KABUL (Dispatches) – A bomber in Afghanistan killed at least 25 people at a gathering on Tuesday on the highway between the eastern city of Jalalabad and the main border crossing into neighboring Pakistan, officials said.
The blast, less than a week after an attack killed more than 20 people in the capital, Kabul, came as violence has flared across the nation, with heavy fighting in northern provinces.
Officials have warned violence is likely to intensify ahead of parliamentary elections next month and a presidential election in April.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Tuesday’s attack, although the Taliban issued a statement denying involvement.
At least 25 bodies were taken to hospitals but the final total was unclear and could rise, said Inamullah Miakhel, a spokesman for the provincial health department.
Sohrab Qaderi, a member of the Nangarhar provincial council, said at least 56 bodies were taken to hospital, with 43 more wounded.
The violence has dampened hopes of peace talks to end Afghanistan’s 17-year conflict but two Taliban officials on Tuesday told Reuters the movement was preparing for another meeting with U.S. officials following one in July.
Nangarhar, one of the main strongholds of Daesh terrorists since early 2015, has been one of the most volatile regions this year, with a string of bombings and attacks on its capital, Jalalabad.
Officials and elders said Tuesday’s attack targeted a gathering to protest against a police commander, adding that hundreds of people were present when the blast happened.
In another development, the Taliban militant group is preparing to send a delegation for further talks with U.S. officials in an attempt to end a 17-year-old war in Afghanistan.
Two officials involved with the process said on Tuesday that Taliban leaders were meeting to discuss the makeup of the three- or four-person delegation.
The Taliban delegation at the planned meeting would be led by Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai, the interim head of the group’s Qatar-based political office.
However, they said the high command was planning to replace Stanakzai with a new permanent head of the Qatar office. "You may know Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai was deputed in the Qatar office on acting charge basis. The top leadership is now planning to appoint someone else in his place.”