The Taliban are intensifying their military campaign, but their precise aims are unclear. Some say they want to strike at Western forces, or civilians; others say they seek military gains ahead of possible peace talks.
A Taliban bomber detonated an explosives-packed vehicle near Kabul airport Monday, killing one civilian in an attack which appeared to have been targeting a NATO convoy a day after Pakistan's army chief visited the city to try to revive peace talks.
At least 33 people, many of them children, were wounded in the assault according to an Afghan health ministry spokesman quoted by news agency AFP.
The explosion, which left wreckage of mangled and smoldering vehicles, came despite a renewed international push to jumpstart stalled negotiations with the insurgents.
There are conflicting reports about the target of the powerful blast, which blew out windows of a local bakery. Some officials say the target appeared to be a NATO convoy that passed through the area, but there were no NATO casualties.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said they were behind the attack on a foreign convoy, claiming "several invading forces were killed and wounded".
The Taliban are known to exaggerate battlefield claims.
But Kabul's police chief, Abdul Rahman Rahimi, said the aim of the attack in an overwhelmingly civilian area had been to create fear among Afghans.
"Enemies of humanity detonated a suicide car bomb in front of a madrassa where children were learning the Koran and Islamic studies," he said. "It shows that they are enemies of mosques, God and the Koran."
The attack comes a day after Pakistan's powerful army chief General Raheel Sharif visited Kabul to try to prepare the ground for fresh peace talks with the Taliban.
"Both sides agreed that the first round of dialogue between Afghanistan, Pakistan, US and China will be held in January to lay out a comprehensive roadmap for peace," the Afghan presidential palace said in a statement.
Pakistan hosted a milestone first round of talks in July but the negotiations stalled when the insurgents belatedly confirmed the death of longtime leader Mullah Omar.
Afghanistan sees the support of Pakistan as vital to bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table.
But analysts caution that any substantive talks are still a long way off.
Afghan forces are currently battling to push out Taliban insurgents who seized large swathes of an opium-rich district in southern Helmand province.
Observers say the intensifying insurgency highlights a push by the insurgents to make military gains in order to achieve greater concessions during talks.
The offensive has prompted a limited redeployment of international forces to the volatile province, a year after NATO forces formally ended their combat operations there.
bik/se (AFP, Reuters)