JALALABAD: An explosion in a city in eastern Afghanistan where President Ashraf Ghani was visiting killed at least 12 people, officials said Sunday, in the latest deadly violence to rock the country.
Provincial governor spokesman Attaullah Khogyani said a suicide bomber struck a market, killing at least 12 people and wounding 20. Khogyani said that 10 Afghan Sikhs were among the dead.
The death toll was confirmed by interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish, adding the assault was “most probably” carried out by a suicide bomber.
“I can confirm there are some Afghan Hindus among the wounded and we are checking if they are among the fatalities,” Danish told AFP.
Afghans often use the word Hindus even when talking about Sikhs. Small communities of both faiths reside in what is otherwise an overwhelmingly Muslim nation.
Provincial health director Najibullah Kamawal put the death toll at 15. Afghan officials often give conflicting information in the immediate aftermath of attacks.
Ghani’s spokesman confirmed the president was still in Nangarhar but was “away from danger”.
Ghani arrived in Jalalabad earlier Sunday to open a hospital, part of a two-day visit to the restive province.
The attack came a day after Ghani ordered Afghan security forces to resume offensive operations against the Taliban following the expiration of the government’s 18-day ceasefire.
The government’s unilateral truce overlapped with the Taliban’s three-day ceasefire for Eid, but the militants refused to prolong it.
The unprecedented ceasefire over the holiday capping Ramazan triggered spontaneous street celebrations involving Taliban fighters and security forces.
But it was marred by two suicide attacks in Nangarhar that killed dozens of people and were claimed by the Islamic State group, which has a smaller but relatively potent presence in Afghanistan. IS was not part of the ceasefire.
The attack comes as US envoy Alice Wells visits Kabul as part of efforts to ratchet up pressure on the Taliban to engage in peace talks.
The Taliban have so far ignored Ghani’s offer of peace negotiations. Instead, they have insisted on direct talks with the United States, which Washington has repeatedly refused.
Wells said that since the Afghan government and United States were willing to start talking without preconditions, the onus was now on the Taliban to respond.
“Right now it’s the Taliban leaders… who aren’t residing in Afghanistan, who are the obstacle to a negotiated political settlement,” Wells said in remarks embargoed until Sunday.
Wells, who is due to hold talks in Pakistan on Monday, said Islamabad also needed to do more to squeeze the Taliban and get them to the negotiating table.