Afghanistan’s government is holding a multi-nation peace conference in the capital, Kabul, which remains on lockdown in the wake of a fatal Daesh bombing last week.
The event, dubbed the Kabul Process, opened on Tuesday with the presence of senior diplomats from about two dozen countries and organizations, including Iran, India, China, Pakistan, the US, the European Union, the United Nations and NATO.
The meeting, according to Afghan authorities, aims to draw international support on ways to restore security to the war-torn country which is still grappling with militancy despite the presence of thousands of foreign boots on the ground there.
“The Kabul Process is meant to reach a consensus with the region and the world for peace in Afghanistan,” said presidential spokesman Shah Hussain Murtazawi.
Speaking Tuesday at the event, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani pointed to last week’s devastating truck bombing in Kabul’s diplomatic quarter, announcing a new casualty figure of more than 150 killed.
“Over 150 innocent Afghan sons and daughters were killed and more than 300 wounded were brought to hospitals with burns and amputations,” Ghani said.
Afghan authorities had previously estimated the death toll from the bombing to be at 90.
Taliban invited to dialog
The Afghan president also invited the Taliban militant group to engage in peace talks, calling the offer their “last chance” to give up their 16-year militancy and join the political process.
Past attempts at reviving such peace talks have failed. The Taliban have refused to negotiate with the government until all foreign forces leave, and still refer to themselves as a government in exile, angering authorities in Kabul.
The meeting is being held amid a security lockdown on Kabul in the aftermath of the May 31 bombing and the ensuing angry protests against poor security, which turned deadly. The attack hit one of the capital’s most secure districts, which is home to foreign diplomatic missions as well as the presidential palace.
No group has claimed the attacks, but the government has blamed the Taliban-allied Haqqani Network for Wednesday’s bombing. The Taliban have denied any role in the assault.