Taliban fighters stormed the Ministry of Culture in the heart of Kabul Thursday, killing five people in an attack the president said was aimed at derailing the government's new effort to draw militants into a peace process.
The fighters shot their way inside the building, where one of the militants blew himself up, a wounded police guard said. The Taliban claimed responsibility and gave a similar account.
“Our enemies are trying to undermine the recent efforts by the government for a peaceful solution to end the violence,” U.S.-backed President Hamid Karzai said.
The attack came three days after senior Afghan and Pakistani officials decided at a meeting in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, to propose talks with the militants aimed at ending the seven-year insurgency. The meeting was part of a process initiated by President Bush and his Afghan and Pakistani counterparts in 2006.
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The Taliban's former ambassador to Pakistan said the two sides recently had contacts in Saudi Arabia. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the incoming head of U.S. Central Command, Gen. David Petraeus, have endorsed efforts.
Karzai's remarks suggested that Taliban elements are seeking to sabotage the nascent efforts at reconciliation. But the attack is not likely to derail the overture because after years of unsuccessfully trying to repress the Taliban by force with the help of U.S. and NATO troops, the government has concluded talks are the only way out of the conflict. The Taliban meanwhile has proved resilient, emerging with new force this year.
While the Taliban regularly uses suicide attacks against Afghan and foreign forces around the country, it rarely strikes in Kabul.
The culture ministry was a pointed target. Before the U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban in late 2001 for sheltering Osama bin Laden, the regime banned art, secular music and television, vandalized the National Museum of Afghanistan and destroyed artwork or statues deemed idolatrous or anti-Muslim. Taliban fighters also blew up two giant statues of Buddha, cultural treasures that had graced the Silk Road town of Bamiyan for 1,500 years.