KABUL: A suicide attack in restive eastern Afghanistan killed at least 18 people in a crowd celebrating Eid on Sunday, the second assault in as many days to mar an unprecedented ceasefire.
Further dampening hopes for peace after jubilant scenes during the ceasefire over the holiday, the Taliban announced they would not be extending the truce beyond Sunday night.
That has raised concerns among some Afghans over the number of Taliban who have taken advantage of the ceasefire to enter cities around the country, including the capital Kabul, and may still be there when the truce ends.
The militant Islamic State group, which was not part of the truce, issued a claim on Sunday that it had carried out its second suicide attack in two days in the province of Nangarhar.
Provincial health director Najibullah Kamawal put the death toll from Sunday’s blast in Jalalabad city, outside the office of the Nangarhar provincial governor, at 18 with 49 wounded.
“Some of the wounded are in a serious condition,” Kamawal added.
The governor’s spokesman, Attaullah Khogyani, put the death toll slightly higher at 19.
He said a bomber on foot blew himself up among a crowd of the Taliban fighters, local elders and civilians leaving the governor’s compound after attending a special event for Eid.
On Saturday, a suicide assault on a gathering of the Taliban, security forces and civilians in the province killed at least 36 people and wounded 65, Kamawal said.
IS group’s Afghanistan franchise claimed responsibility for that attack.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid announced the decision to resume fighting after President Ashraf Ghani said a government truce with the militants would be extended. He had asked the group to reciprocate.
“The ceasefire ends tonight and our operations will begin, Inshallah (God willing). We have no intention to extend the ceasefire,” Mujahid said in a WhatsApp message. Mujahid made no reference to Ghani’s announcement.
The government has extended its ceasefire with the Taliban by 10 days but security forces would defend themselves if attacked, a spokesman for President Ghani tweeted.
The first formal nationwide ceasefire since the 2001 US invasion had been widely welcomed across the country as Afghans — the Taliban, security forces and civilians — celebrated Eid.
Taliban fighters and security forces embraced and took selfies with each other over the first two days of the holiday.
Civilians also flocked to greet the militants, who had left their posts or areas under their control to celebrate the halt in hostilities, fuelling hopes among war-weary Afghans that peace was possible.
Published in Dawn, June 19th, 2018