By RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan
Dozens of people have been killed in violence across Afghanistan, including in a suicide bombing in Kabul targeting a protest by members of the mainly Shi’ite Hazara minority, officials say.
Security officials said the suicide blast on November 12 killed at least six people and wounded 20 others in the center of the capital where hundreds of people were protesting the government’s failure to protect the Hazara community from Taliban attacks.
The explosion rocked the city as fighting raged in the central province of Ghazni, where Afghan forces and pro-government militias have been battling the Taliban for the past week.
Officials said on November 12 that 25 Afghan security personnel were killed in Ghazni's predominately Hazara districts of Malistan and Jaghori. The Taliban also attacked a third district, Khas Oruzgan, in neighboring Oruzgan Province two week ago.
The Taliban offensive in the three predominately Hazara districts has killed dozens of government troops, pro-government Hazara militiamen, and Taliban militants, and forced hundreds of civilians to flee their homes.
In the western province of Farah, at least 37 local police were killed when Taliban fighters overran several security checkpoints, regional officials said on November 12.
Afghanistan’s main intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), said in a statement that the bomber in Kabul was on foot and detonated his suicide vest before reaching the protesters.
Interior Ministry spokesperson Najib Danesh told RFE/RL that civilians and security personnel deployed to secure the city during the protest were among the dead.
No group claimed responsibility for the attack, although the Taliban and the Islamic State (IS) militant groups have been blamed for similar attacks in the past.
The blast occurred near a security checkpoint near the Istiqlal High School in central Kabul, close to the area where ministry buildings and the Presidential Palace are located.
The Afghan president's office said protesters ended their demonstration after President Ashraf Ghani addressed the crowd and promised to send reinforcements to the besieged districts.
Hundreds of people had rallied for a second day in front of the Presidential Palace to protest against the government’s slow response in sending reinforcements to the districts in Ghazni and Oruzgan.
Officials said that the Taliban killed 15 civilians and 10 members of the special forces in Ghazni on November 11, after the government said it had sent special forces backed by air strikes to the districts under attack.
There have been fears that the violence could be rooted in ethnic or sectarian differences, pitting the Hazaras against the Taliban, a predominately Sunni, ethnic Pashtun group.
The Taliban were accused of committing human rights violations against Hazaras during their 1996-2001 rule.
The spike in violence comes as visiting U.S. special envoy Zakmay Khalilzad held talks with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on November 11 in his latest round of meetings aimed at convincing the Taliban to take part in peace talks with Kabul to end the decades-long war in Afghanistan.
Khalilzad, a former U.S. ambassador to Kabul, also is scheduled to visit Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, where the Taliban has a political office.
A recent U.S. government watchdog report said Kabul's control of Afghanistan had slipped in recent months as local forces made little or no progress against the Taliban.
The U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) cited NATO's Resolute Support mission as saying this summer's casualty toll for Afghan forces had been worse than ever.