KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan President Ashraf Ghani demanded that Pakistan crack down on the Taliban after a car bomb explosion near Kabul airport claimed by the Islamist militants killed five people on Monday, the latest in a series of suicide attacks to rock the capital.
The attacks have followed a change of leadership in the Taliban and have dashed any hopes of an immediate resumption of peace talks with the government. They suggest new Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Akhtar Mansour intends to send a message that there will be no letup in the insurgency.
The attacks, which have killed dozens of civilians and wounded hundreds more, have also stoked tensions with neighboring Pakistan, the base of many leaders of the hardline movement, according to many in Afghanistan.
Ghani, who has made improving relations with Pakistan a priority on the grounds it may push the Taliban into peace talks, said that Islamabad had to tackle the bomb-making factories and suicide training camps being run on its side of the border.
“We hoped for peace, but war is declared against us from Pakistani territory; this in fact puts into a display a clear hostility against a neighboring country,” he said.
Afghan officials said five people were killed and 16 wounded in Monday’s suicide attack in a crowded area outside an airport checkpoint. A woman and a child were among the injured.
The Taliban claimed responsibility, saying it was targeting “foreign forces.” It denied any Afghan civilians had been killed in the attack.
A security official at the scene said the attack appeared to have been aimed at two armored cars, although it was not clear who was in the vehicles. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the occupants of the two targeted vehicles were foreigners and had all been killed.
The heavily fortified Afghan capital was already on high alert following attacks last Friday, which killed at least 50 civilians and security forces personnel in what the United Nations said was the worst day of violence since 2009.
Pakistan denies sponsoring the Taliban, but Ghani’s calls reflect the growing pressure he faces at home to stem an insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives so far this year.
“Our relation with Pakistan is based on our national interests, on top of which comes security and safety of our people,” he said. “If our people continue to be killed, relations lose meaning and I hope it will not happen.”
But Ghani did not entirely shut the door on resuming dialogue with the Taliban if it stopped the violence.
“We will make peace only with those who believe in the meaning of being a human, Muslim and Afghan and who do not destroy their own country on orders from foreign masters,” he said.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to Ghani on Monday about the tensions.
“They talked about this, this issue of the safe havens and of the need for both countries to continue to work at this to try to eliminate those safe havens,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said in Washington. “Nobody said it was going to be easy.”
Conflict between the Western-backed government and the Taliban has intensified this year, with civilians and Afghan security forces taking the brunt after the NATO combat mission ended in 2014.
Last Friday, a truck bomb killed at least 15 people and wounded 248 in Kabul. That evening, suicide attacks on a police academy and a base used by U.S. special forces killed more than 30 police and security contractors, besides an American soldier.
Ghani’s coalition government, weakened by infighting, has struggled to respond to the crisis, which has been further complicated by uncertainty around the Taliban leadership.
Mansour’s swift appointment by a small council of leaders in the Pakistani city of Quetta has caused rifts within the movement and fed speculation that the latest violence is linked to the leadership dispute.
Several senior figures in the insurgent movement, which wants to re-establish a hardline Islamist regime toppled by U.S.-led military intervention in 2001, have sought a new council to decide the issue.
Reporting by Mirwais Harooni and Sayed Hassib; Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton in Washington; Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Gareth Jones and Steve Orlofsky