Afghanistan: two TV station employees killed by bomb

Two employees of an Afghan television station were killed on Saturday when a roadside bomb exploded in Kabul, while the government said it was ready to start negotiations with the Taliban. “An economic journalist and the driver of the minibus died when the vehicle carrying 15 Khurshid TV employees was struck,” Jawed Farhad, the director of the private television station.

The incident comes as violence has decreased across the country since a rare three-day ceasefire, initiated by the Taliban, ended on Tuesday. The insurgents have since resumed attacks against Afghan forces, but less intensely than usual. They said they were not responsible for Saturday’s explosion, which has not yet been claimed.

Hours before the attack, the government official in charge of the talks, Abdullah Abdullah, announced that his team was ready to start peace negotiations with the Taliban “at any time.”

“The announcement of a ceasefire, a reduction in violence and the exchange of prisoners set the stage for a good start,” he said at a press conference.

But Abdullah, who heads a kabul-created negotiating council, said a new ceasefire was to be put in place during the negotiations. According to the Interior Ministry, Saturday’s attack targeted Kurshid TV. “An attack on journalists is an attack on freedom of expression (…) The Afghan government is seriously investigating,” said Feroz Bashari, a government spokesman.

Six other employees of the chain were injured, he added. This is the second attack on Khurshid TV employees in less than a year. In August 2019, two bystanders were killed when an unclaimed magnetic mine, or “sticky bomb,” exploded on a minibus on the chain.

Afghanistan is one of the most dangerous countries for journalists, who have to cover the war and are sometimes targeted themselves.

A “united” government

The reduction of Taliban violence raises timid hopes at a time when the peace process seemed to be on the brink.

The insurgents had intensified their offensives against Afghan forces since the signing in Doha in late February of a U.S.-Taliban agreement that calls for the departure of all U.S. foreign troops from Afghanistan by mid-2021. In exchange, the Taliban made commitments to fight terrorism, and promised to open unprecedented direct peace negotiations with the Kabul government.

Kabul also helped move the process forward by releasing 900 Taliban prisoners on Tuesday. The insurgents are demanding the exchange of 5,000 Taliban prisoners for 1,000 members of the Afghan forces before negotiations begin. These discussions were scheduled to begin on March 10, but were postponed.

Abdullah has been appointed head of a council in charge of the talks in an agreement to resolve a dispute with his rival, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

However, Mr Abdullah, who came second in the September 2019 presidential election, was marred by accusations of fraud, but declared himself the winner, plunging the country into a political crisis.

According to Matin Bek, a member of the government’s negotiating team, Mr. Abdullah’s taking office is a step forward. “We were accused of not being united, now we are,” he told AFP, adding that his team met every week.

“Due to recent events, we expect the process to begin in June,” he added.

The opening of the talks is part of the conditions set out in the agreement signed between the insurgents and Washington for the withdrawal of foreign troops within 14 months.

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