KABUL: A car bomb killed at least 26 people at a gathering of Taliban and Afghan armed forces in the eastern city of Nangarhar on Saturday, an official said, as soldiers and militants elsewhere in the country celebrated an unprecedented ceasefire.
Dozens of unarmed Taliban militants had earlier entered the Afghan capital and other cities to celebrate, coinciding with the end of the Ramadan fasting season. Soldiers and militants exchanged hugs and took selfies on their smartphones.
But in some provinces the insurgents were carrying rocket launchers, grenades and other ammunition.
Attaullah Khogyani, spokesman for the provincial governor of Nangarhar, confirmed a car bomb was responsible for the attack in the town of Ghazi Aminullah Khan, on the main Torkham-Jalalabad road. He had earlier said a rocket-propelled grenade was to blame.
The Taliban denied responsibility for the attack. Afghanistan also faces insurgencies from Islamic State and the Taliban-linked Haqqani network.
“The incident has nothing to do with the Taliban,” spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters. “The area where the blast happened is close to our front line. Some of our members went there to celebrate Eid. Our members suffered casualties.”
The Taliban announced a surprise three-day ceasefire over the Eid holiday, which began on Friday, except against foreign forces. It overlaps with an Afghan government ceasefire which lasts until Wednesday.
President Ashraf Ghani said in an address to the nation that he would extend the ceasefire with the Taliban but did not give a time-frame. He also asked the Taliban to extend their three-day ceasefire, which is due to end on Sunday.
It was not clear if Ghani knew about the bomb in the east when he made his address.
Taliban wearing traditional headgear entered Kabul through gates in the south and southeast. Traffic jams formed where people stopped to take pictures of the fighters with their flags. The Taliban urged people to come forward and take selfies.
“They are unarmed, as they handed over their weapons at the entrances,” Kabul police spokesman Hashmat Stanekzai told Reuters. Their weapons would be returned when they leave, he said.
Interior Minister Wais Ahmad Barmak met Taliban fighters in Kabul, Tolo news said, an almost unthinkable prospect just two weeks ago.