The Taliban's chief negotiator said Tuesday that he wants to resume peace talks with the U.S. — just hours after the terrorist group killed 48 people in two huge bomb attacks.
The first attack happened at a campaign rally for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, in Charikar in the central province of Parwan: A suicide bomber on a motorbike detonated his explosives in a crowd, and authorities said 22 of the 26 people killed were civilians, including women and children. Ghani himself was not injured.
The second took place hours later near the U.S. embassy in central Kabul, where a suicide bomber killed 22 people.
The blasts come just days after U.S. President Donald Trump called off secret planned talks with senior Taliban leaders at Camp David, Maryland, following a Sept. 6 Taliban attack that killed a U.S. soldier.
But speaking to the BBC Tuesday, just hours after the latest attacks, Taliban negotiator Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai insisted his group was open for further talks with the U.S., which he said was “the only way for peace in Afghanistan.”
“From our side, our doors are open for negotiations,” he said. “So we hope the other side also rethink their decision regarding the negotiation.”
He insisted the Taliban had done nothing wrong to continue its attacks, as no ceasefire was in place. While U.S. and Taliban negotiators have been meeting to discuss ending America’s longest war, the country has been reeling from a dramatic surge in violence, with the Taliban and ISIS ramping up attacks, and the U.S. responding with air strikes and night raids.
According to a BBC analysis of recent violence, 2,307 people were killed in Afghanistan last month alone — an average of 74 each day. A fifth of the casualties were civilians, including 92 people killed at a wedding celebration in Kabul on Aug. 18, who were targeted by ISIS because they belonged to the Shia minority. On Aug. 27, 162 people were killed in a single day, most of them Taliban fighters killed in U.S. air strikes.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the most recent bombings, and said that for negotiations to resume, the Taliban must demonstrate a “significant commitment to peace.”
“Through these attacks, the Taliban demonstrate blatant disregard for the people and institutions of Afghanistan,” he said in a statement.
“For Afghans to truly reconcile, the Taliban must begin to demonstrate a genuine commitment to peace rather than continue the violence and destruction that causes such inordinate harm to the Afghan people and the future of their country.”
Umer Karim, visiting fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, a UK-based security think tank, told VICE News that in carrying out the attacks while calling for the resumption of talks, the Taliban was acting according to a familiar logic.
“They’re saying we’re happy to resume talks — but they’re also sending a signal that when they are sitting around the table, they’ll be there in a position of strength.”
The Taliban currently controls more territory in Afghanistan than at any time since they were ousted by U.S. forces in 2001.
Neither side had agreed to a ceasefire ahead of the latest talks. In fact, Karim said, in the build-up to the cancelled Camp David summit, the Taliban carried out attacks and offensives including an attempt to capture the northern city of Kunduz.
Karim said the attack on the political rally in Parwan was consistent with the Taliban’s pledge to disrupt presidential elections scheduled for Sept. 28. “They don’t consider any political process legitimate, and they want to send a message that if the U.S. supports the elections, they can disrupt them,” he said.
Cover: Afghan security forces work at the site of a suicide attack near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019. Hours earlier Afghan officials said a suicide bomber rammed his motorcycle packed with explosives into the entrance to a campaign rally of President Ashraf Ghani in northern Parwan province, killing over 20 people and wounding over 30. Ghani was present at the venue but was unharmed. The Taliban have claimed both attacks. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)