The high-profile assassination attempt comes amid a spike in violence nationwide as talks between Afghan officials and Taliban leaders have faced repeated delays. Clashes have intensified in provinces with significant Taliban control and influence. And in Kabul, targeted killings have risen despite a drop in large-scale attacks.
Shortly after the attack Wednesday, Saleh’s son Ebad, who was with him in the car, said they both survived. “I was alongside [Saleh] when our vehicle was targeted. I assure you he’s fine,” Ebad tweeted after the blast.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid tweeted that the militant group was not involved in the attack. No other group claimed responsibility.
The Taliban routinely deny involvement in targeted attacks in Kabul and elsewhere in the country. But many Afghan officials blame the violence on militant groups with links to the Taliban.
Interior ministry spokesman Tariq Arian has previously blamed the Taliban for serving “as the umbrella organization” for such attacks. He said the Taliban is attempting to use violence as leverage at the negotiating table with the Afghan government.
Saleh, a former national intelligence chief and a longtime high-profile adversary of the Taliban, barely escaped an attack on his office last year. At the time, he was campaigning as President Ashraf Ghani’s running mate. That attack was also unclaimed.
“Another targeted attack and more losses of civilian lives. This must stop” Shaharzad Akbar, the chairwoman of Afghanistan’s human rights commission, tweeted. She warned that such attacks hurt “trust & efforts for peace.”
Official peace talks between the Taliban and Afghan officials were mandated to begin in March by the deal signed by the United States and the Taliban, but a controversial prisoner release quickly emerged as a key stumbling block.
A deal on prisoner releases appeared to be within reach last week, and preparations had begun for the start of negotiations. But a last-minute disagreement about the release of high-value Taliban prisoners put efforts on hold once again, Afghan officials said.
No new date has been set for the negotiations, the officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the news media.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan, is meeting with senior Taliban leaders and Qatari officials in Doha this week. In a statement announcing his travel, the State Department said, “Afghan leaders must seize this historic opportunity for peace.”
“All sides have taken important steps to remove obstacles for the start of [inter-Afghan negotiations],” the statement read. “Now is the time to start.”
Mohsin Khan contributed to this report.