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Assassination of Former Afghan TV Presenter Draws Outrage

Afghans check a car destroyed by an attached bomb in Kabul, Afghanistan, Nov. 7, 2020.

Leaders in Afghanistan and the United States have strongly condemned Saturday’s bomb explosion in the capital, Kabul, that killed two senior central bank staffers, one of them a renowned former television presenter.

Police said a “magnetic improvised explosive device” ripped through a car carrying the operation deputy of the 'Da Afghanistan Bank,’ or DAB, and his colleague, Yama Siawash, who formerly worked at the private TOLO TV channel. Their driver also was killed in the blast.

No one immediately claimed credit for the bombing, but the Afghan interior ministry swiftly blamed a militant outfit, known as the Haqqani network, which is tied to the Taliban insurgency.

Saturday’s attack is the latest in a wave of unexplained, high-profile assassinations and targeted killings Kabul has experienced in recent weeks.

Siawash had anchored popular political and current affairs talk shows on the country’s largest TV network before joining the central bank as an adviser to the president, officials said.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani condemned the attack and ordered an investigation to bring the perpetrators to justice, his office said.

“I am shocked at the killing of former Tolo News anchor Yama Siawash,” tweeted Ross Wilson, acting U.S. ambassador in Kabul. “This attack is an assault on freedom of the press, one of Afghanistan's core democratic principles,” he lamented.

Abdullah Abdullah, who heads Afghanistan’s peace and reconciliation process with the Taliban, also said Siawash's murder was targeted at freedom of expression in the country. "This is an unforgivable and unforgettable crime," Abdullah said in a statement.

Rising Afghan Violence Puts Peace Process in Question
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On Thursday, unknown assailants gunned down in front of his house in Kabul the father of Zarifa Ghafari, one of Afghanistan's first female mayors.

The assassination drew a strong condemnation by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who had awarded Ghafari the International Women of Courage award in March of this year.

Pompeo noted in his statement that since receiving the award, Ghafari herself has survived two assassination attempts. “Every effort must be made to bring the perpetrators of this crime to justice,” he said.

A bomb-and-gun raid on Kabul University this week killed at least 22 people, mostly students. The Afghan branch of Islamic State took responsibility for the bloodshed.

Battlefield hostilities between Afghan government forces and Taliban insurgents also have intensified in recent months, even as representatives of the two adversaries try to negotiate a peace deal in Qatar.

The U.S.-brokered intra-Afghan negotiations started on Sept. 12, but they have for the most part stalled without any significant breakthrough.

The dialogue is an outcome of the agreement the U.S. signed with the Taliban in February to close the 19-year-old Afghan war and bring home all American troops.

The U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, known as SIGAR, reported Thursday that average daily enemy-initiated attacks in the country were up 50% from July 1 to Sept. 30 of this year, compared to the period between April 1 and June 30.

The monitoring agency quoted U.S. defense officials as warning that Taliban violence “could undermine” the U.S.-Taliban peace agreement if it continues at this “unacceptably high” rate.