KABUL, Afghanistan — A suicide bomber killed a deputy provincial governor and five others Tuesday in eastern Afghanistan, police said. Later, a tearful President Hamid Karzai decried the violence, fretting that young people will choose to flee their country.
The bomber rammed a motorized rickshaw loaded with explosives into one of two vehicles in a convoy taking Deputy Gov. Khazim Allayar to his office in Ghazni city. His adult son, a nephew and a bodyguard were also killed, said Ghazni province police chief Zarawar Zahid, as were two civilians nearby. A number of others were wounded, he said.
Afghan government officials are prime targets for the Taliban and other insurgent groups that have instituted an assassination campaign against people who work with either the Afghan government or NATO forces.
Allayar, who held the post for more than seven years, survived a bombing attempt just two months ago in Ghazni city.
The attack came just before presidential spokesman Waheed Omar said the Afghan government had appointed nearly 70 people to a new High Peace Council, formalizing efforts already under way to reconcile with top Taliban leaders and lure insurgent foot soldiers off the battlefield.
The council will guide contacts with Taliban leaders who have reached out directly or through back channels to the highest levels of the government. It is made up of jihadi leaders, former Taliban, former members of the communist regime, civil and religious leaders and representatives of women and ethnic groups.
The Afghan government says it will reconcile with those who renounce violence, embrace the Afghan constitution and sever ties with terrorists.
Karzai condemned the Ghazni attack in a statement. He then called on his fellow Afghans to decry such violence during a speech in the capital about literacy efforts in the country.
"Our sons cannot go to school because of bombs and suicide attacks. Our teachers cannot go to school because of clashes and threats of assassination. Schools are closed," he said, adding he worries that those among Afghanistan's youth who can flee will abandon their country, go to school abroad and become estranged from Afghanistan.
"I don't want my son Mirwais to be a foreigner. I want Mirwais to be Afghan," Karzai, breaking into tears, said of his 4-year-old son. He asked Afghans not to use war as an excuse to let their country fall apart.
To the Taliban he said: "My countrymen, do not destroy your own soil to benefit others."
Karzai – who first became Afghan leader after a U.S.-led invasion that toppled the hardline Taliban regime in late 2001 and still relies on international troops to support his weak government – said that the people of Afghanistan, buffeted by war for decades, are once again victims in the current fight.
"Now NATO is here and they say they are fighting terrorism, and this is the 10th year and there is no result yet," he said, explaining that Afghans are caught up in the violence between the goals of Western powers and militants backed by other countries.
"Whoever has any problem, they come to Afghanistan to find a solution," he said.
Much of the anger at outsiders derives from the tense relationship between Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan, which militants use as a safe haven for launching attacks and planning strategy.
Karzai has regularly called on the international community to spend more effort chasing down insurgents across the border in Pakistan, a contentious issue because Islamabad says it bars NATO forces from operating there. The U.S. relies on drones for attacks on militant targets in Pakistan, but manned coalition aircraft have also crossed the border in pursuit of insurgents.
On Monday, Pakistan issued a strong protest to NATO over helicopter strikes that killed more than 70 militants at the weekend, saying that U.N. rules do not allow the choppers to cross into its airspace even in hot pursuit of insurgents.
NATO said it launched the strikes in self-defense after militants attacked a small security post in Afghanistan near the border.
The dispute over the strikes fuels unease between the two countries. The Pakistani military has fought Pakistani Taliban fighters, but it has resisted pressure to move against the al-Qaida-linked Haqqani network. The Haqqanis, who control vast stretches of territory in North Waziristan and the bordering Afghan province of Khost, carry out attacks in Afghanistan – but not in Pakistan.
Meanwhile, Karzai's office said it was looking into the possible deaths of civilians in Laghman province, northeast of Kabul. NATO forces said one Afghan civilian was killed by a coalition service member in Laghman's Alishing district Sunday. It said an investigation is ongoing into the circumstances of the man's death.
Civilian deaths are a very sensitive issue in Afghanistan. Protests were held in Laghman after about 30 insurgents were killed during an operation involving a combined force of more than 250 Afghan army, Afghan police and coalition soldiers last week. NATO said no civilians were harmed in that operation.
In the south Tuesday, a coalition operation to secure areas in the Taliban heartland of Kandahar flushed militants out of its Arghandab district, according to an Afghan army official. It also cleared the area of mines, a major concern for residents.
"We trust that they will never come back in this area unless the locals who are here help them out," said Afghan army Lt. Col. Nabeullah Khan. "They think that if they help insurgents the next operation might be worse for them as well."