At least 14 civilians have been killed by a roadside bomb in central Afghanistan, officials say.
At least 14 civilians, including women and children, have been killed by a roadside bomb in central Afghanistan, with violence continuing despite peace talks between the Taliban and Afghan government in Qatar and ongoing dialogue between Kabul and Islamabad.
Seven women, five children, and two men died when their vehicle detonated an explosive device in Daikundi province, Interior Ministry spokesperson Tareq Arian said in a statement.
Three children were also wounded, he added, blaming the Taliban for the blast.
Nasrullah Ghori – the spokesperson for the governor of Daikundi – told AFP news agency the victims were travelling to a shrine when their minibus struck the bomb.
No group has claimed responsibility for the blast, but roadside bombs have been a weapon of choice for the Taliban.
"Deliberate attacks" targeting civilians killed or wounded more than 800 civilians in Afghanistan during the first half of 2020, according to a UN report released in July.
READ MORE: Fighting leaves dozens of Taliban insurgents dead in eastern Afghanistanage
Taliban and Afghan government negotiators are meeting in Doha, where they are trying to find a way to end 19 years of war.
Despite calls for a ceasefire, the Taliban have refused to halt their violence, seeing it as key to leverage at the negotiating table.
The blast came as the head of the Afghan peace process, Abdullah Abdullah, kicked off the second day of a three-day visit to neighbouring Pakistan.
Speaking at an event in Islamabad, he proclaimed that the "ice has been broken" at peace talks, which started on September 12.
Abdullah is in Pakistan on a bridge-building mission meant to mend deep-rooted mistrust between the two countries. It was his first visit in 12 years.
Abdullah told the Institute of Strategic Studies in the federal capital of Islamabad that the two neighbours are on the threshold of a new relationship characterised by "mutual respect, sincere cooperation and shared prosperity."
READ MORE: A rare opportunity for peacemaking in Afghanistan
Pleased to join HE @SMQureshiPTI, distinguished scholars, diplomats & researchers @ISSIslamabad. I was thrilled by the exceptionally encouraging remarks of @SMQureshiPTI & the hosts. I delivered my keynote speech at the institute, followed by Q&A session.https://t.co/VfIOL1t09R pic.twitter.com/MnG0FipvS4— Dr. Abdullah Abdullah (@DrabdullahCE) September 29, 2020
'Friends not masters'
"I am a firm believer that after many troubling years, we now need to go beyond the usual stale rhetoric and shadowy conspiracy theories that have held us back," Abdullah said.
"I want to give a clear message. We have no favourites [and] do not want to meddle in your internal affairs. We respect and want to respect your sovereignty, your independence, and your territorial integrity."
Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi assured Abdullah of complete support for the ongoing peace process, saying Islamabad wanted to be "friends not masters," Dawn.com reported.
"My message is that whatever consensus evolves through your dialogue and negotiations, we will accept it."
Qureshi said that it was important for Pakistan to be "friends not masters" of Afghanistan.
READ MORE: Is Pakistan losing its influence over the Taliban?
It was a pleasure to have welcomed @DrabdullahCE to MoFA. The #AfghanPeaceProcess is of paramount importance for both 🇵🇰 and 🇦🇫 & its success ensures socio-economic prosperity for all. @DrabdullahCE’s visit further strengthens the amity & fraternity between our countries. pic.twitter.com/4EXhRuuV2W— Shah Mahmood Qureshi (@SMQureshiPTI) September 28, 2020
Years of distrust
Later today, Abdullah is scheduled with Pakistan's army chief and prime minister.
Even before coming to power in 2018, Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan has advocated for a political end to Afghanistan's war and has been a strong critic of Washington's so-called war on terror.
But many in Afghanistan have been critical of the support the Afghan Taliban received in Pakistan following the collapse of their rule in 2001 with the US-led invasion of Afghanistan.
Pakistan argues its relationship with the Afghan Taliban was what gave it leverage to press the group into negotiations.
Still, Afghans are deeply suspicious of Pakistan and government officials fear Pakistan's continued involvement in their country as a means to counter its hostile neighbour India's influence in Afghanistan.
Pakistan and India have gone to war three times and both Pakistan and India accuse each other of using Afghan territory to undermine stability in the region.
Abdullah assured Pakistan that "We do not want a terrorist footprint in our country or to allow any entity to pose a threat to any other nation."
Stress on reduction in violence
Abdullah and the US, which brokered the peace deal with the Taliban to start negotiations with the government, have been pressing for talks to be accompanied by a reduction in violence.
The Taliban have refused.
"We call on all sides to agree to seriously reduce violence and protect civilians from further harm as we aim for a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire," Abdullah said.
"Peace is not only an Islamic tenet and duty, but it is also that unique historical opportunity that should not be squandered," said Abdullah.
"Now that the ice has been broken, we all have a role and a responsibility to help it move toward fruition and prevent a relapse."