Pakistan on Saturday “strongly condemned” the rocket attacks in Kabul, which killed eight people and injured 31 others, warning of spoilers in the Afghanistan peace process.
In a statement, Foreign Office spokesman Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri conveyed Pakistan’s “heartfelt condolences to the families of those who lost their lives and prayed for early and complete recovery of the injured”.
According to a report by Radio Pakistan, the spokesperson cautioned that it was “important to be vigilant of spoilers who are working to undermine the [Afghan] peace process” at a time when the international community’s efforts were “moving forward”.
At least eight people were killed when a barrage of rockets struck densely populated parts of Kabul, marking the latest big attack in a wave of violence sweeping the Afghan capital, just two days after Prime Minister Imran Khan visited the city to assure President Ashraf Ghani of Pakistan’s utmost support in the peace process.
The salvo slammed into various parts of central and north Kabul — including in and around the heavily fortified Green Zone that houses embassies and international firms — just before 9am (0430 GMT).
The Iranian embassy said on Twitter that its main building had been hit by rocket fragments after a missile landed on the premises. No one on the compound, located just outside the Green Zone, was wounded.
Interior ministry spokesman Tariq Arian blamed the Taliban, saying “terrorists” had fired a total of 23 rockets.
“Based on initial information, eight people were martyred, and 31 others were wounded,” Arian said, noting the final toll would change.
The Taliban denied responsibility, saying they “do not blindly fire on public places”.
At least one rocket landed in an office inside the Green Zone, but did not explode.
Photos and videos circulating online showed several buildings with damaged walls and windows, including at a large medical complex.
Later, the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attacks, in a statement on its Telegram channels.
It said 28 Katyusha rockets fired by “soldiers of the caliphate” hit Kabul’s heavily fortified Green Zone that houses “the presidential palace, embassies of Crusader states, and the headquarters of Afghan forces”.
Pakistan to do ‘everything’ to reduce violence
On Thursday, during his maiden visit to Kabul, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s said Pakistan will do everything possible to help reduce violence in Afghanistan and establish durable peace.
Addressing a joint press conference alongside Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the Presidential Palace, the premier said: “The idea of visiting at a time when violence is increasing [in Afghanistan] is to assure you, President Ghani, that the people and the government of Pakistan have only one concern; peace in Afghanistan.
“The Afghan people have suffered for four decades,” he said. The premier also noted that despite the role Pakistan has played in getting the Taliban to speak with Americans and with regards to intra-Afghan dialogue, the level of violence has risen in Afghanistan.
Assuring the Afghan leadership that Pakistan will play its part in reducing violence in the country, he said: “If you feel there is somewhere Pakistan can help [in reducing violence], please let us know.
“We assure you that we will do whatever is within our reach.”
Recent big attacks in Kabul, including two horrific assaults on educational institutions that killed nearly 50 people in recent weeks, follow a familiar pattern in the aftermath, with the Taliban denying any involvement while the Afghan government pins the blame on them or their proxies.
“The rocket attack in Kabul city has nothing to do with the mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said, using the insurgents’ name for Afghanistan.
The Taliban are under pressure not to attack urban areas, having pledged not to do so under the terms of a United States withdrawal deal signed in February.
Any acknowledgement of overt involvement in such incidents could in theory slow the American pull-out, though outgoing US President Donald Trump has made clear he wants US forces out regardless of the situation on the ground.
The Islamic State group claimed the two attacks on educational centres, but Kabul said the Taliban’s ultra-violent Haqqani network was responsible.
Pompeo heads to Doha
Taliban and Afghan government negotiators launched peace talks in Doha in September but progress has been slow and violence has raged across Afghanistan regardless.
Officials told AFP on Friday however that a breakthrough was expected to be announced in the coming days, and the US State Department announced late Friday that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would meet negotiators from the Taliban and the Afghan government in Doha.
Trump has repeatedly vowed to end “forever wars”, including in Afghanistan, America’s longest-ever conflict, which began with an invasion to dislodge the Taliban following the September 11, 2001 attacks.
President-elect Joe Biden, in a rare point of agreement with Trump, also advocates winding down the Afghanistan war although analysts believe he will not be as wedded to a quick timetable.
Earlier this week, the Pentagon said it would soon pull about 2,000 troops out of Afghanistan, speeding up the timeline established in a February agreement between Washington and the Taliban that envisions a full US withdrawal by mid-2021.
In the past six months, the Taliban has carried out 53 suicide attacks and 1,250 explosions that left 1,210 civilians dead and 2,500 wounded, interior ministry spokesman Tariq Arian said this week.
The interior ministry said two small “sticky bomb” explosions had been reported earlier Saturday morning, including one that hit a police car, killing one policeman and wounding three others.