KABUL, Afghanistan — A suicide attacker on Saturday killed a senior Afghan official in the south of the country, a setback for U.S.-led efforts to improve governance and a demonstration of the insurgents' continuing ability to strike.
Abdul Latif Ashna, the deputy governor of the key province of Kandahar, was killed when his car was struck by a man on a motorbike packed with explosives.
Kandahar province is the subject of a major U.S.-led military push, starting last summer, which has seen thousands of international and Afghan forces pour into Kandahar city and the surrounding districts, with major success claimed in improving security there. Kandahar is the spiritual home of the Taliban movement.
While the Taliban's visible presence and ability to mount military-style attacks has been severely curbed around Kandahar, the insurgents retain the ability to carry out targeted assassinations, striking terror into government officials and others working with international security forces. Improving Afghan government services must accompany better security under the U.S. strategy to make the country self-sufficient.
"Enemies of the people targeted a courageous man who had delivered his honest services to the people of Kandahar," Afghan President Hamid Karzai said in a statement.
Ashna had left his home and was on his way to his office at 9 a.m. when the assailant rammed his motorbike into the official's car, killing him and injuring three others, said a statement from the governor of Kandahar. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
Toryalai Weesa, the governor for Kandahar, told McClatchy that Ashna was a "good man".
"He has served as a teacher in Kandahar University and also as head of the rural (development) department," the governor said.
Ashna has been serving as a deputy governor for nine months. In 2009, he had survived a deadly suicide attack by the Taliban that killed a number of high-ranking government officials and members of the Kandahar Provincial Council.
"Deputy Governor Ashana faced danger throughout his public service career from the insurgency, but he never let that interfere with his service to the Kandaharis," David Petraeus, the U.S. general who leads international forces in Afghanistan, said in a statement. "The death of Abdul Latif Ashana and his courageous service in the face of danger will inspire us to redouble our efforts to help our Afghan partners seeking peace and a better future for all Afghans."
Shekiba Hashemi, a member of the Afghan parliament from Kandahar, said that Ashana was an outspoken critic of the interference of neighboring countries in Afghanistan, especially Pakistan.
It is alleged that Pakistan's military provides support to the Taliban movement, a charge that Pakistan rejects.
"All these personalities who are being killed in Kandahar are the educated, talented ones," Hashemi said. "The Taliban may have carried it out, but Pakistan gave the orders."
Separately, the contest to elect a speaker for Afghanistan's new parliament is close to picking Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf, an Islamist who is accused of carrying out atrocities during Afghanistan's civil war of the 1990s and who was once close to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Two rounds of voting held Saturday couldn't decide the outcome, with Sayyaf and the former speaker, Mohammad Younus Qanooni, in a third round faceoff scheduled for Sunday. Sayyaf was marginally ahead in the second round, which was not decisive.
The parliament was inaugurated this week for its new term, following elections held in September.
Kabul is still reeling from a bomb blast Friday at a supermarket popular with foreigners. But Kabul police said Saturday that, contrary to their initial reports, there were no foreigners among the eight killed, though five foreigners were injured in the blast.
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