IN A message to the nation on a major Muslim holiday, the Afghan president said yesterday that negotiations with the Taleban are the only way to “end the bloodshed” and bring peace.
But even as Ashraf Ghani spoke, a bomb ripped through a mosque compound in northern Balkh province after prayers for the Eid al-Fitr holiday, which follows the fasting month of Ramadan.
Sarajuddin Abid, the district governor of Sholgara where the explosion happened, said two people were killed and 12 were wounded in the blast.
No-one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
Mr Ghani, who spoke at the presidential palace in the capital Kabul has made peace talks with the Taleban a priority since he was elected president last year. This was his first Eid message to the nation.
“The negotiations are the solution, the way and this is what our nation wants, to end the bloodshed,” Mr Ghani said.
He also thanked Mullah Mohammad Omar, the reclusive Afghan Taleban leader, for endorsing the peace talks and said it was important that the Taleban “want to join the political process.”
Earlier this month, neighbouring Pakistan hosted the first face-to-face Kabul-Taleban talks, supervised by US and Chinese representatives. The meeting was said to have made progress, with the two sides agreeing to work on confidence-building measures and hold more such meetings after Ramadan.
The Afghan government and the Taleban had earlier held talks in Qatar and Norway. These efforts, however, turned out to be fruitless.
The list of demands raised by the Taleban in the initial four-hour meeting included the closure of all foreign military bases in Afghanistan and an exchange of prisoners.
They also demanded an end to the UN blacklist. This imposes sanctions, including a travel ban, on named individuals – and lifting it has been a constant demand from the Taleban, and others affected, for many years.
In the wake of the departure of Nato combat forces at the end of last year, the Taleban have stepped up attacks on Afghan troops, which are now in charge of security in the country, and are also targeting government officials.
Mr Ghani has in the past sought Pakistan’s help in bringing the Taleban to the negotiations, since Islamabad is believed to wield influence over the group.
Afghanistan has been the scene of devastating violence since 2001, when the US and its allies invaded the country as part of Washington’s so-called war on terror.
The offensive removed the Taleban from power, but insecurity continues in the war-torn country.