KUNDUZ: Seven civilians were killed by a roadside bomb linked to the Taliban in northern Afghanistan, officials said Tuesday, even as authorities pressed for peace talks with the militants.
Overall violence across much of Afghanistan has dropped, however, since May 24 when the Taliban announced a surprise three-day cease-fire to mark the Eid Al-Fitr holiday.
The latest blast struck a small truck carrying a group of laborers late Monday in the volatile district of Khan Abad, in the province of Kunduz.
No group claimed responsibility, but Kunduz provincial spokesman Esmatullah Muradi pointed the finger at the Taliban.
“The Taliban usually plant roadside bombs to target security forces, but their bombs usually kill civilians,” he told AFP.
Two of six others wounded in the blast were in critical condition, said district chief Hayatullah Amiri.
President Ashraf Ghani had welcomed the Taliban cease-fire offer and authorities responded by announcing around 2,000 Taliban prisoners would be released in a “goodwill gesture” with a view to kickstarting peace talks.
Afghanistan’s former chief executive Abdullah Abdullah, who has been appointed to lead the talks, said his team was ready to begin negotiations “at any moment.”
In Washington, the US negotiator on Afghanistan voiced optimism Monday that the Taliban and government would begin peace talks and said President Donald Trump could pull US troops ahead of schedule if all goes well.
The Afghan government has been speeding up the release of prisoners, a key condition for the Taliban, after a ceasefire for the Eid Al-Fitr holiday followed by a continued lull in fighting.
“There’s been a lot of progress in the last few days,” said Zalmay Khalilzad, the US envoy who negotiated a deal with the Taliban in which Washington plans to end its longest-ever war.
“A lot of people have been pessimistic that we could get to this place where we’re discussing where and when inter-Afghan negotiations would begin and that there would be enough progress on the prisoners issue,” he told reporters.
But he did not set a date and cautioned that “still more needs to be done” on freeing prisoners.
Under the agreement with the Taliban, the us will pull troops out of Afghanistan by mid-2021 in exchange for the insurgents’ commitments to keep out Al-Qaeda and other foreign extremists.