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 ceasefire 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 ceasefire 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.”
Late on Monday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has been pushing for peace talks to begin, held a video conference with top officials in Kabul including Ghani and his first deputy Amrullah Saleh.
While Saleh highlighted the importance of ongoing drop in violence and the need for holding on to a ceasefire, the two sides discussed the future steps needed to bring peace in Afghanistan, Ghani’s office said in a statement.
The issue of the release of Taliban prisoners and the venue for the intra-Afghan peace talks were discussed in particular, it said, adding that Pompeo reiterated Washington’s support for a peaceful and stable Afghanistan.
Violence had surged after the Taliban signed a landmark agreement with the United States in February, which paves the way for the withdrawal of all foreign forces by May next year.