by Emal HAIDARY
KABUL, Afghanistan (AFP) — Afghanistan’s vice president Amrullah Saleh sustained minor injuries Wednesday when an explosion targeted his convoy and killed at least 10 people, as government-backed negotiators and the Taliban prepared to meet in Doha for long-delayed peace talks.
The attack in the capital Kabul was quickly condemned as an attempt to frustrate the peace process, with top Afghan and foreign officials calling for an end to the violence so negotiations between the two warring sides can proceed.
In a video posted on Facebook soon after the explosion, Saleh, an outspoken Taliban critic, said he had been travelling to his office when his convoy was attacked.
“I am fine but some of my guards have been wounded. My son, who was in the car with me, and I are both fine,” Saleh said, with bandages on his left hand.
“I have some burns on my face and hand. The blast was strong.”
The interior ministry said the bomb was placed on a hand cart and detonated remotely when Saleh’s convoy passed by.
“Unfortunately, 10 civilians, mostly people who were working in the area, were killed, and 15, including a number of the first VP’s bodyguards, were wounded,” Tareq Arian, spokesman to the ministry, told reporters at the scene.
The Taliban, who have pledged not to launch attacks in urban areas under a deal with the United States, denied responsibility.
Abdullah, a shopkeeper who gave only one name, said the blast had blown out windows of his shop.
“A shop that sold gas cylinders also caught fire, causing the cylinders to blow up,” he said.
Saleh, the senior of Afghanistan’s two vice presidents, survived an assassination attempt last year ahead of presidential elections.
At least 20 people — most of them civilians — were killed and 50 others wounded when a suicide attacker and gunmen targeted Saleh’s Kabul office at that time.
‘Enemies of peace’
The EU in Afghanistan said Wednesday’s attack was a “desperate act by spoilers of peace efforts”, while NATO’s mission in the country said in a statement that “enemies of peace” were ignoring the will of the Afghan people for peace talks to begin.
President Ashraf Ghani, who met Saleh soon after Wednesday’s blast, condemned what he said was a “terrorist attack” on his first deputy.
“The terrorists and their foreign backers cannot undermine the people’s strong faith in peace, democracy and the bright future of our country,” Ghani said in a statement.
The head of the Afghan negotiating team, Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, called for violence to stop if the peace process was to succeed.
“The time for making excuses has passed. The killing of the people must end,” he said in a statement.
Even as preparations for negotiations continue, violence on the ground has carried on unabated, with the Taliban unleashing daily attacks.
“There are some elements within the Taliban who don’t care if the talks fail,” said Kabul-based political analyst Atta Noori.
The Taliban have been emboldened by a deal with Washington in February that paved the way for the withdrawal of foreign forces and the release of 5,000 militants in a prisoner exchange.
“They know that the Afghan government is wearing out, with the international community losing interest in them and paying more attention to the Taliban,” Noori said.
“In short, Taliban want their emirate at any cost and also want no resistance against them.”
Saleh on Sunday said Kabul’s negotiating team would push early in peace talks for a permanent truce.
“The first test for the Taliban is (a) ceasefire,” Saleh told Tolo News.
“If they accept the ceasefire, they are committed to peace. If not, they are not.”
Peace talks were supposed to begin in March but were repeatedly delayed over the prisoner swap, which included the release of hundreds of battle-hardened insurgents.
Paris and Canberra in particular have opposed the release of six Taliban militants because of their links to the killings of French and Australian civilians and troops.
© Agence France-Presse