A bomb killed 14 women and children at a graveyard in eastern Afghanistan on Thursday as the country celebrated the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of Ramadan, officials said. Many Muslims visit the graves of deceased relatives during Eid as part of traditional celebrations after the holy month of fasting.
Haji Ghalib, a pro-government tribal leader and former district police chief, told AFP that the explosion had targeted his family at an all-female event to commemorate his late wife in the Ghani Khel district of Nangarhar province. He said the mourning group was gathered over his wife's grave to recite the Koran when the blast erupted, killing 14 people. "I'm shocked, I can't talk," he said. Ahmad Zia Abdulzai, the Nangarhar governor's spokesman, told AFP:
"Seven women and seven children were killed and four others, three women and a child are wounded." Abdulzai added that the bomb appeared to have been hidden near the grave, and suggested the motive may have a personal enmity. There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Nangarhar, which straddles a main route from Pakistan's tribal belt -- a hub for Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked militants -- to Kabul, has seen a series of attacks and battles in recent weeks.
On Saturday, suicide bombers targeted the Indian consulate in the provincial capital Jalalabad, detonating a car bomb and killing nine civilians, including seven children in a nearby mosque. The Taliban, who were ousted from power in a 2001 US-led invasion, denied any responsibility for the consulate attack. More than 20 Afghan policemen and dozens of insurgents were also killed in Nangarhar a week ago when hundreds of fighters ambushed a security convoy returning from an operation to rescue a politician being threatened by the Taliban.
Earlier on Thursday, President Hamid Karzai delivered an Eid address that again urged the Taliban to halt 12 years of fighting as the country seeks stability before next year's elections and the withdrawal of NATO-led troops. In a thinly-veiled reference to neighbouring Pakistan, Karzai appealed to the Taliban to resist being controlled by foreigners and said the militants should support their own country. "You are working for others, (foreign) guns are put on your shoulders, and innocent Afghan people are being killed by it, homes are destroyed," he said.
"Give up on it, be Afghan." Karzai said the rebels would be welcome to open a political office in Kabul, after their new office unveiled in Qatar in June triggered a collapse in efforts to start peace talks. "If you'd opened your office in Kabul, like other (political) parties in Afghanistan, you would have been respected," he said.
"The gun that is given to you by strangers -- leave that gun and take up shovels and work at your home. This is your home and you will never be disgraced, in other lands you are strangers and will never get respect." Reclusive Taliban leader Mullah Omar on Tuesday issued his own Eid message, dismissing the presidential elections due in April as "a waste of time" but insisting the militants had no desire to grab power after NATO troops leave.
The United States and other foreign donors say a credible poll is crucial for the country's future after the vast majority of NATO-led troops withdraw by the end of 2014. NATO troop numbers are dropping by about 2,000 a week, according to official figures, with 87,200 still deployed in the country.