The attack in the town of Urgun in Paktika province underscored the country’s instability as foreign troops prepare to leave by the end of the year and feuding politicians in Kabul work to form a new government after a disputed presidential election.
General Mohammad Zahir Azimi, the defence ministry spokesman, said the bomber detonated his explosives-laden vehicle as he drove by the crowded market in the remote town in Urgun district, close to the border with Pakistan. The explosion destroyed more than 20 shops and dozens of vehicles.
The military was providing helicopters and ambulances to transport the injured to the provincial capital, Sharan. So far 42 people have been moved to hospitals there, he said.
No-one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, and the Taleban sent a statement to media denying involvement, and said they “strongly condemn attacks on local people”.
Mohammad Reza Kharoti, the administrative chief of Urgun district, said: “It was a very brutal suicide attack against poor civilians. There was no military base nearby.”
The bombing was the first major attack since a weekend deal between the two Afghan presidential contenders was brokered by US secretary of state John Kerry which averted a dangerous rift in the country’s troubled democracy following last month’s disputed runoff.
The two candidates, former finance minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, met yesterday to discuss an agreed audit of last month’s run-off vote, Mr Abdullah’s spokesman Fazel Sancharaki said. The two plan to meet again on Thursday, he added.
Unofficial and disputed results showed Mr Ghani-Ahmadzai well in the lead, but supporters of Mr Abdullah said that is due to widespread fraud. Since fraud was alleged on both sides, the new deal means that every one of the eight million ballots will be audited under national and international supervision.
However, neither the election nor the weekend deal have had any visible impact on the security situation in the country.
Hours before the Paktika blast, a roadside bomb in eastern Kabul ripped through a minivan carrying seven employees of the media office of the presidential palace, killing two of the passengers. Five other people, including the driver, were wounded.
The explosion struck as the vehicle was taking the palace staffers to work.
Kabul police spokesman Hashmat Stanikzai said it was a remotely detonated device planted along a main road.
Taleban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for that attack in a statement sent to journalists.
In a separate incident, seven police officers – a district counter-terrorism director and six border guards – were killed when Taleban insurgents attacked a post on the border with Pakistan in the eastern Khost province, said Mubariz Mohammad Zadran, a spokesman for the provincial governor.
Mr Zadran said the attack set off an hours-long gun battle that left 34 insurgents and a local man dead. “The majority of the insurgents killed in the clash are Pakistani citizens,” he said.
Elsewhere, two police officers were killed by a bomb concealed on a parked motorbike in the southern city of Kandahar.
Such attacks have escalated as the Taleban intensify their campaign ahead of the US-led foreign forces’ withdrawal by the end of the year.