JALALABAD, AFGHANISTAN, JAN. 22 -- At least eight persons were killed here today when burial rites for an internationally known tribal leader turned into a gruesome scene of death when at least two powerful bombs exploded near the ceremony, which was attended by Afghan leader Najibullah and the vice president of India.
Scores were injured and some reports said as many as 18 may have been killed by the bombs, set on buses that had helped carry thousands of mourners from Pakistan to this city in eastern Afghanistan for the funeral of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. Khan, who died Wednesday at age 98, was venerated by ethnic Pathans and many others in Pakistan, India and Afghanistan for his lifelong battles against British colonialism and for a Pathan state.
One of the blasts turned five buses into heaps of twisted metal and left a score of other vehicles badly damaged. A number of other vehicles were badly damaged at the second site, several hundred yards away.
Afghan officials immediately blamed the Afghan guerrillas, called mujaheddin, who are fighting the government and the Soviet forces supporting it. Guerrilla leaders said from their headquarters in Peshawar, Pakistan, that they had not done it.
Pakistani officials have blamed agents of the Afghan secret police for recent explosions in Peshawar and Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, that they say are part of a campaign to undermine Pakistan's support for the Afghan guerrillas.
Whoever set the explosions, the use of the car bomb has brought a new and deadly dimension to the violence that long has been a part of the Pathans' rugged mountain country, which straddles the Pakistani-Afghan border area around the Khyber Pass.
The explosions today caused a visible stir among the officials and mourners gathered at the gravesite and in a field outside the walled-in compound where the dignitaries were gathered. Afghan officials initially attempted to say the explosions only were part of a 21-gun salute they had arranged for the dead Pathan leader.
Ghaffar Khan allied himself with Mohandas K. (Mahatma) Gandhi during the Indian struggle for independence from Britain. When the British colony divided into India and Pakistan at independence, Ghaffar Khan briefly sought an independent Pathan territory joining the tribal group's traditional lands in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In following decades, Pakistani governments imprisoned Ghaffar Khan over his campaign for greater Pathan rights, leading him to live in self-imposed exile in Jalalabad for a number of years in the 1960s and 1970s.
Ghaffar Khan asked to be buried here.
There was no sign of the violence to come early this morning. In clear, crisp winter air, the long motorcade followed a large red truck carrying Ghaffar Khan's body over the winding roads of the Khyber Pass and swiftly through border checkpoints into Afghanistan.
Once in Afghanistan, however, there were quick reminders of the eight-year-long guerrilla war against the Soviet-backed government.
The roadway, badly damaged in places, was guarded by tanks and artillery dug into roadside emplacements and facing outward toward snowcapped mountains from which the mujaheddin normally attack. Most were manned by units of the Afghan Army, but two or three small contingents of Soviet soldiers were seen.
After the explosions, helicopter gunships flew low over the returning motorcade as it wound its way back toward the Pakistani border.
In his speech after the burial prayers were said, Afghan President Najibullah said Ghaffar Khan had labeled the resistance movement as "antirevolutionaries." Najibullah appealed for "unity of the Afghan and Pathan peoples," saying this, too, was a goal of the late Pathan leader.
"Imperialism," on the other hand, he said, "does not want peace in this region. Our opponent uses the name of Islam against us, but how can people who give aid to Israel against the Palestinians say they back Islam in this region?"
Amid the open appeals for loyalty to Afghanistan among the Pathans -- who are critical actors in the Afghan conflict -- Najibullah repeated earlier statements that Soviet troops "will withdraw soon." In an apparent allusion to revived U.N. efforts to reach a negotiated settlement to the conflict, he added that Afghanistan "will make a peace plan soon. We don't want any foreign influence in our country."
U.N. special negotiator Diego Cordovez currently is in Islamabad and is expected to go to Kabul sometime this coming weekend to canvass for a possible resumption of the U.N.-sponsored Geneva talks on Afghanistan.
Among other speakers today was Indian Vice President Shankar Dayal Sharma, who recalled Ghaffar Khan's longtime links with India, going back to the nationalist movement to overthrow British rule in the subcontinent. Sharma called Ghaffar Khan's burial in Jalalabad "another link between the people of India and the people of Afghanistan." On Wednesday, Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi stopped in Peshawar to pay his respects before flying to Sweden.
Pakistani leaders, including President Mohammad Zia ul-Haq and Prime Minister Mohammed Khan Junejo, paid their respects to Ghaffar Khan in rites in Peshawar Thursday afternoon.
Only several hundred people of the crowd of about 15,000 to 20,000, according to the estimate of journalists, were inside the burial compound at the edge of a small orchard behind a house where Ghaffar Khan lived during his exile days in Jalalabad. Among them, in addition to Najibullah, were several members of his Politburo and Indian Moslem leaders Farouk Abdullah and Mohammed Yunis, both of whom are closely associated with the politics of volatile Kashmir state.
Afghan authorities made great efforts to court the visiting Pathan followers of Ghaffar Khan, with soldiers lining the roadways coming to smart salutes as the motorcade passed. Later, however, there were moments of tension as the security-conscious Afghans attempted to curb the movements of the crowd outside the dignitaries' compound.
Two Pakistani journalists attempting to get a close look at the bomb sites reportedly were taken into custody by Afghan authorities.
While the roadways into Jalalabad showed marks of war, the city itself seemed relatively unscathed, and there were signs of cultivation in fields starting a few miles from the outskirts of town.
The fact that Najibullah and several Politburo members came to the city was a sign that Afghan authorities believed they had it under secure control, at least from conventional military attack. Still, in addition to the bomb blasts, there were several other loud explosions during the ceremonies that appeared to be outgoing artillery fire.