KABUL: A motorcycle rigged with explosives detonated at an election rally in northeastern Afghanistan on Saturday killing at least 14 people, including civilians and security forces, officials said.
Khalil Aser, spokesman for the provincial police chief in Takhar province, said 32 others were wounded when the explosives-laden motorbike parked near the rally in Rustaq district blew up.
“There are a number of wounded people in critical condition,” he said.
The attack took place at about noon before Nazefa Yusoufi Beg, a female candidate running for a seat in Parliament in the Oct. 20 elections, arrived at the rally, Aser said. It was not immediately clear if she was the target.
Jawad Hajri, spokesman for the provincial governor, said Rustaq is a remote district where insurgent attacks have not occurred in the past and the candidate’s supporters had gathered for the rally confident they would be safe.
Adeb Hamra, a local resident, said the district government hospital has only four doctors and was overwhelmed with dead and wounded, most of them in critical condition.
Meanwhile, the Taliban on Saturday said they met with the new American envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, and told him that the presence of US-led foreign troops is the “main hindrance” to “genuine peace” in the country.
Khalilzad went to Kabul last week to discuss his efforts to broker peace between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
He then went to Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar, where he met on Friday with Taliban emissaries. Khalilzad returned to Kabul on Saturday to brief President Ashraf Ghani about his meetings.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said both sides agreed to hold further talks, adding that the group discussed with Khalilzad the “occupation” of Afghanistan and a peaceful settlement of the war there.
Nazar Mohammad Mutmaen, an analyst who knows some Taliban leaders, told Arab News that the talks and Khalilzad’s return to Kabul signified “progress.”
Mutmaen said: “It’s the first high-ranking meeting of US officials with the Taliban. This shows that both sides are making peace a priority.”
The meeting comes a week before parliamentary elections that have been delayed for more than three years, and six months before presidential elections. The Taliban has threatened to derail the parliamentary vote.
When the Afghan government proposed 11 candidates for ministerial positions last year, the only female among the group did not get a vote of confidence from Parliament.
Another woman, nominated for the Supreme Court, ended up in the same situation weeks later.
Even some male MPs who are critics of President Ashraf Ghani chided their female colleagues who did not approve of his choices for the two positions.
Now, hundreds of candidates running in parliamentary elections slated for Oct. 20 are women.
“The young and new female candidates are a powerful tool to make Parliament exercise its rights as stipulated in the constitution,” Zahra Nawabi, a 28-year-old candidate from Kabul who has two master’s degrees, told Arab News.
“Our priority should be women and their health. Parliament shouldn’t become a shame for the nation.”
Like some of the other female candidates, Nawabi views the influence of wealthy men as a major threat.
“The government needs to intervene to stop this, otherwise the next Parliament could be worse than the current one,” she said.
MP Shinkay Karokhail, who is standing for office again, told Arab News that it is too early to be optimistic that the next Parliament will be better for women than the current one.