At least 14 people have been killed in attacks on a mosque in northern Afghanistan and on worshippers returning from prayers in the east, as the US peace envoy arrived in Kabul to push Afghanistan’s newly united government to start peace talks with the Taliban.
The Taliban rapidly denied involvement in either shooting, but said it had carried out an attack on a checkpoint that killed nine militia fighters. The violence on the eve of the planned talks underscored the scale of the challenge facing the US-brokered efforts to negotiate an end to the war.
In a rare message to mark the upcoming celebration of Eid, the Taliban leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, said the group was committed to the deal reached with the US earlier this year. He urged Washington “not to waste” the opportunity offered by the agreement, which provided for the safe departure of US troops from Afghanistan and was also meant to pave the way for serious peace talks between Afghan parties. This part of the process has stalled.
After the February signing ceremony the Taliban rejected government calls for a ceasefire, continuing attacks inside Afghanistan and prompting the Afghan government to accuse it of bad faith.
In comments quoted by AFP, Akhundzada said: “I urge American officials to not afford anyone the opportunity to obstruct, delay and ultimately derail this internationally recognised bilateral agreement. The [Taliban] is committed to the agreement.”
The US envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, arrived in Kabul days after Ashraf Ghani, the Afghan president, finally brokered a deal with his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, to settle a dispute over the results of last year’s presidential election.
Both men had claimed victory, accused the other of fraud and organised his own inauguration, with the long standoff prompting the US to cancel $1bn (about £817m) in aid.