JALALABAD: A suicide bomb blast killed at least two people on Saturday outside an election commission office in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, officials said.
The latest attack in the war-torn country appeared to target a protest camp outside the building in Nangarhar province, where a group of people were rallying in support of a candidate disqualified from parliamentary elections due in October.
The blast follows what has already been a bloody month in Afghanistan with the Taliban ramping up assaults on security forces across the country and the self-styled militant group, Islamic State, targeting Kabul with hundreds killed according to estimates.
“It killed two people, and four others were wounded,” provincial governor spokesman Attaullah Khogyani said adding that a suicide attacker was responsible for the explosion.
Provincial health director Najib Kamawal confirmed two deaths.
An eyewitness who saw the bloody aftermath of the blast said it was caused by a suicide bomber detonating near a tent full of protesters outside the office, and that security forces had cordoned off the area.
“It was a very big blast and it shook our home,” said witness Mirza Amin, who lived 50 metres from the site of the explosion.
Earlier this month, Afghanistan’s Independent Electoral Complaints Commission disqualified 35 candidates from running in the upcoming parliamentary election for having direct links to illegal armed groups.
The protest in Jalalabad was against the disqualification of candidate Javed Zaman Ghamsharik, who was barred for allegedly possessing illegal arms and for having ties with illicit land deals.
The blast comes nearly a week after President Ashraf Ghani offered a conditional three-month ceasefire to the Taliban, a move welcomed by the United States and Nato after nearly 17 years of war.
The Taliban have yet to officially respond to the offer.
The surge in violence this month comes after Afghans marked an unprecedented nationwide ceasefire between the Taliban and the government forces in June, giving some relief to war-weary civilians.
For three days, thousands of insurgents poured into cities across Afghanistan, eating ice cream and taking celebratory selfies with security forces.
The brief respite spurred hopes a new path was opening for peace talks in the country.
The Taliban have long insisted on direct talks with Washington and refused to negotiate with the Afghan government, which they see as illegitimate.
Earlier this week, top commander for US and Nato forces in Afghanistan General John Nicholson said that warring parties now have an “unprecedented” opportunity for peace, citing the June ceasefire as a step forward.
Nicholson, however, stressed that any peace talks must ultimately be “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned”.
Published in Dawn, August 26th, 2018