‘We are just pawns to them’: Afghans angered by Taliban attack amid peace talks

Residents of Ghazni react to another day of bloodshed following deadly truck bomb blast

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Sayed Sahil can still smell the dust and the blood, and the screams of the children still echo in his ears.

"I was so close to the attack, about 10, maybe 15 metres away. I saw so many wounded people, covered in blood," the 24-year-old teacher said of the graphic scene he witnessed at Sunday morning's bomb attack in the eastern Afghan city of Ghazni.

A truck bomb, targeting the office of National Directorate of Security (NDS), the Afghan spy agency, detonated around 8.30am in the centre of the city, resulting in at least 12 deaths and 179 injured.

"I have so much pain in my heart, all those kids bleeding in front of me and their situation was very bad," he said during a phone conversation with The National hours after the attack.

The Taliban group has taken responsibility of the attack, claiming to have killed a “dozen security officials”. NDS sources, however, reported that the attack caused eight casualties among security forces.

Much like the Taliban attack in Kabul last week that claimed 34 lives, this attack was also very close to a school building, resulting in more than 100 children left among the casualties, Muhib Urahman Ansar, the provincial director of education of Ghazni confirmed to The National.

“The children injured are all between ages seven and eleven,” Mr Ansar, who has spent the Sunday morning visiting the site of the attack and the hospitals, shared. “The numbers [of casualties] are very high, over 100 children and the school is completely damaged; nothing is left inside the school. All the school doors and windows and covered with blood,” he said.

Mr Ansar helped transfer many of the injured children to hospitals where he witnessed the aftermath of the carnage. "The provincial hospital doesn’t have the capacity to handle a disaster of this level. There are six to eight kids lying in one hospital bed,” he said, adding that some child casualties from a previous attack are now competing for healthcare and hospital space.

In the last year, Ghazni province has found itself on the frontlines of the battle between the Afghan forces and the Taliban insurgency on several occasions. The provincial capital was also captured by the Taliban and under their siege for five days in August last year. It has since remained in a fragile security situation with several attacks in recent months, despite the ongoing peace talks between the US administration and the insurgent group in Qatar.

Sunday’s attack came at a time when the Taliban leaders are in the middle of the seventh meeting with the US representatives in Doha, Qatar, and on the first day of their talks with Afghan leader and representatives. Locals are outraged at the group for disregarding civilian lives while also talking peace with the international leaders.

“The peace talks are nothing but propaganda,” Mr Sahil said when asked about the meetings in Qatar. “They are conducting all these attacks so they have the upper hand in a peace deal. We are just pawns to them,” he said.

Graeme Smith, senior consultant for the International Crisis Group, who has tracked the security situation in Afghanistan for more than a decade, said it was typical for both sides of a war to step up attacks to gain advantage in a peace process.

"That is exactly what is happening in Afghanistan," he told The National, pointing out that even the US had increased their air strikes on Taliban target by 50 per cent since the start of the negotiations.

Afghan security personnel arrive at the site of a car bomb attack that targeted an intelligence unit in Ghazni on July 7, 2019. A Taliban car bomb in eastern Afghanistan killed at least five people and wounded scores more on July 7, 2019, Afghan officials said, in a blast that came amid ongoing peace talks in Qatar. / AFP / STR

“Now you have seen the Taliban respond with an invigorated military campaign of their own. It's hoped that the peace process will deliver a de-escalation of violence at some point, but that does not seem likely in the short term,” he said.

Those like Mr Sahil are already losing hope about the prospect of peace. “If these people [the Taliban] had intended for the peace talks to have a positive impact, things would've been better.  But all we are seeing is bloodshed,” he said.

“They are killing humanity and they are killing our next generations,” he added.