A suicide bomber struck a busy market in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday, killing at least 89 people in one of the country’s deadliest attacks in months.
The bombing in restive Paktika province, near the border with Pakistan, was a grim reminder of the ongoing instability in Afghanistan despite a U.S.-brokered agreement that has calmed tensions over last month’s disputed presidential election.
Provincial officials said a suicide bomber detonated a truck packed with explosives in the Orgon district, about 20 miles from the Pakistani frontier. Police had identified the vehicle as suspicious and attempted to stop it moments before the blast, officials said.
Zahir Azimi, a spokesman for the Afghan defense ministry, said that more than 40 people were wounded and that the death toll was likely to rise as others remained trapped under the wreckage of shops. The wounded were transported to the provincial capital to be treated, he said.
Jan Kubis, the ranking United Nations diplomat in Afghanistan, condemned the assault, noting: "Today’s appalling attack during Ramadan -- an occasion that should be observed in a spirit of peace and compassion -- should be condemned in the strongest possible terms and the perpetrators must be held accountable."
Paktika borders Pakistan’s lawless North Waziristan tribal region, where Pakistani security forces launched a military offensive four weeks ago aimed at flushing militants out of the area. Analysts believe that many militants have escaped across the border into Afghanistan, where they are blamed for a recent sharp increase in violence coinciding with the Afghan presidential election.
A Pakistani military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Asim Bajwa, said Tuesday that more than 400 militants had been killed in the operation, but the information could not be independently verified.
Separately, a remote-controlled bomb hidden by a roadside in Kabul, the Afghan capital, struck a vehicle used by employees of President Hamid Karzai’s office. Two staffers in Karzai’s media department were killed and five others were injured, officials said.
In a statement sent to journalists, the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
Baktash is a special correspondent. Special correspondent Zulfiqar Ali in Peshawar, Pakistan, contributed to this report.