists and opportunists”, saying the government put in place measures to provide security for the protesters.

“But terrorists entered the protests, and carried out explosions that martyred and wounded a number of citizens including members of security and defence forces,” he said.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility. A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, says the Islamist insurgency has nothing to do with the attack.

The Amnesty International said “the horrific” attack on a peaceful protest demonstrated “the utter disregard that armed groups have for human life.”

In May, the Hazara community organised a similar mass demonstration against the current route of the multi-million-dollar regional electricity line involving Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The original plan was to route the so-called TUTAP line through Bamiyan, a mostly Hazara region. (VOA)

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US-Taliban Meeting Cancelled, 14 Members on “The US and UN Blacklist”

A day later, Pakistan’s information minister Fawad Chaudhry confirmed the talks during a press conference, calling it a “game changer.”

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US, Taliban, Pakistan
FILE - Taliban political chief Sher Muhammad Abbas Stanikzai, in the first row, second from left, Abdul Salam Hanafi and other Taliban officials pray during the intra-Afghan talks in Moscow, Feb. 6, 2019. VOA

An upcoming meeting in Pakistan between a delegation of the United States and Taliban representatives has been cancelled, according to information coming from both sides.

A Taliban leader confirmed, on condition of anonymity, that the meeting was cancelled, “by the Americans.” A Taliban statement issued later in the day said the talks were postponed because many members of its 14 person negotiating team were unable to go overseas since they are on “the US and UN blacklist.” Several of them are on the U.N. Security Council sanctions list which bars them from international travel.

Meanwhile, a U.S. official said Zalmay Khalilzad, who was supposed to lead the American delegation, is not planning to visit Islamabad this week.

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FILE – U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, center, speaks during a roundtable discussion with Afghan media at the U.S Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan Jan. 28, 2019. VOA

The U.S. said it had not received an official invitation from the government of Pakistan for this meeting which was first announced by Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid a couple of days ago.

Mujahid’s statement had set February 18 as the date of the talks and said a formal invitation had been issued by Pakistan. In addition, he said, the Taliban delegation would also meet the Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan.

A day later, Pakistan’s information minister Fawad Chaudhry confirmed the talks during a press conference, calling it a “game changer.”

“The next round of negotiations with the Taliban will be in Pakistan, and as a result of these negotiations, there is a chance of stability in Afghanistan,” he said.

US, China, Taliban
FILE – Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan (R) speaks with U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad (3rd L) during a meeting at the Prime Minister’s office in Islamabad, Pakistan, in this handout photo released Jan. 18, 2018. VOA

Afghanistan’s Foreign Ministry reacted strongly to the announcement of a meeting in Islamabad, saying it was in violation of a United Nations Security Council resolution.

“#Afghanistan complains to #UNSecurityCouncil on #Pakistan’s engagements with the Taliban on which #Afg Govenrment is not consulted,” Tweeted Sibghatullah Admadi, a spokesman for the Afghan foreign office.

Previously, Afghanistan launched a similar complaint against Russia for allowing Taliban members to travel to Moscow for a conference in which nearly 50 Afghans, including various political leaders, former jihadi commanders, and civil society activists were invited. However, the Afghan government was not invited to that conference because the Taliban have so far refused to engage with the Kabul administration despite pressure from the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and others.

President Ashraf Ghani lashed out at those attending the conference saying they had no “executive authority” to make any agreements.

“Let hundreds of such meetings be held,” he said.

Some analysts say Ghani’s statements indicated his frustration at being left out of the negotiations between the Americans and the Taliban that first started last Summer. Since then, the two sides have held several rounds of talks.

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The last meeting in Doha early January lasted for six days and Khalilzad said the two sides had agreed “in principle” to a withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan in return for guarantees that Afghan soil will not be used by any terrorist groups or individuals.

Speaking in a public event at Washington based United States Institute of Peace, Khalilzad said the Taliban do not want to “sit with the government alone” because they did not want to give President Ghani an advantage in the presidential elections scheduled in July.

“There are indications that they will be willing to sit with the government in a multi-party arrangement,” he said. (VOA)