Hours after President Ashraf Ghani insisted "peace is coming" to the war-torn nation, Afghanistan was rocked by yet another deadly blast Sunday, marring the start of the election season.
The attack began around 4:40 pm (1210 GMT), when a huge blast struck the Green Trend party headquarters of vice presidential candidate Amrullah Saleh.
The Reuters news agency reported Saleh was hit by shrapnel before being safely evacuated from the office.
Nasrat Rahimi, an Interior Ministry spokesman, however, denied reports that Saleh was wounded.
Three hours later, the attack was still ongoing. No group immediately claimed responsibility.
Health officals said at least two people were killed and 25 wounded.
Elections at high risk
The attack underscored the risks facing the presidential election, which is scheduled for 28 September but which has already been delayed twice this year.
It follows chaotic parliamentary elections in October last year which were marred by violence and accusations of widespread fraud as well as serious organizational problems.
Earlier on Sunday, a buoyant Ghani kicked off his campaign by insisting "peace is coming" and that pivotal talks with the Taliban would take place. The president is hoping to fend off challenges from 17 other candidates.
On Saturday, Ghani's peace minister, Abdul Salam Rahimi, said direct talks would take place with the Taliban within two weeks as part of a larger, US-led push for peace.
Talking with the Taliban
Such a development could be crucial, as the Taliban -- who now control or influence about half of Afghanistan -- have so far refused to speak to Ghani's government, as they consider the Kabul administration illegitimate.
What could complicate talks further is the resistance of Ghani's running mate. Saleh, a former Afghan spy chief turned politician, is an uncompromising opponent of the Taliban and other hardline Islamist groups. He led the country’s National Directorate of Security until 2010.
After Sunday's blast, Ghani expressed his relief at Saleh's escape:
My brother, true son of the Afghan soil and first VP candidate of my electoral team, @AmrullahSaleh2 has survived a complex attack by enemies of the state. We are relieved and thank the almighty that attack has failed.Ashraf Ghani (@ashrafghani) July 28, 2019
“My brother, true son of the Afghan soil and first VP candidate of my electoral team, Amrullah Saleh has survived a complex attack by enemies of the state. We are relieved and thank the almighty that the attack has failed,” he tweeted.